Breastfeeding: Rights and Fighting for Them

So, I’ve been posting about breastfeeding for a couple weeks now. First, why I chose to breastfeed, then my own journey. Now, I’d like to talk a bit about our rights as breastfeeding mamas.

First of all, every mother has the right to breastfeed. Period. Even adoptive mothers have that right. Once that baby is yours, you can feed him or her however you wish, including induced lactation–breastmilk! You can even do it if your baby is no longer a newborn. I know people who’ve done it and it’s awesome. So, there you go: the most basic breastfeeding is the right to choose it when deciding how to feed your baby.

Many women also have the wonderful right to breastfeed in public places. However, this depends on where you live. Check the laws of your country or state. In the United States, your rights will vary from state to state, though most have some sort of law that protects your right to breastfeed in a public place. The key word in this is “public”. This does not include your neighbor’s house and other private places. If you’re hanging out at your best friend’s house and she tells you that she’s not comfortable with you sitting on the couch breastfeeding, you need to respect her. Ask if there’s a bedroom you could use, instead. Even if it’s your legal right, isn’t it better to be nice, anyway?

So, now that you know your rights, what are you going to do with that information? Well, there are a couple things you can do, actually.

First, you can breastfeed your hungry baby. Go for it! Enjoy. Cherish this precious time with your sweet little one, no matter where it happens to be. Now, this right to breastfeed in public does not come with the right to be a jerk to those around you. Yes, you have the right to feed your baby, but others have a right to their feelings. When someone says something stupid, don’t react. Be polite. In some situations, it’s even ok to say something like, “I’m really sorry about that, he’s just so hungry. We’ll be done in a minute.” with a sweet smile on your face! I know, it’s so hard sometimes to apologize for bothering someone, especially when you have the right to do it, but, it keeps the peace, so why not?

While you’re breastfeeding in public, as we’ve now established is your legal right, there are many ways to do so. You can choose to toss a blanket over your shoulder, covering your baby’s head and the exposed breast. You can use a “hooter hider” or similar device. You can wear specialized breastfeeding shirts that allow for easy access. You can choose to just pull your breast out of your shirt, over the top or lift the shirt up and quietly breastfeed your baby with no cover or special clothing at all. Any of these choices is legitimate. No one choice is “better” or “worse”. Some mothers cover because it’s the only way their baby can focus to nurse. Some choose not to cover because a cover makes their child squirm and tear it off before continuing to nurse. Each mother has a reason for the choice she has made and no choice makes her more or less of a breastfeeding advocate or amazing mother.

Second, you have the right to become a breastfeeding advocate. Fight for those who wish to breastfeed in public, or at all, really, even if your nursing days are behind you. Even daddies and brothers and uncles can fight for breastfeeding moms! Really, they can! Educate. Most people who say horrid, mean, ugly things to breastfeeding moms are just ignorant on the subject. A little information, presented in an appropriate manner can go a very long way. Trust me on this one.

Now, how does one fight for breastfeeding rights? This is where things get a little sticky. There are so many ways to do it. Some of them, I can’t say I’m much of a fan of, others, I stand behind, one hundred and ten percent.

One way to stand up for your rights is the ever-popular nurse-in. If you “like” any breastfeeding pages on Facebook, you’ve likely seen a call to action with dates and locations for nurse-ins. (If you are unfamiliar with nurse-ins, here’s an article from one that took place in Target stores across the country about a year ago. It was big news in the breastfeeding community and I was invited to participate.)

The purpose of a nurse-in is to force an offending business to face the reality of the laws protecting nursing in public. Usually, what happens, is an unsuspecting mom is spoken to by an employee while breastfeeding in the store. The behavior of the employees varies. Some politely recommend the bathroom or fitting rooms as a “more private” place to breastfeed or ask that the mother use a cover. Others yell at and bully mothers until they leave the stores. Some, foolishly and unaware of local laws, insist that the mother can be cited for public indecency. Sometimes, they even cite a store policy that allows them to remove a mother. In the case of Target, store policy was that mothers should breastfeed in a fitting room.

After the business as asked a mother to change how she is feeding her child, no matter what approach they choose, that mother has the option of contacting any number of breastfeeding support groups, preferably online, to gather support. Her story of injustice is then spread to all corners of the world. Supporters come together, angry for the mother and wanting to stand up for her right. A few dissenters come along and comment on the “event”, “group” and “like” pages on Facebook, comparing breastfeeding in public to defecating on the street corner. These dissenters are attacked, called horrible names and, eventually, blocked. The nurse-in is arranged. Breastfeeding mothers across the country and sometimes around the world prepare to arrive at their local branch of the offending business at the same time to breastfeed their children. News channels show up to document. Photos are uploaded to Facebook and Twitter in real time. And absolutely nothing is accomplished.

So, now that we’ve covered what not to do, how about we cover a few “do’s” of breastfeeding advocation? There are plenty of ways to advocate for breastfeeding that will actually encourage others and, maybe, if we’re really lucky, win a few more over to our cause. That’s what it’s all about, anyway, right?

The best way to advocate for breastfeeding rights is to go about your daily life. Breastfeed your precious child when he is hungry. Sooth him when he cries. Rock him to sleep. Be the wonderful mama you already are. Not only will you be representing breastfeeding, you represent what being a mama really is–loving your child, round the clock, no matter what. Really. That’s all it takes. I didn’t become a breastfeeding mama because of a nurse in or someone with a loud mouth. I became a breastfeeding mama because of the quiet example of wonderful women around me.

Another thing you can do for breastfeeding is fight for better, clearer laws. Please, don’t do this with your baby. He doesn’t need to be dragged around through politics. This one is for mama and daddy, not baby. Write letters. Petition for rights. Stand up for yourself and your rights at your next city council meeting. You can make a difference. Go for it! Change the world.

Become a LeLeche League leader. You have experience as a breastfeeding mama. Now, commit to sharing that experience and knowledge. If being a leader isn’t an option for you, just be there for the mamas around you. The best thing anyone did for me when I was pregnant was a woman who handed me a book. She told me that she was given the book when her youngest baby was born and it had wonderful content. She said breastfeeding is hard work. Read the book now, so you’re prepared when you’re holding that squishy new baby. I did. Thank God, I did. It was one of only two books I read while pregnant. I’m not sure I would have made it without that little book. Not only did I have that book, I had real, physical people who were happy to answer my questions. Be there for a new mama. She needs that love and support. When she tells you it hurts so bad that she doesn’t think she can go on, hug her while she cries. Offer to rock the baby to sleep so she can get just a few minutes to rest. Wash her dishes or laundry. Change a poopy diaper. Promise that it does get better. Really, it does.

You can change the world. You really can. You may not change the whole world, with all the billions of people, but you can change the world of a mama or a baby. Or both. Stand up for what you believe in. Love. Educate. Protect. Support. Feed your baby. Help another mama feed hers. That is what will make the biggest difference.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

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