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Breastfeeding in Public: Know Your Boob Rights

Aug21

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Hi Amalah!
Some crazy stuff has been going on in my hometown (see here for details) and needless to say I’ve just attended my first nurse-in! It was very exciting and all, but now after reading the horrible comments posted in response to the news articles I’m getting a little paranoid about nursing in public. I’ve nursed in public before with a cover, but mostly because I’m just getting the hang of it and don’t want to totally flash everyone when I try to get her latched. I don’t want to hide behind the cover forever and I need some help coming up with something clever to use when a breastfeeding hate monger gives my grief. Oh, silver-tongued goddess Amalah, please help!
Sarah

The first thing to keep in mind here, I think, is that comments on the Internet RARELY translate over to real life. People say stuff in comments sections that they would simply never, ever say to someone in person, no matter how militant and lathered up they seem about the topic. Anonymity! Breeding cowardly jackassery since…oh, probably the beginning of time.
The second thing to remember is that if someone WERE to say something horrible to you out in public? You don’t owe them a THING. Politeness, logic, measured rationality. I wouldn’t even waste any wit or cleverness on someone so low and crass. I’d probably just tell them to eff off, without the e and the second f and with the other blanks filled in. I wouldn’t argue or engage or try to change their minds — though if they persisted, I’d whip out my phone and threaten to call the police on THEM, reminding them that nursing in public is PROTECTED by the law and their comments constitute harassment. If you aren’t a swearer, a simple “mind your own business” or “go take your hang-ups elsewhere” would suffice. Personally, I’d curse up a backed-up-potty-mouthed STORM, just because I’d want to make the jerk just as uncomfortable as he or she made ME.
All of this is hypothetical, by the way, as no one EVER said anything to me about nursing in public. And I nursed in public a lot. In fact, I was generally met with smiles and the occasionally thumbs up from other women, and everybody else either 1) didn’t notice or 2) didn’t care or 3) kept their shocked little sensitivities to themselves. One time we took the boys to a local farm and a woman offered me the use of a private room, and just as I tensed up a bit, I realized she was simply trying to ensure that I was comfortable, and that the offer was an awkward attempt at letting me know they were happy to accommodate nursing moms. (I declined the room; she went on to tell me about how her son didn’t wean until he was three.) I did use a cover sometimes, or the sleep hood on my Ergo, though plenty of times I nursed without either. I always dressed for easy, discreet nursing — I never yanked up the hem of a dress or anything. I’d rather be the example of how it can be done well and discreetly than be *that anecdote* someone brings up every time the topic is discussed at dinner parties and on message boards, all “omg she just took her whole shirt off right there!
If, instead of some random wackadoo, you are confronted by a store manager or employee and asked to leave or cover up, it’s a different story. Again, no need for wit or cleverness, but this time it IS important to know your rights. And your rights are: you are allowed to nurse in public anywhere that you are allowed to be with your baby. (So sorry, no nursing in Area 51.) Twenty states have passed ADDITIONAL laws clarifying this right, but even if you live in a state without the clarifying law, it’s STILL legal as all get-out. (Here’s a summary of the laws across all 50 states.)
If you are asked to leave or cover up or go to the restroom: Don’t be ugly or shrill (essentially, don’t give them any more “ammunition” that you are a “problem”), but calmly remind them that breastfeeding in public is legal. If they persist with the offer of a cover, you simply say “no thank you, we’re fine.” If they suggest the bathroom, you again say, “no thank you, that’s not really a nice place to eat.” If they ask you to leave, let them know that you will report them and reiterate that they are completely in the wrong here, in the eyes of the law (and likely, their employer’s policies).
And then you go ahead and RAISE HELL. Raise your voice a bit and ask them one last time to clarify that they are okay with violating a nursing mother’s rights. (Just in case there are other mothers in the vicinity who may come to your defense.) (I SO WOULD, BRING IT, BOOB-HATERZ.) Report it to FirstRight and the National Alliance of Breastfeeding Advocacy (NABA). Tell Twitter. Tell Facebook.
But still. Don’t let the fear of this happening stop you from nursing your baby while you’re out and about. These incidents are, thanks to the tireless efforts of other moms and the advocacy groups, getting rarer and rarer. All the press in your hometown raised awareness and probably prompted more than a few memos and meetings at other restaurants and business, despite whatever the prevailing opinion from the online peanut gallery seems to be.
* Photo by Orin Crooker, Hoopeston, Ill. 1916. From the Library of Congress. (Thanks, bobster855)

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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21 Responses to “Breastfeeding in Public: Know Your Boob Rights”

