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Monday, February 21, 2011

Answering Objections to Nursing in Public

navy-pier-chicago-4mBreastfeeding in public necessarily means breastfeeding around other people. And where there are other people, there are comments: some good, some bad.

I fortunately haven't encountered a lot of negativity during my three years so far of breastfeeding, but I have thought about what I might say if I ever do. (And, you know, if I were the type of person to have a witty retort always perched on my tongue that I could spit out at a moment's notice.) Well, it doesn't hurt to be prepared, right? (And it doesn't hurt to dream, either!)

So if you want some comebacks ready, so that you're not scrambling with mouth agape when a query comes your way, here are some possible responses to criticisms or questions.

I had the decency to pump milk so that I could feed from a bottle in public.

Play on sympathy, with a nod to sarcasm: Oh, you're so lucky. I've tried pumping, and I get absolutely nothing out. Good thing I have this convenient milk supply attached to me!
Try debasing yourself for a higher purpose: That would be wonderful — if I weren't so danged lazy. I just really can't be bothered to sterilize and thaw and pump and all those other things, when this way's so much easier.

If you just plan ahead, it's not hard to schedule your outings around feedings. Nurse before you leave, and then just get home before the next feeding.

Play the "expert" card: My pediatrician said my baby needs to eat every hour or even more often if she wants. He also said I had to get out for fresh air, so … [Shrug your shoulders and look innocent.]
Oh, did you say you liked sarcasm?: That used to work before I fired all my servants, but now I no longer have the luxury of staying home for a year and have to run all the errands myself, nursing baby or not.

When are you going to stop nursing in public?

Snarky: Well, we have an ongoing pool. What age do you want to put money on? We've still got 7 and 13 open.
Bore them with facts: Well, Katherine Dettwyler studied various other primates and looked at factors such as length of gestation, when teeth erupted, life span, and age of sexual maturity, and she determined that "the minimum predicted age for a natural age of weaning in humans is 2.5 years, with a maximum of 7.0 years." So … [Proceed to read the results of the research aloud to them until they stop listening. NB: These facts are absolutely fascinating to me; I just doubt the same is true of someone criticizing your choice in this regard!]

Cover up!

Blame it on the baby: My baby doesn't like having his head covered when he eats. It gets too hot and stuffy under there.
Continuing in an oh-so-gracious vein: But you feel free to put a blanket over your head if it makes you feel better.

Wouldn't you be more comfortable feeding in the restroom?

Counter it: Um, no. Would you be more comfortable feeding in the restroom?

I don't want to look at that!

Obnoxious: That's why God gave you a neck, honey. Use it.
Saccharinely uncomprehending: But who wouldn't want to look at something so precious and natural as a baby snuggling with his mama?

I don't think that's appropriate here.

I don't think your butt's appropriate here. [Ok, that's just my standard response for whenever I can't think of a response.]

That's against the law.

Refer to legalities: Um, no, officer [manager, random passerby], it is actually perfectly legal. What you are doing in asking me to stop is illegal. [It helps to have a general idea of the relevant laws for your state or region, but you can always look them up later and make a complaint if necessary. For convenience, carry a copy of the laws with you — NursingFreedom.org has created cards for each state.]

Breasts are sexual.

Go anthropological: Yes. Yes, they are. They are also functional, and their primary function apart from arousing potential sexual partners is to feed infants. We are mammals, after all.

Women who insist on whipping out a boob in public are just exhibitionists.

Confirm their fears: So, so true, darling. [Then make a whipping noise while unclasping your beige boulder-holder and latching on your innocent infant.]

Seeing breastfeeding is just so weird.

Matter of fact: Well, that's why I'm doing it, so it will become less weird for everyone.

[Any objection or question at all]

Pass the bean dip.

You are not obligated to respond or debate, particularly if you think your answers will fall on deaf ears or be misinterpreted. What you are doing — feeding your baby — is entirely unobjectionable. So if anyone does object? That's their problem.

Other versions of this (non-)response, which work for nursing in public as well as other parenting decisions you make:
This is what works for us.
This is what our doctor [midwife, etc.] recommended.
Thank you for sharing your opinion.
It's interesting to hear your experience.
We've given this a lot of thought
[or done a lot of research], and we're comfortable with our choice.
Make a joke. (Self-deprecating often works best to deflect the conversation.)
If all else fails: Hey, look, is that a giraffe on a skateboard? [This gives you time to flee.]

Some of the potential (and oft-repeated) criticisms of public breastfeeding I listed are simple ignorance; some come from a place of really wanting to be informed; and some are just mean-spirited and unreasonable. How you choose to respond to any such comments that come your way depends a great deal on the motivation of the speaker and your own comfort level with confrontation.

Whenever I'm trying to decide whether or not to engage in a debate with someone (particularly someone I know), I ask myself, Is there any way what I say will change this person's mind? and Is this person really asking me a question or just setting up an opportunity to air a contrary opinion? What and how much I say depends on my answers to those questions. If I get the sense that my responses will be ignored or used as ammunition against me, I often withhold them entirely. That said, you might be surprised what seeds you're planting if you can respond in a reasonable and respectful way.

