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Friday, July 09, 2010

Nursing in Public is NOT a Crime

Welcome to the July 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public

This post was written for inclusion in the NursingFreedom.org. All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public ("NIP"). See the bottom of this post for more information.


I was 20 years old, at Disneyland, with my husband and our 6 month old son. It was a busy day, and so I sent my husband ahead to hold our place in line for Pirates of the Caribbean while I took a seat on the ground by the wall to nurse my hungry baby. I was wearing a nursing tank, and was careful not to show too much skin, knowing Disneyland was a family place, and not wanting to offend anyone. For the past 6 months, I have been super careful nursing my baby, on and around the naval base where we lived, in the super conservative town near by, so to not offend anyone or upset my husband. It was stressful, to always have to worry, but I knew I was doing what was best for myself and my child.

So there in the heat, I was enjoying a quiet moment in the hustle and bustle of a busy Disney day, nursing my son. I knew there was a nursing room, but I wanted to stay close to where my husband was, to hopefully join him in line to ride one of my favorite rides. An elderly couple happened to pass by, close enough that the man could have touched my feet. He looked down at me with a disgusted look on his face, and sneered, “How dare you do that in public!” And just like that I was crushed. I started crying, my son was crying. I pulled my shirt together and got up to run to my husband who was still in line. He could barely understand me when I explained to him what had happened. My day, my trip was ruined, but the caustic words of an old man. I was so beaten down by all the causal comments about how I held my baby too much, I nursed him too much, I shouldn't let him sleep in my bed, I was spoiling him, that all it took was those few words to completely crush my spirit.

That was almost 20 years ago, but it profoundly changed the mother I am today. I am still on guard for the causal comments on how I parent my two youngest children (ages 7 and 4), but for a completely different reason. I am not scared of offending anyone, I am on guard to attack. I haven't had a single negative comment about nursing in public with my two younger ones, because I take on the affect of Go Ahead, Say Something, I DARE YOU. I no longer meekly agree with people who say I am spoiling my kids, or that I should have weaned because of this or that. I am armed with information, research, and a bad attitude to refute any and all arguments. Instead of using all my energy to avoid confrontation, I am now using my energy to be on high alert for potential confrontation. This is still NOT the way it's supposed to be, and not a stance I would recommend for a peaceful parenting experience.

Women should NOT have to be on alert at all times to defend their basic human rights. It is the LAW in most states that a woman can legally breastfeed her child anywhere she can legally be. She does not have to cover her babies head with a blanket. She does not have to go to the bathroom, or even to a specially designated nursing area, if she chooses not to. And yet, day after day, women are verbally accosted and thrown out of places illegally because “someone” might be offended by her exercising her legal rights.

Women need to be empowered to stand up for their rights. One of the best things a woman can do, is carry a copy of their state law, in their diaper bag, sling and bra! When a place of business asks them to leave, cover up or move to another area, they can then feel free to whip out the law, and educate the business. I also recommend that mom's use the word of mouth system to inform other moms about the place of business' attitude towards nursing mothers. Let the business owner or manager know what you are going to do. Blog about it, Tweet it, Facebook it, spread the word any and every way you can. If you are really brave, stage a nurse in ;)

If it's an individual who is making the issue, ignore them. Politely ask them to leave you alone. Call security, making sure that you have the law in hand in case security makes the mistake of siding with your accuser. If you are nervous about confrontation, try to travel with a friend, preferably a nursing one. If you just keep talking to your friend while you nurse, many people won't even know what you are doing.

One of the best ways mom's can help stop other moms from being accosted while nursing in public, is to nurse in public. The more mainstream it becomes, the more normalized it becomes, the less likely someone is to make a stink about it. Don't be shy, don't hide under a nursing cover if you don't want to, don't feel like what you are doing is wrong. The more confident you appear, the less likely someone is to approach you with a negative comment. In reality, I think most of the people who comment, are doing it because they are reasonably sure that you are just going to slink off to the ladies room to finish baby's meal.

Looking back know, I can think of hundreds of things to say to that man at Disneyland who upset me so much. Most of them probably are not child friendly enough to even be said inside the park. The scared, uncertain me did exactly what he wanted me to, leave the area of his view. I think if I could go back now, and do it again, I would have to say the best come back would have been, “I can't believe you are wearing those ugly socks with those sandals!” and turned back to my beautiful nursing boy, to continue enjoying the moment.

Art by Erika Hastings at http://mudspice.wordpress.com/

Welcome to the Carnival of Nursing in Public

Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit NursingFreedom.org any time to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.

Do you support breastfeeding in public? Grab this badge for your blog or website to show your support and encourage others to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the rights of breastfeeding mothers and children.

This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following days:
July 5 - Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World
July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child
July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.
July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives
July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It


Spooky said...

Hopefully if you respond to someone with "thank you but we are comfortable here," the person will leave you alone, but I agree that having your state's law handy is a great way to really stop someone from harassing you.

Spooky said...

I have NIP-ed for 7 1/2 years and thankfully I have never heard boo from anyone! I am always amazed by that actually, because I have heard so many horror stories (like your D-land encounter)...sometimes I feel like I'm out of the loop by not ever having to stand up for my right to NIP! haha When my babies are little, I'm a no-holds-barred NIPer...but also extremely discreet/modest about the whole thing. I've stood in the aisles of Target, sans sling, baby-in-arms and nursed while trying to decide what shelf thing to buy! I don't know if ppl didn't realize what was happening or if they were too shocked to say anything. Regardless, I just continued discussing pros and cons of the shelves with DH until we figured out which one we wanted.

also...if you want someone to know you are NIP all you have to do is wear a blanket or nursing cover up...talk about drawing attention! (Of course I'd rather mama's use that if that's the only way they are comfortable NIP...but I never saw the point!)

Sorry for the late night ramble!! Glad I found you on the big wide web :)

grasshopper said...

Spooky, you make a good point. I'm a new mom - my babe is 2 months old. And when I haven't used a cover, I don't even know if people knew I was breastfeeding. It's when you have a cover over you that it's obvious and (possibly) awkward.

I made a point to breastfeed unapologetically fromt he beginning, ESPECIALLY with my family, my husband's family, and my friends. I had a c-section and when I returned from recovery, I had my babe to my breast with my mom, dad, brother, MIL and FIL there with me. I never asked if they were ok with it. I just did it. I thought briefly whether my brother might be uncomfortable, but he didn't even flinch. And he came up and touched my daughter while she was nursing (with my other boob just hanging out!).

Anyway... I'm sorry about your experience Beckie. I haven't had any negative encounters yet. I'm getting more brave each time I'm in public with nursing without a cover.