  1. Nicole Aug 21 at 11:23 am Reply Reply

    I have had to use the lines, “Yes, actually, I *am* allowed to nurse here – the supreme court says so” (I am Canadian) and “Do you eat in the bathroom?”
    Also, there’s a woman in my town that led the campaign for women to be allowed to go around topless. And she won a decision in the Supreme Court.
    And quite honestly, if she’s allowed to go around topless, then I can nurse in public. And everyone in my town knows here, so all I have to do is say her name and they shut their pie holes :)

  2. Diana Aug 21 at 11:52 am Reply Reply

    With my first, I was oh-so-careful to cover up when nursing in public. With my second, I’ve gotten lazy – I just pull up my shirt and latch him on as fast as I can. And no one has ever given us a second glance.
    What I’ve learned from breastfeeding in public is that people aren’t actually paying all that much attention to what I’m doing, and usually don’t notice.

  3. Clare Aug 21 at 12:19 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve nursed all over the country — east coast, west coast, mid west, deep south — and in all sorts of situations — airplanes, restaurants, church (front pew, no less), libraries, rest stops, the concourses of shopping malls, and moving cars (babies always strapped in to the car seat). You name it, I’ve probably fed one of my kids there. And I have had NOT ONE negative comment. You’ll be fine. YOU are in the right, and you’ll be well served if you project confidence in your rights. Quiet self-assurance goes a long way to heading off negativity.

  4. sasha Aug 21 at 12:24 pm Reply Reply

    I’m not a mother, nursing or otherwise, but I’d absolutely, positively come to the defense of anyone who was being harassed so egregiously.

  5. Lesha Aug 21 at 12:51 pm Reply Reply

    I once got asked (told?) in Target to either go to the bathroom or a dressing room. I had just plopped down in the middle of the infant section figuring it was the baby section, no one would mind there. I was new at nursing and I sure wish I would have known all this before that incident. I will say AFTER I sure knew and I carried a print of out the laws in my bag as well.
    Eff them is right!
    I can’t wait for my next baby to do more nursing in public! I seriously DARE someone to say something to me.

  6. Lauren Aug 21 at 12:52 pm Reply Reply

    I stopped using a cover over my nursing baby when I realized she was attracting much more attention by waving it all around then if she just latched on and nursed without something over her to play with. I never received a negative word about it, and I nursed each kid for nearly two years. That’s a lot of public nursing!
    The fact that these stories make national news these days is probably a good thing, because it means it doesn’t happen a lot, and there’s a big outrage when it does. You’ll be fine, you’ll be great!

  7. Marnie Aug 21 at 1:23 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter would not let me cover her up while nursing. Her flailing and thrashing while she tried to get the blanket off was more of a threat to revealing my boob than just getting her latched on quickly, so I never did cover her, even in public.
    The only “issue” I ever had while nursing in public was a very lovely, grandmotherly women who actually came over and started caressing my daughter’s head – WHILE MY DAUGHTER WAS NURSING. I was so startled, I think the look on my face was what prompted her husband to grab her arm and pull her away, mumbling apologetically.

  8. Candace Aug 21 at 2:21 pm Reply Reply

    THANK YOU for the post! I am an attorney and I did not know there was actual legislation re: breastfeeding in public. I am so excited that I printed MD and VA’s too bad there is nothing in the DC Code where I work, but still, nothing like empowerment to tell people to back the h#$% off.
    Oddly enough, I think Southwest Airlines recently forced a woman to deboard a plane due to her breastfeeding? I am taking my first flight with my son, who will be born in mid October, on Southwest! Should I be worried? Did they change their story? I remember this did cause a massive amount of bad PR.
    Thanks again Amalah!

  9. Angela Aug 21 at 3:01 pm Reply Reply

    I flew Southwest when my daughter was about 5 months old, and nursed her on all the flights, both with and without a cover, and nobody said anything to me about it. I do recommend getting a window seat if you can–for me it was more comfortable and I didn’t have to worry about her feet sticking out in the aisle!

  10. Doug Aug 21 at 3:36 pm Reply Reply

    Southwest seems to periodically have some incident where some flight attendant overreaches a bit. They had that miniskirt nonsense, and maybe 5-7 years ago there was an anti-breastfeeding incident. I would hope at this point that even if you get a particuarly stupid flight attendant that you could call over the other ones and they’d explain the policy to the stupid one.

  11. psumommy Aug 21 at 5:03 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve nursed everywhere and anywhere-including on the DC metro. And while getting off of it. I’ve had lost of experience (I’m on year 5¬Ω right now…4th baby) and have only ever had positive experiences if anyone says anything while I’m nursing in public. No-one else notices.

