A parent is allowed to nurse their child anywhere a parent and a child are legally allowed to be. But that doesn't mean
moms breastfeeding in public don't need — and deserve — support. The truth is, the legality of breastfeeding doesn't stop people from giving moms dirty looks, telling moms to cover up, or insisting they stop feeding entirely. And, unfortunately, a lot of those people are other women.
In a 2018 study published in
International Breastfeeding Journal, 72% of the 300 women surveyed said they should be able to breastfeed in public. But 13% believed it wasn't appropriate to publicly breastfeed, and 31% said they felt uncomfortable watching other women nurse in public. It's not just men who are shaming, judging, and trying to discourage moms from breastfeeding in public. It's women, too. In a 2019 survey of 1,000 people conducted by Aeroflow, 25% of women believe it's inappropriate to breastfeed or pump in public, compared to 22% of men.
I breastfed my first child until he was almost 3, and I'm still feeding my second child, who is 2. I've breastfed on buses and in museums, at Shabbat services and at schools. I've fielded questions, received judgmental glares, and have weathered demands that I stop, from both men and women. Thankfully, I've also received a lot of support, from moms, dads, grandparents, and people who've shared with me that they have chestfed, breastfed, and formula-fed. In the end, it honestly doesn't take much to support a mom breastfeeding in public. But, as moms, we do need other women to step up and be there for us in the following ways:
Smile At Us
Really, that's all it takes. Sure, you could add a little knowing nod, if you want, or a tip of the ole hat. But in the end, just letting us nursing folks know that you're with us takes the pressure off. And because people who disapprove usually make their disdain obvious, it's nice to see someone who is supportive... just to balance it all out.
It doesn't even have to be about breastfeeding. Parenting is hard, unrecognized, unrewarded work. So a simple compliment — about our kids, about us feeding our babies, about how dedicated we appear to be — can go a long way. Personally, I don't even care if you don't know me or whether or not I am a great, dedicated mom. If I'm breastfeeding in public and you tell me I'm awesome, I'm going to believe you. So trust me when I say I'll happily drop my compliment-skepticism and accept the rare positive feedback about my parenting you're throwing my way.
Let Us Know If You Nurse In Public, Too
When I stop to feed my kid and take a look around, I'm usually the only person breastfeeding in public. I'm almost always the only person nursing without a cover. Even the typical act of feeding your child can start to feel isolating. So let us know that you nurse, too! That you breastfeed whenever, wherever.
I breastfeed publicly for a variety of reasons, including my belief that it's a form of activism. I breastfeed publicly so that other people might feel more freedom to do the same, if they want to. And, like with most forms of activism, it's hard to tell if I'm making a difference. So, letting me know you're breastfeeding and wish you could feed publicly, or that you're surprised more people don't, or that you don't yet have the confidence to, helps me know that my public breastfeeding is getting people thinking. It lets me know that it's working.
Stand Up To The Naysayers For Us
When someone asks a breastfeeding mom to move, cover up, or stop feeding, she has to decide how she's going to respond. She has to weigh all the factors as they're presented to her — like safety, social capital, her own confidence and exhaustion, how the baby would put up with a pause, and so forth — and then, in a moment, make a decision that could impact not only her, but her child(ren).
But what if she didn't have to? What if she could just go on nursing, taking care of her child, and s
omeone else took care of that interruption for her? Because, honestly, a mom shouldn't have to stand up for herself when she's in a vulnerable position. If it "takes a village to raise a baby," the village should be willing to stand up for mom, too.
So if you can, and if it's safe for you to do so, you can run interference for a nursing mom. Let the judgmental jerk taking aim at the nursing mom know that it's completely legal for her to breastfeed, so she doesn't have to do anything if she doesn't want to. Tell them to leave her alone so she can feed her child. Compliment the mom who is breastfeeding, so this rude person knows that they're the only one taking issue with a mom feeding their baby.
More often than not, if a person realizes they don't have a crowd of people on their side, they'll sink back into their hole and leave the nursing mom alone.
Offer Us A Seat
Many experienced nursing moms have mastered gymnastic-level feats of nursing, like cradling a 25 pound sleeping toddler while they're latched while she simultaneously walks to her car. Or balancing like a flamingo on one leg while a hungry baby perches on her raised knee and enjoys a meal.
But just because these acrobatics are possible, doesn't mean they're easy. Offer the exhausted parent a seat on the park bench or bus, at the PTA meeting or church picnic.
Breastfeed In Public With Us
Is a mom who can and has decided to breastfeed obligated to nurse in public? No. Absolutely not. But if you do want to breastfeed in public, and it's time for your kid to eat, and you see one of us nursing our own children, join us. There's safety in numbers, to be sure, and public displays of solidarity are powerful. Not only will you be #NormalizingBreastfeeding, you'll be reminding us nursing moms that we're not alone.