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Old 08-10-2005, 05:31 PM   #46
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Breastfeeding in Public

By Anne Robb Pugliese
Tangent, Oregon USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 6, November-December 2000, p. 196-200
The idea of breastfeeding in public makes many people feel uneasy Unfortunately, as Katie Granju writes in her book, Attachment Parenting, "Surveys have revealed that far too many women are uncomfortable at the thought of nursing their baby in public and that this discomfort is a common cause for disruption of the breastfeeding relationship." Mothers may feel uncomfortable even when the "public" they are breastfeeding in front of is family members in their own home. The key point is not the place, but the presence of other people with the mother, whether those people are strangers or people she knows. Sometimes we don't think very clearly about the source of those feelings, but examining them can help mothers feel more confident about their choices, no matter what they choose to do.

Breastfeeding in public matters because hungry babies aren't very patient and it's hard to be a parent without leaving home. Once the early weeks have passed and a mother has resumed activities outside her home, finding a truly private place to breastfeed her baby can be difficult, if not impossible. Beyond practical considerations, many women make a philosophical choice about breastfeeding in public because they feel it is the most effective and natural way to meet their babies' needs. Breastfeeding doesn't stop being best for babies and mothers just because other people are present, and mothers want to continue to give their babies (and themselves) the best.

Cultural Attitudes
It can take a while to get comfortable with breastfeeding in public. The main reason for that initial discomfort is probably the taboo against revealing one's breasts around other people. Ironically, most breastfeeding women reveal much less skin while breastfeeding than the average jeans commercial reveals. Yet many people find one inappropriate and the other tolerable. Their concerns seem to stem less from actual skin exposure and more from cultural beliefs.

One of the differences between drinking from a bottle and nursing from the breast is that the breastfeeding mother and child are in direct, intimate contact with each other. The breastfeeding mother and baby respond to each other physically and emotionally. A mother who bottlefeeds her baby with either her own milk or formula is more physically distant. In some people's minds, the physical and emotional intimacy of the breastfeeding mother and baby is sometimes connected with sexual activity. So, when people see a woman using her breasts for their most basic function, in an intimate relationship with her infant, they may consciously or unconsciously confuse it with something that's sexual and should be done in privacy.

Current cultural attitudes toward breastfeeding mimic past attitudes toward pregnancy. At one time, it wasn't acceptable to discuss pregnancy openly and women who were "in a family way" were not supposed to be out in public. They were expected to quit work immediately. Although that has changed over the years, mainstream media and private conversations alike still tend to focus on the external aspects of pregnancy rather than the emotional - preventing stretch marks, maternity clothes that disguise the growing belly, pain prevention in labor, and article after article on losing all that "fat."

The breastfeeding mother and her baby continue the physical bond begun in pregnancy. Mainstream publications sometimes gloss over the unique relationship a mother shares with her baby while she is breastfeeding. Health writers are quick to assure mothers they will have a perfectly wonderful relationship with their child if they bottle-feed. Where is the discussion of the intimacy involved in giving and then sustaining life? A very popular pregnancy and child care book lists, under information on the decision to breastfeed, that the mother take into consideration not being able to fit back into pre-maternity clothing because of larger breasts. In any other context, most women would see the possibility of having larger breasts as positive, not negative. But when connected with their biological function, breasts seem no more than a nuisance and breastfeeding just another baby care gadget to consider while you are pregnant.

The availability of clothing for breastfeeding mothers may also reflect cultural taboos. Sexy lingerie is available in plentiful supply in major department stores and specialty stores alike. But shopping for a nursing bra can be a daunting task. The nursing bras are often behind the counter, if they exist at all. Some sizes may have to be special-ordered. Unless the mother asks, she may assume they are not available. The unspoken message is that breastfeeding should be kept behind closed doors and is inappropriate for public display, while displaying images of women's bodies to help attract customers is just fine.

