Some More Thoughts on Normalizing Nursing

January 2nd, 2010 by Dionna | 26 Comments
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Feed with Love and Respect

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I started to respond to a comment on my recent post about normalizing nursing in Kansas City, and it got so long that I decided to just make a separate post.

Can A Three Minute Video Change the World?

I am not under any sort of illusion that a three minute video showing mothers nursing in public will change the attitudes of those who feel we should cover up or get out of the public eye.

Here is my train of thought regarding a breastfeeding video:

The more people see something, the more desensitized they become. Victoria’s Secret couldn’t run the racy ads they do today without Hanes running ads with less scantily clad women ten years ago. We have become desensitized to seeing busty women bursting out of their underwires.

Before I had Kieran, I was a little uncomfortable around nursing mothers, because I didn’t have much exposure to them. In the first few months of nursing Kieran I was uncomfortable nursing him anywhere other than our house. I felt uncomfortable because society is not supportive of women nursing in public. Why does THAT have to be the norm?

Obviously there is widespread disagreement about women nursing in public. From some of the comments made on the KC post, the thread at the local mom’s site, comments that I have heard other women receive, looks that I have gotten, etc., people don’t “approve.” Even if I don’t have strangers coming up to lecture me about why I shouldn’t nurse in public, the fact that they are whispering about it behind their hands to friends means that women are being made to feel uncomfortable about nursing whenever and wherever they need to.

There is a stigma attached to it, and there doesn’t need to be. Breastfeeding does not need to be done in private or under cover. Again, if someone wants to cover up, more power to her. But I should not be made to feel ashamed, embarrassed, inconsiderate, insert your adjective here, for nursing my child in public. Yes, at times breastfeeding is a beautiful, intimate moment between mother and child. But often breastfeeding is just a “hey get this kid some mama’s milk quick! He’s hungry! I’m busy!” moment. Why should I have to remove myself or cover my child – we don’t expect parents to sneak to the car to feed a child from a bottle or sippy cup.

Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Some people feel “uncomfortable” around people with different abilities/disabilities, some people feel “uncomfortable” around same sex couples, some people feel “uncomfortable” around those who have a different skin color or religion or political viewpoint or birthmark or accent or or or . . . Is it acceptable to ask any one of these people to move to another room or cover up to alleviate someone else’s discomfort?

One giant step toward feeling more comfortable with someone who is different or who does something differently is becoming familiar with the person or practice. That is all I am promoting. I am not “using my child” to make a point – I would nurse at Crown Center or a stadium or the Plaza or the Nelson whether someone was taking my picture for a video or not. And guess what – I have. At every one of those places.

The thought of “using” Kieran to help normalize the sight of nursing in public by letting him breastfeed is laughable. The kid loves to nurse – he doesn’t care who sees or where we are. If anyone believes I am “using” Kieran by nursing in public, then I am guilty as charged – for two years now.

As a very wise woman said, “lactivism isn’t about making people feel guilty; it’s about creating a culture that supports breastfeeding success.” I don’t want to *make* anyone feel uncomfortable around my nursing child. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad about doing something other than breastfeeding. I just want more people to respect mothers’ rights to breastfeed unfettered, wherever they are. As long as people expect me to cover up for someone else’s comfort, my child’s needs are being put in an inferior position to the comfort level of others.

That’s not the world I want to live in.

The fact of the matter is that legislation about nursing in public in KS and MO is not friendly to breastfeeding moms.* That will never change as long as our culture frowns on women who nurse in public. We have to start somewhere. What’s the saying – “well-behaved women rarely make history” – well, we’ll never change historical attitudes toward breastfeeding if we are content with the status quo.

Maybe a video of women breastfeeding will start conversations.

Maybe it will demonstrate that nursing in public is ok.

Maybe a new nursing mother will see that video, and the next time she is at a Royals game she won’t sneak off to the bathroom to nurse her baby in a stall. Maybe she’ll just do it right there in her seat. And you know what? I bet no one would notice. And if they did, maybe they would be cool enough to avert their eyes and move on with life.

A mother is feeding her child, so what?

