We walk the streets of our city and see poster after poster of advertisements. We are used to them. They are part of our society. From satirical to sexual advertisements, we see them every day. Yet when people see a mother and child in their most natural state, people get shocked and sometimes even offended by a decision that it is not even theirs in the first place. I’m talking about nursing in public.
Mothers, you may be aware of the established law that protects mothers who decide to breastfeed in private or in public locations. In the written law, a section mentions that it’s a requirement to provide a decent nursing room to mothers at work or at any public place. However, most companies and public places don’t provide a safe nursing room to mothers. And if they do, most of the time it is an unsanitary restroom that could possibly affect your baby’s health. Do you know that by having safe and comfortable nursing rooms mothers are more prone to feel less ashamed to nurse their baby? Thus continuing to nurse their baby for the minimum six months requirement.
The World Health Organization recommends mothers to breastfeed their children for six months but only 22 percent of mothers in the United States practice nursing. This low percentage is understandable, for in America there is a lot of controversy surrounding this issue. As the essay that appeared in The Times, commented, “that promotion efforts can degenerate into shaming women.” It’s contradictory that people think breastfeeding is shameful, but nursing is important and beneficial to children and moms. Mothers believe that replacing breast milk with infant formula will have no impact on their baby, but that is not the case at all. Instead, mothers are taking away special nutrients that come directly from breast milk. Although infant milk may mimic some of the special nutrients, it can’t be compared to the vast essential nutrients of human milk. Mother’s milk remains superior to any alternative from the perspective of the overall health of both mother and child. However, in the United States and other countries, mother’s milk is often devalued as it competes with continuous advertising of infant-formula companies. Many of you may ask, well then what are these special nutrients mother’s milk has?
Infants are fragile and prone to diseases because their bodies are not fully developed. They must be treated with special care and nourishment. Studies have shown various health benefits of breastfeeding. For example, breastfed children are more resistant to disease and infection early in their life than formula-fed children and are less likely to contract a number of later-in-life diseases. Mothers you’re not exempt from these health benefits. For those who decide to breastfeed their children are less likely to develop osteoporosis later in life and are able to lose weight gained during pregnancy more easily. There is also the lower risk of contracting breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
Ongoing research has shown that skin-to-skin contact or bare-skin snuggling can also significantly reduce maternal stress levels. The research done by the American Academy of Pediatrics consisted of looking at stress levels of new mothers before and after they held their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) babies in a “kangaroo style,” for a minimum of one hour. The results were that all mothers reported a decrease in stress after this skin-to-skin time with the infants. There was a more notable change with mothers who reported feelings of helplessness of being unable to protect their baby from painful procedures and stress from being separated from their babies. Neonatologist Natalia Isaza encourages all NICUs to follow this simple technique that can benefit both mother and child. In spite of all these health benefits, mothers still decide to stop or not breastfeed their children at all. What could be the cause of this? Is it the lack of nursing rooms in public places?
Since the law has been enacted, workplaces have taken little to no action. The definition of nursing rooms to some companies are stocking rooms or closets filled with technical material. Some even going to the extent of only arranging two chairs and a small round table in a corner of a narrow hallway with a tiny sign calling this space a nursing room, as if mothers were doing such a shameful act. But we have to admit that these mothers have it easy. Restaurants or any public place in general direct mothers to restrooms to nurse their baby. Let’s face it, who will like to eat their breakfast or lunch in a public restroom? Babies are no exception. Just because babies have yet to have a consciousness, it doesn’t mean they are force to eat in a restroom.
A mother returning from her three-month maternity leave to her restaurant job at a McDonald’s in Grand Island, Nebraska, decided to continue to breastfeed. As a working mother, it meant she would have to pump her breast milk at work. Like any mother, she thought her employers would have been understanding, but the outcome was the opposite. She obtained a doctor’s note indicating that she needed to express milk for her child. What her employer provided her with was a room with no door or curtain to prevent other employees from walking in on her. She instead decided to pump in the restaurant’s public restroom to have privacy. Knowing she had rights that protected her under the federal law, she filed a complaint with the Labor Department as the company clearly violated her rights. What happened next was unbelievable. The manager forbade her from pumping milk anywhere in the restaurant and dropped her hours drastically for a week.