Images of breastfeeding infants also reflect the taboo. A brand new infant nursing in his mother's arms is often seen in a soft-lit, lullaby-laden, nostalgic atmosphere. In a talk at the 1999 La Leche League International Conference, Dr. Jack Newman gave an overview of images of breastfeeding in the media. He pointed out that advertisements depicting breastfeeding rarely show women in public lives. They often show breastfeeding mothers dressed in darker hues or in nightgowns, and rarely looking at her infant. Yet images of feeding a baby with a bottle are portrayed with active, smiling, well-dressed women who are out in public and/or back to work. Once again, the unspoken message is that breastfeeding mothers should stay in the nursery and that once they return to "real life," they will leave breastfeeding as part of their private lives, not bring it out into public view.

"Just Give Him a Bottle"
Offering breast milk in a bottle is often suggested when the debate on breastfeeding in public hits television or radio talk shows. But that option offers problems for the mother and baby that may be overlooked by the general public. First, it takes extra time and care to pump, store, and transport milk - time that may be precious, particularly in the early weeks and months. Babies receive fewer of the benefits of breastfeeding when they receive human milk that is not fresh from the source. They also run the risk of developing nipple confusion - having trouble switching back and forth between breast and bottle. Mothers run a higher risk of developing a plugged duct or breast infection because of the delay between feedings at the breast, particularly in the early months. A mother who skips feedings will probably be very uncomfortable from full breasts. If she is unable to pump her breasts, her supply will probably decrease slightly. So she'll still be experiencing the consequences the next day, when her baby nurses more frequently to replenish her supply. She also loses the convenience of being able to soothe her baby quickly and easily while she is out. She may even run out of milk in bottles before she finishes her errands.

All of the challenges of offering human milk in a bottle while in a public place can be overcome. But the bottom line is that many women find it easier, healthier, more economical, more ecologically sound, and more relaxing to fit breastfeeding in with all their daily activities than it is to fit occasional bottle-feeding in with their breastfeeding.

Other Options
Another often suggested strategy for breastfeeding your baby when you are out is to take him to the restroom or toilet facility to feed him. However, no one would suggest that an adult eat his or her lunch in a public toilet. When a mother has older children, spending twenty minutes or longer feeding the baby in a toilet facility with a bored two-year-old does not seem like a viable option. In smaller stores, toilets may not be open to the public. At least in the restaurant, the mother can feed herself and her older children, too. And babies invariably get hungry when everyone else is eating.

Some shopping malls and larger stores are starting to offer a separate room that can allow privacy for nursing mothers. Sometimes they have a small lounge with a chair or a couch, which can be more comfortable for some mothers and babies, particularly when the baby has older siblings. When such rooms are not available, try a fitting room in a women's clothing store, or check to see if there is a rocking chair in the baby department or the furniture department. Many maternity stores welcome nursing mothers to feed their babies in a comfortable area. Or ask at an LLL meeting about where to find the most comfortable places to breastfeed in public places in your area. Any place to sit, even the floor, can work if it is out of the way. You can often face away from onlookers while you get baby started. Once your baby is latched on and nursing contentedly, most people won't give you a second glance.

Using Cover-Ups
A small blanket can be used to cover your baby while he nurses. There are also special capes and other cover-ups made just for this purpose. This can be a good compromise if it worries you to be too exposed. In some situations, a blanket or coverup acts like a flag that says, "I am breastfeeding my baby now." In addition, some babies don't like having their faces covered while they breastfeed. A blanket may provide a little extra privacy while you're getting your baby started, though. Once he is breastfeeding, there really isn't much for anyone else to see unless they look so closely that they are intruding rudely on your personal space.

During mild weather, the car can be a quiet, familiar place for both you and your baby to settle down for a nursing. Breastfeeding just before you go into a store helps fill your baby's tank emotionally and nutritionally and may encourage a nap, particularly if you put your baby in a sling. Overall, it's easier to find a comfortable place when you plan ahead and pay attention to your baby's hunger cues so he doesn't get too hungry to begin with.

Many women prefer to find a place that is "private enough" to breastfeed rather than searching for absolute privacy. You may have initial doubts, but faced with the obvious needs of your baby, you may find that your priorities will change.

