Let me tell you about the first time I nursed my daughter in public. I was sitting in the Old Spaghetti Factory with my family and some friends of ours. My baby was six weeks old, and she was hungry, so I picked her up, opened my shirt and nursed her. I didn’t want to smother her with a blanket, so I pulled one up around her to keep her from getting distracted. The conversation at the table continued. Our server took our orders. My wee girl fussed and kicked a bit when we switched breasts, but she settled down once she realised her dinner hadn’t gone anywhere. She finished her meal and went to sleep.
That was it. That was all. The whole story.
With public breastfeeding being the controversial topic that it is, I’m sure some of you expected that story to go differently. The first few times I nursed my baby in public, I half expected the experience to be like the sort of public nursing nightmare that regularly gets reported in the media. But nothing like that ever happened to me. You’d almost think it was a perfectly natural thing to do.
I’ve never found myself in the miserable position of having to explain to rude busybodies what public breastfeeding is not (It’s not illegal! It’s not sexual! It’s not unsanitary! It’s not your business!) so I’ll focus instead on what public breastfeeding is.
Public Breastfeeding is Humane
To a tiny baby, hunger is torture. Newborns don’t understand the concept of waiting for food. They feel nothing but a growing sense of desperation as their most basic need goes unmet. If this need strikes in a public place, the only kind thing to do is to feed them as soon as possible. New mothers can’t remain cooped up in their homes all day long just because they need to nurse a child every few hours — and no, a bottle isn’t an option for every mother. Unchallenged public breastfeeding meets a child’s needs by providing comfort. It meets a mother’s needs by allowing her mobility. It allows a mother the choice to breastfeed her baby rather than using formula and allows babies to benefit from the nutritional miracle that is breast milk.
Public Breastfeeding Promotes Peace and Harmony
No, really, it does — no matter what the media would have you believe. Let me take you to another restaurant, a sushi joint this time. My wee girl was tired and cranky and she didn’t care who knew it. All the attention that I didn’t get for breastfeeding in public was suddenly focused on me as I committed the social sin of having a crying baby in a restaurant. If looks were daggers… well, you get the idea. I ended up fleeing the restaurant and taking my little fuss-bundle for a walk around the block. I returned when she was calm enough to nurse, which she did with great enthusiasm. Nobody cared. A nursing baby is a quiet baby.
Public Breastfeeding Is a Feminist Issue
This one seems fairly straightforward, but the first time it was pointed out to me, my jaw dropped. I hadn’t thought of it as anything other than a ‘feeding-my-baby’ issue. But when I thought about it, it couldn’t be more obvious. Even if you don’t have or want children, and even if you have chosen not to nurse in public, it is vital that we uphold the right of every mother to feed her baby how and when she feels the need to do so. If we allow women to be told that they are performing a sex act when they are not, we are removing women’s ability to define their own sexuality. If we ask women to confine themselves to their homes just so that we don’t have to see them do a quiet, gentle thing that we can easily ignore, we are trying to remove one of their most basic freedoms. If we ask women to change how and what they feed their newborn children, we are interfering with their right to make choices regarding their children and body. None of these things are acceptable.
On the contrary, when public breastfeeding is allowed, encouraged or politely ignored, women learn to appreciate their amazing ability to feed and nurture a tiny human being with nothing more than their body’s natural capabilities. They learn pride in themselves and confidence in their place in the world. I had the wonderful experience of meeting acceptance and good manners when I nursed my child in public. I hope that people can learn to provide all nursing women with this kind of experience.