On a plane with my teenaged kids for spring break last week, I thought of one of the many times I breastfed in public on a similar airplane.
Long ago – the kids were a lot smaller — but I remember it like yesterday.
I was traveling alone with my three children, all under age five. As I was nursing the baby to keep her quiet while the flight took off, a woman across the aisle from me lost her mind. She loudly called me “one of those breastfeeding Nazis” simply for feeding my child in public. She herself looked to be about eight months pregnant.
Now, I knew Crazy Pregnant Lady’s insecurities about becoming a mom were what drove her vitriol. Nonetheless, her attack brought me to tears when I was literally exposed in public, at a moment when I most keenly needed the support of the so-called village. You know, in our wonderful country that worships baseball, apple pie, and motherhood?
That was 17 years ago. Little has changed about our village’s disapproval of feeding babies in public. But fortunately, breastfeeding advocates are getting more vocal about the need to feed without harassment in public spaces. Thankfully, most of us have moved beyond tears into outrage.
Because ridiculous incidents still happen.
On a recent United flight from Houston to Vancouver, a United Airlines employee brusquely asked a mom to “cover up” while nursing her infant. The mom, Kristen Hilderman, says the male flight attendant asked her husband to “help her out” by covering the baby with a blanket while she nursed. Another, also male, passenger a few rows back yelled “Because you’re breastfeeding…That is so offensive.” When Hilderman got up from her seat later, the flight attendant left her another blanket, just to make his point clear.
Or consider another mother in the supposedly women-friendly Oklahoma City YWCA. She was asked, by a YWCA employee, to leave the women’s locker room because she was feeding her baby there. Local breastfeeding supporters staged a public protest in response, and the YWCA apologized.
In both of these cases, the moms – and others – didn’t back down. They kept feeding their babies, and they protested the no-feeding policies. To bring more widespread public support, we need more of this pointed, but entirely reasonable, advocacy.
Now that the weather is warmer, and lots of moms and babies want to be outside, we are going to see more breasts and more feeding babies in public. So let’s all get ready to put on our big girl pants, and fight back for the right to feed our children in ways that put their needs, not squeamish bystanders, first.
A recent Scary Mommy blog about breastfeeding in public serves as a handy protest Bible.
Here are five key points from me, and Scary Mommy contributor Annie Reneu, to fortify the feeding-in-public stance:
1) Start calling nursing “feeding a baby.” Not “breastfeeding.” The focus should be on meeting the baby’s needs in a natural way with proven medical and developmental benefits. Not on our breasts.
2) Raise public awareness of the reality that it’s hard, and unnatural, to cover up and feed a baby at the same time. Feeding a baby with your boob is tricky at times, especially for new moms. It’s harder when you can’t see what you are doing. Some babies hate being covered. Some babies pull the cover off. Some get hot and sweaty and have trouble breathing when covered. Plus, eye contact between mom and baby are a key benefit of nursing. In fact, the location of the breast is designed to put mom and baby in close visual contact.
3) Location, location, location. Bathrooms, closets, and even some designated indoor nursing areas where anti-nursing advocates suggest we feed our babies are gross. Some require you to sit on the floor (yuck) or on the toilet (double yuck). This is unhygienic, uncomfortable, and insulting.
4) The underlying, unifying logic: there’s nothing inappropriate about feeding a baby. If you don’t want to see a woman feed her baby in public, don’t look. Don’t make a nursing mom or her child feel ashamed. Don’t exile her to the bathroom or another place. Don’t make feeding a baby harder than it already is. Just don’t look.
5) No more tears. This is my final suggestion as a mom who’s been there. I wish I had given the people who criticized my feeding my babies a piece of my mind, instead of crying quietly and hoping they’d go away. They had no right to embarrass me for the normal, natural way I chose to feed my babies, and anger would have been a more appropriate, empowering response than tears.