Other People's Reactions
Ironically, women who choose to feed their babies at the breast in public situations, especially in social gatherings, often find themselves in the middle of the "why breastfeeding didn't work for me" discussion. This can be uncomfortable for everyone. The breastfeeding mother may feel that her breastfeeding brings up pain for other women present. Those women have a need to discuss their experiences and often the discussion is about regrets. This need to talk about their experiences hints at an underlying truth. Being unable to breastfeed, whether the cause was societal pressures or lack of information and support, may leave women with nagging regrets and a feeling of failure. The mother who is nurturing her child at the breast may be surprised when such things happen and feel ill equipped to handle the strong feelings coming from those around her. Probably the most helpful thing to do is just to listen to their story, empathize, and gently move the topic along to something else.

In a recent issue of NEW BEGINNINGS a question was asked about how to handle the decision to nurse in front of co-workers in an academic setting. (For replies, see Making it Work: Breastfeeding and Academia.) While each woman's life is different, this situation brings up the issue of the woman's comfort level with mixing her personal life and her professional life. While some may argue that a mother who feeds her baby with a bottle wouldn't face the dilemma of whether or not to feed her baby in front of her colleagues, she may well be faced with another dilemma. Instead of, "Why is she doing that in public?" the question may become, "Why didn't she leave that baby at home?" In both cases, the real issue is not about the feeding method; it's about what society expects of babies and their parents. Mothers who keep their babies and toddlers close as much as possible are frequently cautioned that their children will never learn to be independent. Healthy attachments between mothers and children are seen as too intimate in some circles.

INCREASE AWARENESS - BREASTFEED!
Breastfeeding advocates point out that being too discreet or too private about breastfeeding may actually work against more acceptance of breastfeeding in general, since it tends to keep breastfeeding hidden from most people. In her new book, Natural Family Living, Peggy O'Mara suggests:

"If you encounter any curious or hostile stares, smile benignly back, knowing that you are contributing to the health of the next generation, and that you are setting a beautiful example for other women, young girls, and expectant fathers. Fortunately, fewer people raise an eyebrow at nursing mothers today - in fact, a woman's right to breastfeed in public is protected by law in many states. Perceptions are changing, as people become educated about the health benefits of breastfeeding. With continued awareness, perhaps breastfeeding in public will become as accepted as smoking in public is now frowned upon."




Family Relationships
A woman's relationship with those around her affects her feelings about nursing, whether she is with siblings or grandparents, one friend or several friends, strangers or business associates, or in her own home or her mother-in-law's house. The opinions of the baby's grandmothers may be especially important. "When women become mothers in societies in which breastfeeding is the norm, they have societal support and approval, as well as ample models and reliable advisors in their own families. However, the mothers and aunts of women bearing children today may have little or no experience with breastfeeding. Due to complex cultural and economic factors, the lowest rates of breastfeeding ever seen in the US occurred during the 1960s" (Good Mojab 1999). A side effect of the low breastfeeding rates in past decades is the fact that many women have husbands who were not breastfed themselves and may have their own issues about breasts and breastfeeding. Overall, it can be very hard to persevere with breastfeeding when an important family member thinks you are doing something that is, at best, odd, and at worst, offensive, even if you know in your heart that it's best for you and your baby.

A woman's reactions to objections from other people will vary depending on her relationship with those people, her personality, and the amount of support she has from friends, family, or her La Leche League Group. For some women, it is easier to stand up to a stranger who objects to her breastfeeding in a public place rather than someone they will have to deal with again, such as a friend or family member. The mother who has support and information on her side will feel more confident no matter where or how she feeds her baby.

Mothers can make their lives easier with good communication skills. An article in the July-August 1999 issue of NEW BEGINNINGS discussed many ways of talking to others who disagree with your parenting decisions. Back copies of NEW BEGINNINGS are available to borrow from many LLL Group Libraries. Or check our online version of the article: Responding to Criticism.

Making Decisions
So, what's a mother to do? As is so often explained at La Leche League Series Meetings, "take what works for you and leave the rest." Mothers, especially mothers of small babies (whether the first or the fifth), need support and information to make decisions about caring for their children that are mutually beneficial for mother, child, family, and to some degree, for society. Finding the confidence to question why nursing in front of your father-in-law creates discomfort and then deciding how to proceed the next time you're faced with that situation is what La Leche League's mother-to-mother support is all about.