A lot of the answers I wrote are more what would be fun to say, rather than what I would ever actually say in such a situation. Although, if you do manage to blast out something fiery — more power to you! Do share!

For further reading, see kellymom's post on "Handling criticism about breastfeeding," which is a helpful and thoughtful take on the topic.

What are objections you've heard to breastfeeding in public, and what are your witty responses? These can be responses you actually said or ones you just wish you'd have said.

Hobo Mama family photoLauren is the breastfeeding mama to three-year-old Mikko and a baby on the way. She blogs at Hobo Mama about natural parenting, is a co-founder of Natural Parents Network, and co-hosts the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting. You can also find her at Hobo Mama Reviews and LaurenWayne.com.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Joys of Nursing in Public #6

My story isn’t technically a NIP story, but it gives me such a warm and squishy feeling every time I think of it that I want to share it. A few weeks ago I was having a garage sale with a couple of my friends. We were hanging out in my garage, talking, drinking ice water, and selling our junk.

My four and half month old son started showing some hunger signs, and even though I was in my own garage, on my own property, I was slightly nervous about nursing him. What would I do if someone had the nerve to make a comment to me? What would I say? I think I was actually more nervous about nursing him there than I have been ever. I know my rights, I know my state’s laws, I know what to do and say if someone approaches me in public. But strangers saying something to me at my house?

I realized that I was being silly. Besides this being my property, one friend is a lactivist, the other is very pro-breastfeeding and I KNEW they’d have my back if anything were to happen. So, I sat down with my son, grabbed the Boppy, and started nursing him right as a couple of older people walked up the drive.

We all said hello and the couple browsed. The woman walked near me and started admiring my baby. “Oh!” she said, “that is the best thing for him!” And she started telling me about her grand-daughter who lives in Chicago and breastfeeds her daughter. “She’s about 18 months now. And don’t you know? They taught her sign language for 'milk!' I could never breastfeed my children. I couldn’t… you know, make a nipple.” (I think maybe she meant she had flat or inverted nipples. )
This woman, who we found out was in her 80s, went on and on to me about how amazing it is to breastfeed, even though she wasn’t able to nurse her own kids! I was nervous to nurse in my own garage and this great-grandmother turned it all around for me. I was smiling and happy the rest of the day! It also made me excited to hear about a woman who is still breastfeeding at 18 months and is obviously doing things so well that she impresses her own grandmother! We all know that our mothers and grandmothers can be the hardest ones to win over, if they didn’t breastfeed, and I feel a sense of pride for a woman in Chicago who has a grandmother as great as this one!


Rebecca lives with her husband, sons, and dog, in Dayton, OH. She’s a SAHM who enjoys reading, playing Candyland, breastfeeding, and gardening. Rebecca blogs at Completely Serendipitous.

Photo credit: Hannah
Despite the fact that negative nursing in public experiences get the publicity, more women receive the kindness and thanks from strangers for making breastfeeding a normal sight.
We want to share your positive stories so that other breastfeeding mothers and mothers-to-be will be inspired and encouraged to N.I.P. If you have a positive N.I.P. story, please contact us. We will include them in the series and credit you, your site, or post it anonymously if you so desire.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Multi-Purpose, We Are!

After my participation in the Carnival of Nursing in Public and a related phone conversation I had with my brother Matthew, I got to wondering: What is it about breasts that makes it so difficult for people to appreciate, accept, (even celebrate?) their multi-functional nature? (This is a comment-turned-post in response to Lauren at HoboMama's post on Christianity's effect on breastfeeding.)

The first day of the carnival was dedicated to posts about "creating a culture of breastfeeding in a hyper-sexualized world". This is obviously the big reason that people are anti-breastfeeding in public. I assume that they think, because of cultural influences, that breasts are innately and primarily sexual organs, and should not be exposed in public, because if you are exposing your breasts in public, you must be doing something lewd or inappropriate. Breasts were obviously intended and created by nature (or God) to feed babies. They make milk, after all! Humans are the only mammals who grow their breasts prior to needing them for feeding purposes. Maybe that is what confuses the situation?

But regardless of any of this, what confuses me the most about this argument that breasts are sexual things is that there are many parts of our bodies that are used for sexual purposes as well as practical, functional purposes. For instance, the male urethra is used for expelling both urine and semen; the vagina is used for birthing babies and, well, making them.

So then the argument becomes: But it isn't socially acceptable to urinate or give birth in public, so why should people breastfeed in public? My answer to that is: Because it provides nourishment, comfort, and love to a child. (As my brother put it in our phone conversation, "How can you be against feeding babies?!")

Just about any body part can be considered sexually attractive, fetishized, or used for sexual purposes. When we eat, drink, talk, laugh, or sing in public, are we denying that mouths are used for kissing? I think not—we are just celebrating that mouths have many purposes (many more, even, than breasts)! Aren't our bodies simply amazing?
This post was previously published by Amy at Anktangle. Amy writes about the things she holds close to her heart: family, delicious food, and many aspects of natural parenting. She is passionate about natural childbirth, breastfeeding, gentle, intuitive parenting, and respecting all people, no matter how small. She’s figuring it all out as she goes, following her instincts with her son as her guide.