*After publishing this post, my friend Rebecca pointed out that Kansas has updated their breastfeeding legislation after the article referenced above was published. Kansas is now much friendlier toward mothers who nurse/pump. I will do some research on Missouri to see if its laws have changed as well.

My friend Raegan nursing on the Capitol steps in Jefferson City, MO

26 Responses to:
"Some More Thoughts on Normalizing Nursing"

  1. Rebecca

    That article regarding breastfeeding laws is a bit out of date, Kansas does have a current breastfeeding law, and it does not include the language regarding “discreet” that is referenced in the article.

    K.S.A. 65-1,248
    65-1,248. Breastfeeding; where. (a) Breast milk is widely acknowledged to be the most complete form of nutrition for infants, with a range of benefits for infant’s health, growth, immunity and development and has also been shown to improve maternal health and bonding in addition to contributing to society at large through economic and environmental gains, it is therefore the public policy of Kansas that a mother’s choice to breastfeed should be supported and encouraged to the greatest extent possible.
    (b) A mother may breastfeed in any place she has a right to be.

    I didn’t look at the publication date of the article, but it does not appear that this has been amended since its enactment in 2006.

  2. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    Thank you for researching, Rebecca! That does sound much better.

  3. Yeah! Go girl! Mummy’s breasts is the best! What’s wrong with breastfeeding?!!!

  4. Rebecca

    Little research involved, it was passed when I was pumping for Amelia. KDHE actually has an entire advertising campaign regarding breastfeeding. Numerous billboards along the highway, talking about nature’s superfood, also about discussing accommodations for pumping and breastfeeding with employers. If you take the turnpike to your mom’s you pass right by them. They went up about the same time as the breastfeeding law was passed in KS.

    Has links regarding “Clinical perspectives in breastfeeding” which i have no read all of, but the first one appeared very appropriate.

    A search of KDHE’s website regarding breastfeeding yields a list of results. I have not read them, at this point, but while I am sure that there are some things that are iffy, If I had to guess most of them are pretty good.

    The ever present problem of using just resources that are certain to support your position.

  5. Rebecca

    Additionally, the State of Kansas allows for mother’s to bring their child to work for a variable number of months, depending on the agency, so that the breastfeeding relationship has the opportunity to solidify. My agency allows 4 months as a general rule, but you can get an extra 2 by request.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I’d forgotten about that. I remember Carolyn taking her daughter to work at the State after she returned from maternity leave. I’m super pleased that KS is much more friendly to moms who nurse/pump than it was when that article was published. I will edit my post.

  6. kaila

    I am really enjoying you blog! the information, photos, opinions, and the latest breastfeeding entries have been fantastic! Please keep up the great work!!!

  7. Rebecca

    That list of state laws was updated 9/09 and indicates that missouri has also updated their laws.

    Mo. Rev. Stat. § 191.915 (1999) requires hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to provide new mothers with a breastfeeding consultation or information on breastfeeding, the benefits to the child and information on local breastfeeding support groups. The law requires physicians who provide obstetrical or gynecological consultation to inform patients about the postnatal benefits of breastfeeding. The law requires the Department of Health to provide and distribute written information on breastfeeding and the health benefits to the child. (SB 8)

    Mo. Rev. Stat. § 191.918 (1999) allows a mother, with as much discretion as possible, to breastfeed her child in any public or private location.

    It appears that both these statutes were in effect at the time of the 2005 article, however, the second missouri statute is not at all referenced in the article. And while weak, it is at least some protection, I would have to look at the legislative history to see if it is as weak as the language makes it look.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Definitely weak. That means there is an argument about what discretion is, and, as the recent comments here and elsewhere reveal, many people feel discretion means a blanket. I still believe MO’s law needs revision.
      Thanks for citing that statute!

      • CodeNamePapa   CodeNamePapa

        Gosh, you two… you and your legal jargon and little squirly-q symbols… get a room, already! :)

      • Rebecca

        I can’t reply to Papa, so all I have to say is “you are just jealous!” You want some squirly-qs and legal jargon!