Find your own comfort zone for mothering your baby. Whether you decide to breastfeed everywhere, no matter who is there, or to avoid feeding your baby in front of other people, do it with confidence and don't apologize. At the same time, be open to expanding your comfort zone. Becoming a mother can motivate a woman to do things she never dreamed of before.

Anne Robb Pugliese is a La Leche League Leader and serves as the Area Leaders' Letter Editor for LLL of Oregon. She lives in Tangent, Oregon with her husband, Rob and two boys, Berto, 6 and Nikko, 4. She has a background in child development and a Master's degree in teaching. In addition to homeschooling, she enjoys gardening and handcrafts and recently took up the flute.

HELPFUL COMEBACKS
Many women never encounter a stranger who comments unfavorably on their breastfeeding in public. Those who do usually think of something helpful to say long after the opportunity for saying it has passed. When your baby is at your breast, you're often too relaxed to be witty. However, it can help a mother's confidence level to have a few ready-made replies - just in case.

"You can't do that here."


"Please show me a copy of the regulation against feeding my baby."

"You have to do that in the bathroom."


"I thought it was against health regulations to serve food in a restroom."

"Here, let me get you a blanket."
"Thank you. It is chilly in here."

"Wouldn't you be more comfortable elsewhere?"

"I'm fine here. Thank you for your concern!"





References
Bumgarner, N.J. MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER. Revised Edition. Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International, 2000.

Dettwyler, K. A. Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995.

Good Mojab, C. A. "Relearning the lost art of breastfeeding: Obstacles and resources for Iranian and American women." Andisheh. 1999; 1(10), 4-6.

Granju, K.A. Attachment Parenting. New York: Pocket Books, 1999.

LLLI, THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International, 1997.

O'Mara, P. Natural Family Living. New York: Pocket Books, 2000.

Tamaro, J. So That's What They're For! Breastfeeding Basics. Holbrook, MA: Adams Media Corporation, 1996.

Vakiener, M. "Coping with Criticism." NEW BEGINNINGS July-August 1999.



Last edited Friday, June 14, 2002 3:57 PM by dw.


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Old 08-10-2005, 05:31 PM   #47
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Originally posted by LivLuvAndBootlegMusic


Imagine your balls constantly filling, and sometimes painfully expanding, with fluid, regardless of whether you are able (or allowed) to empty it or not......get the idea?
I know the feeling of blue balls, but i don't relieve it in view of 60,000 people.
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Old 08-10-2005, 05:33 PM   #48
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So far, the arguments for public breast-feeding have been (1) it is natural and (2) that it’s the function.
The sensible arguments against are..................what, precisely??? So far there hasn't been one! We've heard the following reasons: (1) because morons could see women feeding their babies and get lecherous (in which case, they've got deep psychological problems) and (2) it isn't a welcome sight.

Am I alone in thinking that these attitudes are not sensible, practical or logical?

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not in the habit of pandering to idiots. I doubt hungry babies are either.


Quote:
I agree, but I think we're taking that example too seriously. "public" can mean anything from a game to a park bench to a seat on the metro...
Indeed.
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Old 08-10-2005, 05:33 PM   #49
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I know the feeling of blue balls, but i don't relieve it in view of 60,000 people.
Wow that point went flying over your head by a mile.
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Old 08-10-2005, 05:34 PM   #50
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You're missing the point completely! Obviously you know nothing about breastfeeding and breastmilk.
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Old 08-10-2005, 05:41 PM   #51
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Why can't I have a problem with it at the given locale? I don't care if a kid sucks on his mom's breast 24/7, just don't do it at the game in the stands. I don't pay $100 to go to a game to see some woman with her boob hanging out or to listen to a whiney infant sitting behind me.
There's an extremely simple answer to that. Don't look. Aren't you there to watch the game? A woman feeding her baby is not likely to get up and dance the can can in front of you, thereby blocking your view of the action you paid to see.

