There seems to be almost constant drama in the online community concerning nursing-in-public, covering, Facebook rules and deleted pictures, disgruntled Target employees and offended nursing mothers asked to leave.
In response there is outrage, well-shared nursing pictures of various degrees of toplessness, boycotts and nurse-ins.
While I understand the upset over the trampling of nursing rights, I often ponder if our response is less than useful, or worse, detrimental.
Lest you question my “street cred” I spent over six years of my life breastfeeding, never pushed weaning, and never fed a drop of formula to any of my children (I acknowledge that I am a blessed woman indeed). I also nursed publicly and often, without a cover (but occasionally with something draped) depending on my own comfort and the situation.
Frankly, I think what I did — just nursing like it was NORMAL and not making a big deal out of it, is far more effective than a boycott, an online rant, or a slew of in-your-face breastfeeding pictures. Breastfeeding is really no bigger deal than eating and I treat it as such. I (like most nursing mothers) was never ever asked to leave or cover when nursing despite doing it front and center in the middle of church, at theme parks, stores, and restaurants and even wedged between two men on many a flight and many other places. I never once had a negative word spoken to me while nursing and lived in three states with widely varying opinions and acceptance for breastfeeding (California, Texas and New Mexico).
I love breastfeeding and I understand its intrinsic value; physical, spiritual, and emotional. I don’t have a problem talking about the benefits of breastfeeding or encouraging it among others. I don’t worry about “making” anybody feel guilty because they had to formula feed. I don’t worry about their issues. I also don’t see the need to treat a normal human function like it is my own personal political agenda or reason to get pissed at the world.
In fact, I am starting to wonder if these widely publicized (often by the natural community itself) instances of nursing oppression are actually doing MORE harm than good, not just because our vitriolic anger makes us look crazy, but because it just might SCARE women who want to nurse in public. These widespread (but I believe rare) stories really send the message that people in general are out to get breastfeeding mothers — which I believe is actually NOT the case. I think it is also important to note that bloggers and Facebook mavens benefit greatly in likes, shares, and traffic when something like this goes viral. I blog and am heavily involved in social media and I speak the truth on this one. Drama SELLS and nothing creates drama like righteous indignation.
I am all for advocacy for natural birth and breastfeeding; you could say it is what I do as a childbirth educator and mother. However, we have to be realistic about what makes our message effective, and what is actually counterproductive. Sometimes the way we treat nursing makes it seem like a very big deal indeed rather than the normal human function that it is.
My advice (as though you were asking for it) is to simply nurse. Don’t think of breastfeeding as a statement, an agenda, a controversy or a battle cry, think of it as what it is — feeding a baby. Is breastfeeding political? Yes, of course. But I think that the greatest good we can do is to just do it.
“The moment she had laid the child to the breast both became perfectly calm.” ~ Isak Dinesen
That is what breastfeeding is to me — sweet calm for mother and baby. It is just what we DO. I don’t think the enemies of breastfeeding are really the people around us, but the corporations who have thoughtfully and methodically infiltrated the market and made formula feeding the “normal” way to feed your baby.
They are wrong. Breastfeeding is no big deal. Breastfeeding is normal. Smile. Keep calm, and breastfeed.
Photo credit: coatl28 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)
About Sarah Clark
Sarah Clark is a mother of four breastfed and naturally birthed babies. She is good at making people mad without effort. You can find her blogging at www.mamabirth.blogspot.com or teaching birth classes in Santa Rosa, California. She also trains natural birth teachers for Birth Boot Camp.