This is not the only case that has happened in the United States; the McDonald’s case is, “one of 105 cases,” Huffington Post said. They reviewed all the cases as part of a Freedom of Information Act for investigating into nursing mother complaints. All of these cases showed the discrimination mothers face in the workplace. They constantly face a contradiction made by society. Health professionals and most of society tell mothers that nursing is essential for the mother and child. When mothers try to follow this advice they are not granted the job flexibility they need to make it work. It’s a struggle every mother experience numerous times during their lifetime.
Working mothers who nurse need a working electric pump, which health insurers under the Affordable Care act covers, so employees have no reason to decline to offer it. Mothers also need a lock to a private room, hand sanitizer and of course a cooler and bottles to store the milk. Most important of all, they need understanding from their employer to mutually arrange frequent breaks to pump milk. If breaks are not regular, it could lead a mother to stop breastfeeding earlier than expected.
Most mothers today feel strongly about nursing in public and agree that it should not be defined as a shameful act, but this does not come without controversy. Mothers, and you maybe one of them, are looked down upon when they decided to nurse in public. They are sometimes even judged by other mothers as well. Why is it that something that is so natural and beneficial to both mother and child is regarded as sexual?
A mother in North Carolina named Kelle Perkins, who feels strongly about nursing in public, was humiliated. She was at the public library when she went into mommy-mode as her 2-month old baby began to get hungry. Thinking she had the right to feed her baby, as she clearly has, she decided to breastfeed her son in the computer lab. “I was Okay with the shirt I have on, I can very inconspicuously put him inside the shirt feed him and no one will know the wiser,” said Perkins to WBTV. But people did not take this lightly as they started to complain. The library employees told Perkins she could use the nursing room but she politely declined so she could finish using the computer. However, the employees continued to direct Perkins to the nursing room. They said, “Well my supervisor really wants you to go ahead and get up and go to the nursing room” Perkins felt offended by the statement. Again, Perkins had every right under the North California law to breastfeed in any private or public location. Yet people seem to forget about this right.
Brittney Warfield, as she was shopping at the Galleria Mall in Houston, was screamed at and forced to leave the Hollister store while she breastfed her 7-month old baby. Little did the department store knew that this would spark a nurse-in across the United States of over 1,000 breastfeeding mothers, children, and friends on January 5, 2013, to protest against the actions towards Brittney that clearly goes against breastfeeding rights, as writer Robin Kaplan reported.
What happened during the nurse-in was truly shocking. Three women who were participating in the Hollister nurse-in at the Wilmington, Delaware’s Concord Mall were asked to put down their posters and move to another part of the mall. After they took the posters down which had statements to normalize nursing in public, the three mothers continued to nurse in front of the store. The police could not take any action against them because the mothers showed a copy of the Delaware’s law that protects mothers who nurse in public; something that most mothers are not aware that exists to protects them. However, the officials did not stop from harassing the mothers by threatening them with removal from the mall or following them throughout them mall.
Mothers from all over the country took it a step further and posted in the Mall’s Facebook page telling them that they should be ashamed for calling their police when mothers were only breastfeeding their children. The Concord Mall management responded that breastfeeding was an “eyesore and they ‘hope you guys don’t mind if I suck on my wife’s breasts in public’”, The mall declined ever having an official Facebook page.
In a highly controversial issue published in Time magazine, they spoke about breastfeeding older children. The stories started with a reader’s question, “Aren’t those kids going to be screwed up when they realize later in life what went on? They do it for their own sexual pleasure”. There are some mothers that can’t breastfeed for numerous reasons but for the mothers who can, they are a, “perfect example of nature working the way it was designed,” as the writer of the story puts it. And she is correct, breast milk has the ability to give the next generation the healthiest and most sustainable form of nutrition. Yet some people are obsessed by sexualizing this pure act, something that our society seems to define everything with. When it comes to defining a mother nursing her child as sexual, it’s clear that things have completely gone wrong. And to say breastfeeding an older child is sexually abusive is rather unwise.
A billboard in Sunset Strip in Los Angeles advertised a dating website, Cougarlife.com. As you may know, Cougar is a slang word to describe an older woman who preys on younger men. But you may think, what does this has to do with nursing? My question exactly as I read the article published on babycenter’s blog. Well, this particular billboard featured a mother nursing her baby. What is more shocking is that the baby had a bubble thought with the phrase, “jealous?” written into it. As dramatic as it seems, the ad company justified it by saying it was a Mother’s Day themed for their ad campaign. This is a clear example that the act of nursing is often compared to something sexual and defines it as something inappropriate, something that is neither of those things.
