“Turn Around and Face the Wall”: On Responding to a Nursing in Public Objection and Normalizing NIP
Whenever I read or write a piece about normalizing nursing in public (such as 9 Ways Google Can Help Us Normalize Breastfeeding), there are the inevitable commenters that cannot believe this is still an issue.
Unfortunately, it is.
- There are still occasional news stories and nurse-ins after businesses ask nursing mothers to leave or to breastfeed in a bathroom.
- There are still nursing mothers who cover up at home because they can’t stand the thought of their other children seeing them breastfeed their babies.
- There are still nursing relationships injured or destroyed by the very polite (and usually well-meaning) friends, pastors, and strangers who ask them to cover up, use a bottle, or otherwise breastfeed in a way that is not comfortable.
I know this not only because I am part of the breastfeeding community, but also because I experienced it myself this past month. Today I want to share two stories. Both happened while I was nursing Ailia – one experience was negative, the other positive.
Why do we need to normalize nursing in public?
“Because people don’t like to see weird things.”
Kieran started taking a dance/tumbling class when Ailia was almost three months old. On his third week, the teacher pulled me aside before class started. Here was our conversation.
Teacher: “I have a favor to ask of you. When you nurse your baby, would you mind turning toward the wall?”1
Me: “I’m confused, if I was using a bottle to nurse my baby, would you ask me to turn toward the wall?”
Teacher: “No, we have a couple of homeschooled teenage boys in the building, and they would not be comfortable seeing you breastfeed.”
Me: “I really would not feel comfortable turning toward the wall to nurse my baby during class. You know, I haven’t seen those boys very often, they’ve only walked through this room once in the past couple of weeks. Would it be possible for them to simply stay out of this room during the 45 minutes each week that we are here?”
Teacher: “Well, they do walk through sometimes, and you understand how teenage boys might feel – the teen years are so awkward, and they are learning how to control their bodies. I was a breastfeeding mother myself, and I know how you feel. But sometimes we have to do things that make us feel uncomfortable in order to respect others.”
Me: “I guess I still don’t see why this is my responsibility. I’m simply trying to feed my baby.”
Teacher: “The mother is just uncomfortable with it. You know boys, they just don’t like to see weird things.”
Me: “I would be happy to discuss this with their mother, but I’m really saddened by this conversation. If I were a new nursing mother who was unsure of myself, this experience could make me never want to nurse in public again. That could jeopardize my entire nursing relationship. I do not believe it is my responsibility to make those boys feel comfortable. I nurse very discreetly as it is.”2
Teacher: “Well, I’ll leave it up to you – you go ahead and do what makes you feel comfortable.”
This was a condensed version of the conversation, but it gives you the gist – the teacher was very kind, very polite, but very insistent that it was my responsibility to make everyone else feel comfortable. I responded in a very respectful manner – I never got angry or upset with her. All in all, it was a very civilized conversation, which made it that much harder for me to stick up for myself. It would almost be easier to stand up for my right to nurse if someone was being rude about it.
These are the well-meaning people who can unintentionally sabotage a breastfeeding relationship. For the record, I am an informed, confident breastfeeding mother. But as soon as that teacher turned walked away, i turned to my friend and promptly started to cry.
What if I was not sure of myself? What if I did not know the law? What if that was one of my first nursing in public experiences? The outcome may have been vastly different – in how I chose to respond to the teacher, in how I decided to nurse in class (I continue to nurse comfortably and as discreetly as I feel necessary), and in whether I continued to nurse – at home or in public.
So how do we normalize nursing in public?
By nursing. By explaining to our kids that this is one of the ways babies eat. By allowing each breastfeeding pair the freedom to nurse in whatever way feels comfortable to them.
And now for the positive story. A few weeks after the incident at Kieran’s class, we were walking through Costco. I was nursing Ailia in a Maya Wrap.
Two little boys, probably around seven and eight years old, were standing on a cart near me, and one of them spotted me. He asked his mother, “Mom, what is that lady doing with that baby?” His mom glanced at me and said – in this perfectly nonchalant way – “She’s breastfeeding her baby. I used to do that with you guys, I’d put you in the sling and nurse you and be able to walk around. It’s the perfect way to feed a baby and be hands free.”
And then the boy said,
And that was that. It wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t an intricate explanation. Those little boys did not think it was weird, because (well, besides the fact that it wasn’t weird) their mom made it seem ordinary.
She normalized it for them.
What have you done to normalize breastfeeding – for yourself, for your child, or for someone else?
- By the way, turning to face the wall would have both ostracized me from the other mothers who I visit with during class, and it would have made it difficult or impossible to watch the dance class. ↩
- I wear a nursing tank top (and have almost every day since Kieran was born over four years ago), so not a lot of skin is exposed when I nurse. Not that I think every woman should wear a nursing tank top, of course! It’s just how I feel comfortable nursing. ↩
- And for any new breastfeeding mother who was scared by that first story – that is much less common than the second story. ↩
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"“Turn Around and Face the Wall”: On Responding to a Nursing in Public Objection and Normalizing NIP"
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