Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Please Nurse in the Ladies' Room!

Photo from ZoloWear ring slings.
Today a mom asked me if businesses could make you go to the restroom to nurse your baby. Apparently a local business has signs up about it's nursing area in the ladies' room. She doesn't follow the suggestion, however, and discreetly nurses wherever she pleases. The truth is that nobody even notices that a mother is breastfeeding if she's wearing a baby sling and being discreet about it.

In my reply to her, I mentioned the Alabama state law which states, "A mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be present." It's great that a business actually provides a place for mothers to breastfeed because some new mothers really aren't quite ready to nurse in public yet, so a comfortable lounge area might be just what she needs. However, it is unfortunate that we still have some businesses in the Tennessee Valley that frown on breastfeeding mothers. In the last year I've heard of at least one restaurant that asked a nursing mother to move because she was "bothering another patron." Why couldn't the person who was bothered just move?

So why is it that some people are so bothered by the sight of a breastfeeding mother? Are they just as irritated by the site of a scantily-clad young woman? I wonder what would happen if a mother decided to breastfeed her baby at Hooters??

I do have a couple of theories about why some people get upset, but I'd love to know what you think!

  1. Those who didn't breastfeed may feel somewhat threatened by the site of a woman breastfeeding. Perhaps it makes them feel guilty.
  2. They don't understand that a baby nursing from his mother's breast is eating in the most natural way possible, and a baby drinking from a bottle is actually eating in a very artificial way. 
  3. They believe that a mother feeding her baby should be a private thing. It's okay for them to eat a meal in public, but heaven-forbid a hungry baby do so (unless he's being artificially fed...see #2)
  4. They equate breastfeeding with other bodily functions that are best done in private...The only problem is that breastfeeding is filling up a tummy, not emptying it!
  5. They think of breasts in purely sexual terms and fail to recognize the true biological function of the human breast.
The fact of the matter is that in many countries around the world, nobody gives a nursing mother a second glance. The culture as a whole recognizes the truth that breastfeeding is the ideal way to feed an infant. Our culture, however, perceives bottle-feeding as the norm; therefore, a mother who deviates from that norm and breastfeeds her baby in the public must be a little off in some way. 

If we ever hope the reach the Healthy People 2020 breastfeeding goals of 81.9% of all mothers initiating breastfeeding and 60.6% or all mothers still breastfeeding at 6 months, we are going to have to see some sweeping cultural  changes. We as a society need to make it comfortable for mothers to nurse wherever they happen to be. If you see the symbol to the left, you can be assured that you have found a business that is breastfeeding-friendly.

Have you had businesses that have made you feel either very comfortable or very uncomfortable about nursing there? I'd love to hear about it!


  1. My child had dish clothes thrown on him , I was a first time mom and was upset and tearful . It''s too long a story to go to in depth here but..now I am a full blown lactivist who dares anyone to confront me now. The law is on our side ...even if the society we exist in makes it intolerable at times.

  2. Elizabeth, that is awful! I can't imagine how devastating that must have been!

  3. I believe #5 is one of the most likely culprits. This is also related to why many people think that nursing a toddler is unacceptable and that mothers only continue extended breastfeeding because they're selfish. (As if anyone can force a toddler to do anything they don't want to do!) #2 is also on the nose--society as a whole fails to realize that breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a youngster, and it will probably be a long uphill battle to change that.

    Since I have twins, I have not nursed in public as much as many women because the logistics get a little too complicated sometimes, but I have been fortunate that I've never gotten any negative feedback.