It is not only for the comfort of mother and baby to allow breastfeeding to be normalized, but it’s also a health benefit for the both of them. Because nursing in public is often seen as taboo and shameful to people, mothers often decide to stop nursing forgetting about the benefit it has in children’s life. In the New York Times, a story referred to breast milk as, The Breast Milk Elixer, it’s noted in current estimates backed by the World Health Organization and Unicef that breastfeeding would save 800,000 children’s lives a year in developing countries. They said, “That would amount to a 12 percent drop in child mortality, a huge gain,” as the writer, Nicholas Kristof stated.
Young women have taken the stage to normalize this controversial topic such by nursing without covering and posting pictures on social media to stand up to this issue. Seeing a mother nursing in public can be shocking and hard to accept. It’s also hard to see something so intimate in public. But as much as the general public tries to infuse shame and consider it taboo, it is something natural as well as beneficial for mother and a good foundation of nutrition for the child.
In 2014, the Lansino Global Breastfeeding Survey landed in the inboxes of many mothers. The survey, unlike others who only feature opinions of the general public, only contained opinions of real mothers. The good news about this survey is that the majority of mothers in every country believe nursing is the best way to feed their baby. Wait, there is more, the majority of participants, “in 6 out of the 9 countries” who were surveyed considered breastfeeding in public to be natural. This is it mothers, it seems like the times are changing. Public breastfeeding is starting to be seen in a new light by society. Usually, whenever nursing in public news will hit the headlines it will often be negative or be consider an act of shame. Now it seems that the times are changing and are inclining more to accept and see nursing as what it really is. Although the survey was positive, there was one bad result. The majority of mothers, “from 6 out of the 9 counties surveyed consider a 2-year-old too old for breastfeeding”. Indeed, mothers are walking a confusing maze of worrying if their actions will be seen as unacceptable or acceptable acts. Finding their way in a world that it finds breastfeeding as an act of shame, but when society starts to accept the act, it finds another way to bash mothers. Take for instance, Brazil and Turkey which considered nursing children of 2 years old to be fantastic. The important thing is that breastfeeding is being talked about and questions are being asked. So let’s keep this conversation going.
In 2013, China had plans to raised breastfeeding rate to 50 percent in 7 years, a very ambitious goal. China may not feel accepting of nursing in public but they clearly understand the importance of breast milk. China’s rates of breastfeeding are among the world’s lowest. Dr. Robert Scherpbier, chief of health and nutrition for UNICEF China, said in an email to the Huffington Post, “How many infant formula crises do we still need to convince mothers and policy makers that breast is best?” Only, “about 28 percent of Chinese,” children are breastfed younger than 6 months exclusively. “Breast-feeding is safe, universally available and free,” mention Scherpbier to Huff Post. He continued, “So there is no reason why mothers should use infant formula when they can breast-feed.” Well, perhaps the reason for low percentage is that even in China working mothers lack proper nursing rooms. The government’s National Center for Women’s and Children’s Health encourage Chinese employers to add rooms for new mothers to raise the practice of breastfeeding, something that even here in the United States is needed.
There is little to no awareness about the law that protects mothers. They often do not know they have rights when nursing and this could be one you. According to a HuffPost poll, “38 percent,” admitted they know nothing about the law and could not comment on it. Companies are no different. Upon learning about the file complaints, they quickly comply to establish a private nursing room, claiming they were not aware of all the obligations they have to follow under the law.
It could be extremely difficult to normalize nursing in society, especially if people immediately jump to the conclusion to judge the act as being unnatural or sexual. There are numerous campaigns or individuals, like Ivette Ivens, who work to normalize nursing in public. Ivens is a photographer who takes pictures of nursing moms, which has a special meaning to her. She said to Huffington Post that every time she nurses her baby she feels like a superhero and that nursing is her superpower. Ivens likes to photograph mothers outside to capture them breastfeeding in nature to remind people that nursing is a normal thing. She is against mothers covering up, nursing in a public restroom, or age restrictions. She is firm that the decision is between mother and child. The current law is a good start to protect nursing mothers in the workplace and society but clearly all employers need to start following it or the government needs to make new changes to the enforce the law.