There may be no breastfeeding topic more controversial than nursing in public. Just about every week there is another news report of a mother, and her baby, being harassed across the country. One of the worst parts of these incidences comes from comments made about nursing in public. The comments will range from support, to those that are intended to be helpful, but really are not, and those that are downright hurtful and harmful. I suggest listening to the positive comments. Ignore the comments comparing it to sex or to using a bathroom if on social media, if that happens in person I suggest trying to educate the person or avoiding them. For when you get the comments that are meant to be helpful “I support breastfeeding, but only if a child is covered,” or “Breastfeeding should be done in a private room, since it is a private act,” or those that suggest “Pump before you go somewhere,” here are some refutations on why those comments do not work for everyone.
When asked, “Why can’t you just use a cover?” My first reaction is “Why can’t you just cover your head while eating?” Which is typically met with blank gasping faces and a response of “well that is different…” I know women that the cover made it easier for them to nurse. My little one he would pull off any form of cover. He didn’t even like when I would wear two shirts and one was lifted up, thus covering was never an option for us. When you see a mother using a cover, and it is working for her give her a thumbs up, or say “good job.” When you encounter a mother fighting her cover, I have found an encouraging word sometimes gives her the courage to ditch the cover. I have gone as far as asking if my little one and I could join them. When they see another women breastfeeding comfortably uncovered their responses tends to be along the lines of “Wow I have never seen a mom do that before.”
A clean, welcoming, mother’s room can make getting a particularly tired, or upset, or distracted, child latched and contented. A messy, dirty, toddler diaper smelling room, or worse a bathroom, can feel worse than the rude comments made by the ignorant people. I have experienced many different mother’s rooms, and can share stories of peace and horror. When a mother and child are always forced to leave a room, can cause feelings of isolation, add to postpartum depression, and ultimately cause nursing relationships to end prematurely. I am always checking out mother’s rooms, and it has become a joke that I am “obsessed with them,” reaching the point my family points them out to me so I can document them.
This clean and modern mother’s room is found at The Living Planet Aquarium complete with a nice couch and long counter. Exclusively pumping moms will find many power outlets for their convenience. In addition to the official mother’s room, an official breastfeeding space has emerged. Near the shark and large sea creature tank, is a large darkened room with stair benches. A trip to the Aquarium is not complete without a quick milk break, typically joined with other moms taking advantage of this space.
One of my favorite places to nurse at The Museum of Ancient Life is upstairs by the magnetic puzzle wall. I have given moms props for nursing there by the water/sand exhibit at that museum.
Welcome to the mother’s room at the USU Tooele Campus. I was impressed that they had a mother’s room in place that I would not expect to see many babies. I am sure it is used mostly to follow the Affordable Care Act’s Requirement of a non-bathroom, private area, for mothers to pump. If it looks like a closet, that is because it is one just off to the side of a bathroom. I have breastfeed my toddler in the main hall of the campus while chatting with administration with no one batting an eye.
The next set of pictures comes from the Hogle Zoo. These really get the booby prize for the most things wrong with a mother’s room. Having a bottle as the image for breastfeeding a baby sends the message that feeding from the breast is wrong. The room is inside a bathroom, of which both were covered in trash, toilet paper, and worse. The rocking chair was worn out and falling apart. I did count five outlets, which is nice for pumping moms. When I tweeted my concerns to the Zoo about cleanliness, it was addressed; however, they were not welcoming to suggestions to put on the sign other than a bottle. I was told, “it is better than the alternative.” To which I replied, “You mean the international breastfeeding symbol?” They never replied. It is sad that these are the messages they are sending to breasting moms, since where better to see mammals feeding their young than a Zoo? I do want to note that I have nursed in numerous locations throughout the Zoo and have never been harassed. One of the cutest little ones I saw getting her lunch was by the splash pad as her mom gave food to her siblings while they played
When done right it can be nice to leave the room. Sometimes leaving the room to nurse is a great excuse to get out of a conversation. Other times, being forced to leave the area is not a welcome idea- can you imagine how bored an older sibling would be in some of these rooms. There are times when it is wanted, a nice mother’s room can be a great experience, other times being welcomed to breastfeeding out in the world is better.
“Is it really that hard to pump before you go somewhere?” the simple answer is yes. Every bottle that is given the mother needs to make sure she is having milk extracted from her breast at the same time, or is at risk of reducing her supply. This is a huge booby trap. I pumped milk every day for the first year of my son’s life. I could not leave home without my pump. I can tell you from experience that lugging a pump everywhere you go can be tiring. Finding a place to pump can be extremely annoying. Pumps are complicated, and have a lot of parts- tubes, flanges, bottles, and membranes- not to mention you have to bring batteries or find an outlet. The first date my husband and I went on postpartum I pumped before I left, arranged at the place we were going to pump while there, and pumped on the car ride home. Well this was at MegaPlex Theater in Sandy. I had messaged their Facebook page asking if they had a mother’s room that I could pump in before I was planning to see a midnight release of a movie, and their PR manager replied that they did not, and let me use her office. It gets to be very cumbersome to pump and can end up as another booby trap if it gets to be too hard for a mother to have the desire to continue their breastfeeding journey.
So yes a mother could use those “helpful suggestions,” and if that is what helps them have breastfeeding success please continue to cover, leave the room, or pump. But if you are like me and find your child hungry while out and about pull up a chair feed your baby. The benefits will outweigh the odd comments, cross-eye looks, and any internet troll you may come across.
Elizabeth Gray is a Certified Lactation Consultant, and a birth doula. She runs Tooele Birth and Breastfeeding where she empowers moms to have breastfeeding success. A student at USU she is working for a degree in developmental psychology so that she can further help Mother’s, infants, and children. You can read more of her blog post at www.tooelebirthandbreastfeeding.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter @BethGrayCLC
This post was featured on Breastfeeding Café Annual Blog Carnival Sunday July 27, 2014
Or they are my own.