A Breastfeeding Journey in the 21st Century

This is a guest post written by Denielle Kennett. She is a first-time mom to her daughter Lennon and lives in St. Petersburg, Florida with her husband and two rescue dogs. She is the founder of It Takes a Village, a community dedicated to helping parents survive the first 12 weeks with their newborn baby by providing them with items essential to those first 3 months of life together. For more info, please email her at hello@thefirst12-weeks.com or visit ITAVBox.com.

STOP STARING AT MY TITS – A BREASTFEEDING JOURNEY IN THE 21ST CENTURY

 

“Why don’t you take a picture, it’ll last longer!”

“Keep staring maybe I’ll do a trick!”

“What are you looking at?”

These have all crossed my mind and possibly my lips over these previous 12 months as a nursing mama. I am beyond certain that I am not alone in the constant battle between nursing in public (NIP) and bystanders having to “witness” the atrocity that is a mom feeding her child. But, why do I feel like it’s still an issue?

Well, because it is.

You see, in my pre-baby life so many moons ago, I honestly had no idea this atrocity of separation between NIP and everyone else even existed! Why would I be aware of this alternate universe where parents judge other parents, where women judge other women, where men gawk/stare/drool/snap a picture of a nursing mama? Because quite simply, I am not a jerk and a nursing mom in public is not something I would even give a second glance nor remember on my commute home.

You see, even before my baby if I did see a mom NIP, it was no different (to me, at least) than a woman swimming with her kid, a dad throwing a baseball with his daughter, or a nanny bottle feeding a newborn. You know why? Because all those things benefit the baby, so why would I judge. Why would anyone judge for that matter?

Thessaloniki, Greece, November 1 2015: Mother breastfeeding her baby on the 6th Nationwide public breastfeeding in celebration of World Breastfeeding Week.
Thessaloniki, Greece, November 1 2015: Mother breastfeeding her baby on the 6th Nationwide public breastfeeding in celebration of World Breastfeeding Week.

And then one day, where I was once the everyday citizen, I became the freak show. I nursed my daughter in public and I became what everyone else was staring at, and it sucked (no pun intended).

I was on maternity leave and luckily I live in a place within walking distance to parks and a very nice, quaint downtown. While I sat in one of these said parks in this said quaint downtown, my daughter (who refused both bottle and nursing cover) decided she was hungry.  Being over a mile from home, I was left with two options: NIP without a cover, or let my baby scream the entire way home due to hunger. No brainer, right? It just so happened to not only be lunch time for my baby, but for half of the community as well, giving us quite the crowd in this small little park. Within minutes of nursing, I noticed stares from both men and women, many of whom went out of their way to make sure I was aware of their discomfort. Some were even kind enough to throw in the occasional “hmph” and “pmph” so I was even more aware of their annoyance with me. Kindly.Back.Off.

I went home and when my husband arrived at his regularly scheduled time, I informed him of my day. Keep in mind I am a brand new mom to a brand new baby so everything at this point is overwhelming to some degree (and well, brand new). So, I obviously broke down in tears as I told him what happened and even went as far as to asking him if I was in the wrong. Here’s the best part: my husband, who is an incredibly supportive man, is also a lawyer so instead of telling me that those other people are jerks (which he did), he replied, “It is not only your God-given right, but a right deemed by this country to breast feed in public. You DO NOT need to feel belittled by or embarrassed because of this situation.”

Shut.it.down. Well put, honey.

So, what is the law? Here it is in a nutshell, but you can read the law in its entirety here.

According to the NCSL.org (National Conference of State Legislatures) the following is true:

  1. Forty-nine states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location.
  2. Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws.
  3. Twenty-eight states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace.
  4. Seventeen states and Puerto Rico exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty or allow jury service to be postponed.
  5. Six states and Puerto Rico have implemented or encouraged the development of a breastfeeding awareness education campaign.

So, if I am protected by this country to nurse where I want, when I want, then why the hell all the blank stares and rude comments, people?

beach

Sam, also a new mother to her now one-year-old son, has encountered similar situations. But, one stood out more than the others. Recently, she posted some professional breast feeding pictures (shown to the right) and Sam stated that while 99% of the comments were extremely encouraging and positive, “… a Facebook acquaintance of mine did leave an extremely rude and perverted comment.  There will always be that one idiot in the group who just can’t keep their mouth shut.” said Sam. The comment was deleted, but let’s say it mentioned a few things regarding “showing her beaver” and not the kind that builds dams.

Now, on the flip side, Sam recalls a time when she was actually applauded for NIP. “One of the first times I breastfed in public was when Cade was about 4 weeks old.  We were at a local bar and I was eating fish tacos and having a beer and of course (on cue) baby cries.  I nursed him for about 30 minutes (because that’s how long it takes newborns to eat) and this middle age lady is literally staring at me the entire time.  She finally approaches me and I am mortified of what was going to come out of her mouth.  She simply smiled and said, ‘thank you so much for breastfeeding in public.'”

Yes, Sam, thank you!

So, strangers are one thing. I mean, I can’t blame nor have hate towards someone I do not know, judging me, even though that is exactly what they are doing to me. No, I will be the bigger person. I mean, who knows what struggles they’ve had to overcome and maybe they had something similar happen and this is how they cope. I can chalk off a rude comment from a stranger to straight stupidity and ignorance, but what happens when that comment comes from someone close; or even a relative?

“I would have to move to another room when I nursed because he was uncomfortable.”

Luckily, my immediate family is much more open to this subject. I am the youngest sibling to two brothers, and even though I try to not do it directly in front of them, there are times where it just happened. Did they run off in disgust or scream profanities at me? Just the opposite, actually. Both have offered to get me water, or would sit and chat just to keep me company. Chalk it up to my mama who raised us right or just that my brothers aren’t jerks, but either way, it’s good to have support.

Now, move on over to my in-laws and it’s a completely different ball game. Not that anyone has ever been rude, but it’s just “expected” of me to go in another room to nurse (yes, even in my own house) when we are together. The shitty part is, my brother-in-law lived with us for a few months after Lennon was born, and I would have to move to another room when I nursed because he was uncomfortable. I mean, really? In my own home?

Sam has had similar experiences with her family. “My husband’s mom is much more conservative than I am as far as nursing goes.  Once we went on a flight and while nursing multiple times by the window seat, she proceeded to try and put a blanket on my son’s head 30+ times.  It was like a fun game of whack-a-mole.” I asked her about covering up or hiding at family functions, similar to what I had to do, and her response was on point, “If my breastfeeding offends anyone at a family function, I would strongly encourage them to put a nursing cover over their own face so they don’t have to watch.” Well said, Sam. Well said.

 

Image courtesy of Electricbreastpumpwomen.com. (Actual artist unknown)
Image courtesy of Electricbreastpumpwomen.com. (Actual artist unknown)

So, why is it that women are still tormented over this? If you look anywhere on social media, you can see the great divide. You can look for breast feeding support, where images of women dressed scantily in public walk by and men smile and stare in awe. But then on the contrary, you see a woman quietly nursing her child in public and there’s public outrage. Okay, so maybe it’s a little exaggerated, but is it really that far off? My answer would be: NO.

You see things like, “Normalize Breastfeeding” and “Free the Nipple” everywhere, but that does not a better society make. Unfortunately, if we want to see change happen, we will just have to keep whipping them out and be ready to reply, “Stop staring at my tits!” to all passersby.

 

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