If anyone has a problem with breastfeeding, that is THEIR OWN problem. Not the mother's, nor the child's. Deal with it.
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Old 08-10-2005, 05:43 PM   #52
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what is wrong with bringing a bottle if you insist on bringing an infant to the game?
OK....

You missed the point about the whole blue balls thing.......

it had to do with your statement above.

A woman produces as much milk as is needed by the baby. So if the baby nurses every two hours, every two hours the mother's breasts will be full.

When a woman's breasts get full, and do not get relieved on time, they swell even bigger. Now that to me was good thing, because I am a pig. But I digress.....

TO the woman, it is PAINFUL when they become engorged. SO painful that they can at times begin to leak.

Now my kids nursed every two hours to two and a half hours. Last I knew the average football game could go about three or so.....add in travel time...and a little tailgaiting...there will be a problem at the game.
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Old 08-10-2005, 05:46 PM   #53
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Thanks, Dreadsox. As everyone BUT randhail has noticed, my little comparison had NOTHING to do with blue balls.
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Old 08-10-2005, 05:47 PM   #54
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There's an extremely simple answer to that. Don't look. Aren't you there to watch the game? A woman feeding her baby is not likely to get up and dance the can can in front of you, thereby blocking your view of the action you paid to see.
Exactly. In fact, when I've seen women breastfeeding in public they are usually so discreet you hardly even know it's happening. Frankly, it strikes me as very immature that someone couldn't handle it.
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Old 08-10-2005, 05:51 PM   #55
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Exactly. In fact, when I've seen women breastfeeding in public they are usually so discreet you hardly even know it's happening. Frankly, it strikes me as very immature that someone couldn't handle it.
Most women have nursing bras and also use a little blanket to cover everything. I've never actually seen a woman's breast while she was nursing in public. I have, however, seen about 10,000 different guys itching and groping at their packages I've also seen about as many ass-cracks of girls who seem to spend all their money on silk thongs and not have enough leftover for a belt
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Old 08-10-2005, 05:56 PM   #56
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OK....

You missed the point about the whole blue balls thing.......

it had to do with your statement above.

A woman produces as much milk as is needed by the baby. So if the baby nurses every two hours, every two hours the mother's breasts will be full.

When a woman's breasts get full, and do not get relieved on time, they swell even bigger. Now that to me was good thing, because I am a pig. But I digress.....

TO the woman, it is PAINFUL when they become engorged. SO painful that they can at times begin to leak.

Now my kids nursed every two hours to two and a half hours. Last I knew the average football game could go about three or so.....add in travel time...and a little tailgaiting...there will be a problem at the game.



Walking around with two bowling balls under your skin is a good example of what it feels like when a woman isn't able to nurse on schedule. And if you wait too long, you might not even be able to nurse at all without relieving some of the engorgement first. It hurts like hell.
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Old 08-10-2005, 05:59 PM   #57
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OK....

You missed the point about the whole blue balls thing.......

it had to do with your statement above.

A woman produces as much milk as is needed by the baby. So if the baby nurses every two hours, every two hours the mother's breasts will be full.

When a woman's breasts get full, and do not get relieved on time, they swell even bigger. Now that to me was good thing, because I am a pig. But I digress.....

TO the woman, it is PAINFUL when they become engorged. SO painful that they can at times begin to leak.

Now my kids nursed every two hours to two and a half hours. Last I knew the average football game could go about three or so.....add in travel time...and a little tailgaiting...there will be a problem at the game.
and so the moral of the story is to be a responsible parent and not go to the game.
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Old 08-10-2005, 06:01 PM   #58
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and so the moral of the story is to be a responsible parent and not go to the game.
Yes, I'm sure you are the authority on responsible parenting, knowing SO much about breastfeeding and all.....right......
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Old 08-10-2005, 06:01 PM   #59
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Or perhaps you should be the one to stay home and watch it on TV if you're so easily offended.
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Old 08-10-2005, 06:03 PM   #60
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Originally posted by joyfulgirl
Or perhaps you should be the one to stay home and watch it on TV if you're so easily offended.
Oh no, that might be too dangerous, he may have the horror of seeing a breastfeeding mother in the background for half a second while the camera takes a pass over the crowd.
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