  12. txmama Aug 21 at 5:26 pm Reply Reply

    Please take heart, Sarah! I have nursed ALL OVER — including about six major subway systems, Wrigley Field, and dozens of airplanes. And NEVER, NOT ONCE, has anyone made comments to me. It enrages me when it happens, but I do think Amalah is totally right that’s it’s rare! Good luck.

  13. Kim Aug 21 at 6:48 pm Reply Reply

    Sarah, I have flown 10 times already with my son, and on every single flight I nursed him, many of them he stayed latched on for most of the flight while sleeping. I have yet to have a problem, and have even flown first class and breastfed my son next to a perfect stranger. I always fly US Air.
    I wrote a post similar to this recently about nursing in public, and I urge moms to do what I did: print a business sized card with the rights of your state to present to anyone who tells you to leave or cover up.
    dirtydiaperlaundry.com/know-your-rights-breastfeeding-in-public/
    NY has really good laws regarding breastfeeding. Since I am going to Las Vegas for ABC I am going to print one for NV as well, but I doubt I will have trouble. Never have.
    -Kim
    http://www.dirtydiaperlaundry.com

  14. Rebecca Aug 21 at 9:54 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my goodness….LOVE, LOVE, Love this article.

  15. Laura Aug 22 at 12:52 am Reply Reply

    Candace – one note – DC does appear to address breastfeeding in their code. http://www.ncsl.org/IssuesResearch/Health/BreastfeedingLaws/tabid/14389/Default.aspx says “D.C. Code Ann. ¬ß 2-1402.81 et seq. amends the Human Rights Act of 1977 to include breastfeeding as part of the definition of discrimination on the basis of sex, to ensure a woman’s right to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where she has the right to be with her child. The law provides that breastfeeding is not a violation of indecent exposure laws.” (There’s additional info about nursing mothers and breaks to express breast milk, also.)

  16. Catherine S Aug 22 at 8:07 am Reply Reply

    I have been nursing my for almost a year and I was nervous about it at first. But really, the reality of nursing a baby in public once you get the hang of it just isn’t that bad. I haven’t had anyone say anything. The one time I did get a comment was when I was pumping in an airport bathroom and a woman congratulated me on being so dedicated. Having an active 11 month old who wants to turn upsidedown, standing up, and doing cartwheels while nursing does not exactly make me the most modest nursing mother either.
    I know there are incidents where people do and say stupid things, i.e. the Chick-fil-a situation. However, most people just really don’t care that much. I will say that it may be the nature of the Chick-fil-a company which is REALLY Christian and conservative. A friend of mine works in their corporate headquarters and has to fake going to church, etc, because she is afraid she would be passed over for promotion. Dunno, that may have something to do with that woman’s experience.
    In any case, chances are you will never have to deal with any of that do-you-want-to-go-to-the bathroom-to-nurse nonsense because most of the time people don’t have the balls to say ANYTHING. Good luck with your baby and happy nursing:)

  17. Ann Aug 23 at 5:44 pm Reply Reply

    I nursed all three of my kids for a year each anywhere and everywhere with no problems at all. It is very easy to be discreet. (Because really, I’m not interested in showing the world my hoots.) I think comments and complaints are few and far between. Don’t sweat it!

  18. Ann Aug 23 at 5:45 pm Reply Reply

    I nursed all three of my kids for a year each anywhere and everywhere with no problems at all. It is very easy to be discreet. (Because really, I’m not interested in showing the world my hoots.) I think comments and complaints are few and far between. Don’t sweat it!

  19. Alias Mother Aug 24 at 1:52 pm Reply Reply

    I, too, nursed in just about every situation (in a store. In a park. On an airplane. In a bowling alley!) with zero comments and zero problems. In fact, the only time I even felt judged was once on a plane, when the 20-something chick next to me had palpable disgust coming off her. But, still, she didn’t say anything.
    I decided early on that if I were ever challenged, my response would be, “It’s either a little boob or a hungry, screaming baby. You choose.” (I’m not really the type to counter with a defense of my legal rights first thing–not that there’s anything wrong with that!) But I never had to use it.

  20. Maria Aug 26 at 12:43 am Reply Reply

    Totally aside… Clare, how on EARTH did you manage to nurse a baby in a car seat?? I’m trying to picture that.
    We just got back from a 5 day road trip with my almost 8 week old son this evening and it was enough just pumping and giving him bottles in the car seat! (pumping in the passenger seat discreetly was fun enough…)

  21. Shylo Aug 27 at 2:43 pm Reply Reply

    Try pumping in public, under a cover. People will think you’re a total creep and will give you the skunk eye to end all skunk eyes. Pumping is a huge sacrifice and general pain in the ass and I wish people in general and other moms specifically were more kind about it.

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