Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nursing in Public: Never Apologize, Sometimes Explain

I went to Breastfeeding Support Group last week and the subject of nursing in public came up. Several women talked about getting dirty looks or stares. I don't think I've ever had a problem, but maybe it is because I don't notice. I just go about my day feeding my baby when he needs to be fed. I've nursed in public everywhere from the Four Seasons to the grocery store. Once Ian and I got the hang of it, we went everywhere and nursed with ease.
I understand why women get angry when someone seems to be giving a dirty look or staring. The urge to rip into them with a nasty comment or flash of breast can be hard to resist, but I think we further our cause more by not retaliating. Here are my reasons:
1. People are not used to seeing nursing in public. They may be staring because they are surprised or shocked. They may not know what to make of it. You are doing your part by desensitizing them. If you let them stare, it gets filed in their mind as a neutral or maybe even positive experience. If you yell at them or flash them, it gets filed as a negative experience.
2. You don't know what is going on in a person's mind. They may be scowling and not thinking about you at all. If you just go about your day and your nursing and ignore them, you and your baby will be more relaxed and you won't see disapproval everywhere. In other words, assume the best.
3. Yelling and negativity disturb your baby. Just concentrate on the baby and ignore those around you.
4. If you are approachable, someone may stop and ask you questions. That is a learning opportunity, even if it seems like a criticism such as,"How long are you supposed to/going to nurse that child?" Don't get snippy or defensive, just state the AAP recommends at least 1 year, but 2 is better and the worldwide weaning age is 3. You can even go into the benefits or breast milk if they continue to talk to you.

In my opinion, if someone actually makes a nasty or negative comment to you, you should respond pleasantly with information about the health benefits (AAP and WHO endorsements) and the law. Keep it pleasant, informative and factual. My reasons for maintaining decorum:
1. Escalating the situation is not only bad/dangerous for you and your baby, but you might be asked to leave the premises for disturbing the peace if you engage in one- upsmanship of negativity.
2. Sometimes pleasant, informative factual statements will stop people in their tracks because they are looking for a fight and expect a certain response, when you don't give it to them, they don't know what to do. I'm not saying it will change their minds, but it might embarrass them if they realize how rude they are being. Even if they don;t realize that, in many cases they will just walk away.
3. It keeps your baby comfortable while nursing. Your baby's comfort is the point, is it not?
4. The law is on your side, so you need to be calm and confident.


Elizabeth F. said...

Amen Sister! I totally agree. I dont' know if I've ever gotten dirty looks either. I have seen some curious looks, especially now when my almost 2 yr. old wants to nurse. I use every opportunity as a chance to make nursing more normal in our society.

And I'm having a Breastfeeding note Card Give-Away on my blog. Come on by and enter before Friday!

Cairo Mama said...

I entered the contest. Thanks for the tip! said...

Thank you for your great blog!

--Tim Mills, CLC