Breastfeeding in Public: Know Your Boob Rights
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!
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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