  8. I don’t understand why breastfeeding in public is such a big deal.. agree with you Victoria secret ads show more boobs then breastfeeding…

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I wish everyone felt comfortable feeding their child in whatever manner they so chose :(

  9. raegan

    i heart you, dionna!

    (that pic was taken at the “free the midwives” rally in 2007. i had JUST found out i was pregnant with my second child; so according to some definitions, i was tandem nursing.) ;)

  10. Heather   xakana

    So beautifully written.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you, Heather. Tom said out loud to me tonight (what I had already thought) – your comment on the other post was awesome.

  11. Amber   AmberStrocel

    One 3-minute video might not make that much of a difference. Just like me nursing my kid in the mall food court might not make that much of a difference. But, in aggregate, these actions matter. If no one did anything because the impact wouldn’t be that great, we would be living in a much more backward society than we do. So, I think that your project is great. And if I lived anywhere nearby, I would be all over it.

    You go, Dionna!

  12. jhajer   thenextmartha

    Though I breastfed two kids, I always chose privacy over public feeding. I fully encourage women to do it where ever they want and feel comfortable doing so. I would nurse in my car, dressing room, a bathroom (hopefully with a chair) but I can’t think of a time when I did it in public. This was for my comfort level and not for anyone else. I just want to point out that sometimes it’s the woman’s own decision to be private with nursing.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I do want to reiterate what I said above: “Again, if someone wants to cover up, more power to her.”
      I am not trying to get all women to nurse right out sans cover if that’s not what they feel comfortable doing.
      I just want society to accept those women who do chose that route. (And to accept the women who choose the other options – nursing under a cover, nursing behind a closed door, feeding her child with a bottle, etc.)

  13. Mandy

    Keep posting, Dionna!

  14. Rebecca

    This may or may not be a topical reply, but it popped into my head, and since it did, I thought I would share it cause, well, I can.

    If I had time and money, I would do a study regarding socio economic and age in relation to opinions/views/comfort level with breastfeeding. I would hypothesize that there is a shift in the socioeconomic status of individuals who are comfortable with both public and private breastfeeding, in relation to age. To further refine that I would say that hypothesis:

    1. Among the “current parent” age bracket (i.e. those individuals of average child bearing age on the date of the study +/- 5 years to create a window). I would guess that the upper middle to upper income brackets (inc. individuals who would be in those income brackets who are either voluntarily or involuntarily unemployed currently and therefore not in one of those categories) have a higher tolerance and comfort with breastfeeding in general and esp with extended nursing and nursing in public.

    2. Among generations prior to the “current parent” age bracket, I am guessing that lower socioeconomic stati are more comfortable with extended nursing, nursing in public, and nursing in general.

    Here is why I think this. In previous generations, nursing was seen as an activity undertaken by individuals who could not “afford” to purchase formula, therefore, the lower socioeconomic brackets in the older populations, are more comfortable with all of the nursing phenomenon, because they were around it. Further, something my dad said to me while I was nursing struck a chord that makes me believe this as well. “Any farmer around is going to be all for nursing, they know that they can give a calf a milk supplement when its born, but, its just not as good as if a calf nurses from the cow. (I believe there is a trend to ‘wet nurse’ with livestock if there are issues with the mother, but that is just in my head…not research to prove it).” Farmer’s stereotypically, are in a lower income status bracket than the general population, especially with the rise of corporate farms. Additionally, to pull from personal experience, while I was still working hard to get Amelia to latch, we were at George’s parents house, and his mother, from an upper middle class home, was intrigued by the whole process, as it was not something she had attempted or been exposed to. His dad was blase’ about it, coming from a lower middle to lower socioeconomic background in a historically rural and lower socioeconomic state (Arkansas), as he had been exposed to it. In his own somewhat crude manner, this point was driven somewhat home when one of grandpa’s brothers was at George’s parents house, and Amelia got hungry and a little fussy, “well, just whip out a boob and feed her,” he says.

    Obviously, I am drawing a hypothesis from anecdotal experiences, but I think that it would hold true throughout a cross section of the population.

    Random tangent of the day…just wait, there could be another.

    • Rebecca

      Aren’t you all jealous of the chaos that goes on in my head on any given day :)

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