Thank goodness the word "discreet" was removed from the law. Why? So mothers can run around topless all day to nurse, so they can jump up on a chair and yell, "Hey, I am BREASTFEEDING!" as they pull their shirts up over their heads? Of course not, these are examples of those mythological breastfeeding mothers that don't really exist. So, why remove "discreet" from the wording of the laws?
Here are some reasons:
- Because "discreet" means something different for different people. Some people may insist that to be discreet, a woman must go into a bathroom to nurse, for instance.
- Because a new mother learning to breastfeed may inadvertently show more skin than she was intending as she learns how to get her baby settled to nurse at the breast. Think of how terrible it would be to have these mothers accused of indecent exposure, these new mothers who are already struggling to learn to breastfeed? These women need our support, not our misplaced harassment!
- Because some babies get distracted or are sociable while eating (as are most humans, no?) and might pull away from the breast momentarily, causing what was a "discreet" mother to be not-so-discreet temporarily.
- Because the very word itself could cause people to think that breastfeeding must be somehow wrong, if "discretion" is to be observed while doing it.
- Because most babies don't like having their heads covered with a blanket, particularly if it is hot.
- Because a mother shouldn't be required to buy a new wardrobe of specific clothes designed for discreet nursing in order to be allowed to feed her baby when they go to the store.
- Because no other humans have limits placed on the way that they must eat when in public.
- Because a mother caught up in worrying about being perfectly "discreet" may actually be more distracting to the general public as her baby gets more frustrated and upset because she can't just feed him normally. A nursing baby sounds much better than a screaming one in public!
- Because other people can use their own discretion as to where they choose to look. They can also use their discretion to move to another position in the building if their proximity to a nursing mother makes them uncomfortable.
Limits on nursing in public are problematic, as shown in the examples above. I'm not sure how many states still use the word "discreet" in their laws. However, I have read numerous comments from people essentially saying, "I don't care what the law says, a woman should have to be discreet and either cover up or leave." Public opinion is slow to change on this one.
The Legal Right to NIP Past Infancy
Speaking of limits on breastfeeding in public, I would like to point out (again - I point this out any time I have the chance!) how backward the law is in Tennessee regarding nursing in public. The law actually puts a limit on the age of the baby and says that a woman is legally authorized to nurse a baby 12 months or younger in public. This really gets my goat for two reasons: one, we live quite close to Tennessee and visit there at least a few times each year, and two, my first daughter didn't eat any solid foods until she was 13-14 months old (and even then, she was just getting started and didn't get much of her sustenance from solid foods). So basically, laws like this one are saying that my child could not eat in public when she was just a bit over the age of one (at least, she wasn't guaranteed this right - you better believe that I nursed her there anyway, because thank goodness knowledge of the law's wording is not widespread!). I hope that many in the state of Tennessee will contact their representatives about getting this law amended to remove the age limitations.
Of final note on the topic of "discreet" breastfeeding, I have to mention the nursing covers that are now on the market. Most women find that they can cover most of their bodies with their shirt and the baby, and some women wear an undershirt that can be pulled down so they don't have to expose any belly flesh (helpful in colder months especially); however, some are more comfortable using a nursing cover. I personally do not like them, but if they allow some women to feel more comfortable nursing their children in public, then it is much better than mothers feeling like they have to take bottles when in public. But to the companies who make these covers... why not use some tact and decency when naming these covers? One is called a "Hooter Hider." Where to begin with all that is wrong with that name? First off, it uses a term for the breasts that has a definite sexual connotation. Breastfeeding is not sexual, so why link the sexual function of breasts to the act of nursing an infant? Then it contains the word "hide." This implies that breastfeeding should be hidden. They might as well be named "I'm doing something sexual under here, don't look" covers. There is another cover called the "Udder Cover." So, this one is at least getting it right in that udders are for lactation and not sex, but we don't refer to human women as having "udders." There are many, many animals that lactate and nurse their young, but culturally we tend to think cows = milk. I don't think that comparing women to cows is exactly kind, nor do I think it is a good marketing strategy. I think that companies whose intentions seem to be to help mothers breastfeed should think about the image they give: breastfeeding is not sexual, it is not something we have to hide, and it is not uncivilized.
So, fellow nursing moms, use a cover or not, but please don't feel like you must go nurse in the bathroom or your car, pump and bring bottles along, or quit breastfeeding so you can reappear in public. Remember, the more people who see us nursing in public, the sooner breastfeeding will be seen as normal.
We are proud to host a guest post today from Erin. Erin is a 31 year old stay-at-home mother of two girls, ages 5 and 2. She just started homeschooling this fall and can be found blogging about parenting, Catholicism, raising backyard chickens, and more at Growing with My Girls.