For as long as there have been bodies, we have fretted over them. (Yada yada Genesis yada yada Adam and Eve yada yada original sin, shame, etcetera.) We have been especially obsessed with female bodies, which throughout time have been regarded with varying degrees of fetishization, confusion, and revulsion.
It’s no wonder, then, that public breastfeeding has been a point of contention—not only in places that view an exposed female body as tantamount to treason, but also in places that just have weird puritan roots and a resulting ambivalence about nudity.
Fortunately, people are really coming around to the idea that women’s bodies have purposes other than being objects for male consumption or corruption. Some have even begun to make it easier for nursing mothers to breastfeed in public spaces. (Some.)
Read on to learn about eight places where women are breastfeeding and what the reception has been like:
As you may have already heard, Target is getting a lot of good press about its decision to provide “feeding stations” at some of its store locations. Back in 2015, Today ran a piece called “Moms get pumped about Target’s breastfeeding policy.” As it reads in the store’s employee handbook:
“Guests may openly breastfeed in our stores or ask where they can go to breastfeed their child. When this happens, remember these points:
“Target’s policy supports breastfeeding in any area of our stores, including our fitting rooms, even if others are waiting
“If you see a guest breastfeeding in our stores, do not approach her
“If she approaches and asks you for a location to breastfeed, offer the fitting room (do not offer the restroom as an option)”
Target was positioning itself in a different light than it had been in 2011, when mothers arranged a “nurse-in” at its stores nationwide to protest the treatment of a breastfeeding woman in a Texas Target who was asked by staff to cover up.
Now, continuing on its path of showing support to parents, specifically mothers, and normalizing public breastfeeding, Target is testing “feeding stations” where parents can sit down to feed their children. As Wendy Wisner points out in Babble:
“Even though the post was shared on a breastfeeding-specific page, commenters were happy that Target had specifically called it a ‘feeding station,’ making it more inclusive, and celebrating all the ways that mothers feed their babies.”
This listicle from MomAboard names 28 airports with areas specifically designated for nursing and pumping mothers. As Jennifer Chen comments, “PHL Minute Suites gives pumping moms 30 minutes of free time in one of their private rooms for pumping! Such a wonderful thing for them to do”—and herein lies the problem.
She says this with no trace of irony. The fact that the company does this just means that they’re fulfilling some of the most basic standards of human decency. Unfortunately, because women have been taught to ask for and expect so little, these things seem like special feats.
Let us be clear: Demanding that the people who actively facilitate the continuation of the human species have clean, comfortable, and available spaces to feed young humans is not a favor or something that is so nice to do.
(Jennifer, we’re not mad at you, we’re just heated. We could go on a whole related rant about the U.S.’s abysmal, absurd paid parental leave policies, but we’re trying to have a good day.)
Public places should be required to provide these spaces to the vast swaths of our population who are growing human beings inside their bodies and then keeping them alive, often by feeding them with their own bodies.
Despite a number of airports that do provide these spaces, many do not. As U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth wrote in 2016 for the Chicago Sun Times:
“Finding a clean and private space to breastfeed or pump breast milk in an airport can be burdensome and stressful, if not impossible. It’s not uncommon for moms to be directed to a bathroom. We would never ask our fellow travelers to eat their meals in bathrooms stalls, yet we ask new mothers to feed their children while sitting on a toilet seat.”
“No matter what they’re doing or where they are, breastfeeding mothers need to express milk every few hours,” Duckworth points out in her op-ed. “Missing even one needed pumping session can have several undesirable consequences, including discomfort, leaking, inflammation and infection, decreased milk supply, and ultimately, breastfeeding cessation.”
And yet, in 2013, nursing Missouri mother Laura Trickle was held in contempt of court for bringing her then 5-month-old baby with her when called for jury duty. Trickle had told court officials that she was still breastfeeding her son; they told her to come to court anyway, either arranging for childcare elsewhere or bringing someone with her to court who could care for her baby.
When Trickle arrived to court with her son and no caretaker, she said the judge gave her two options. “I would be able to pump on breaks. Unfortunately, Axel doesn’t take a bottle, so that was not an option for us,” she told ABC News. “The other option was to have someone stay with me all day and then be able to nurse on breaks. But since I’m a stay-at-home mom, we don’t have child care.”
Trickle then received a court order at home, charging that she “willfully and contemptuously appeared for jury service with her child and no one to care for the child.” As of 2013, ABC News reported that Missouri was one of 39 states where breastfeeding women weren’t exempt from jury duty.
A Pool in Wyoming
Amber Hinds had recently moved to Wyoming when she was asked—for the first time in her life—to stop breastfeeding in public. Oddly enough, it was at a public pool, by a teenage lifeguard. She wrote about the experience for The Huffington Post:
“For an instant, I completely disconnected from everything around me. All I saw was this girl standing before me in her white t-shirt, her dirty blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, obviously so far from motherhood and without any understanding of the implications of what she had just said. For a second, I wondered if that could really just have happened.
“Could this girl have actually thought that me feeding my baby was something that shouldn’t be done in a space that was built for families? I took a deep breath and with it, the chaos of the noisy pool deck returned. I sat up straighter, looked her square in the eyes, and said, ‘State law says I can breastfeed wherever I am legally allowed to be.'”
The girl’s face got red, she apologized, and she walked away, but the afternoon had been “soured.” (Discrimination/public shaming has a way of doing that.) Hinds wrote that she was lucky that this was not her first nursing rodeo and that she had developed a certain degree of confidence in her right to breastfeed publicly.
“However, the more [my husband] Chris and I discussed what had happened, the more I became concerned about how such an experience might impact a new mom, who may already be struggling with nursing or feeling self-conscious,” Hinds wrote. “Being told that she can’t nurse somewhere could be the thing that makes someone stop breastfeeding.”
On March 23, 2010, the federal law Break Time for Nursing Mothers came into effect, requiring companies with at least 50 employees to give new mothers the time and private space—bathrooms don’t count—to pump milk until the baby is a year old.
In January 2017, folks were starting to get nervous about how the new administration’s plans for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, popularly known as Obamacare) would affect working mothers who are producing milk, because the law protecting their right to time and space to pump in the workplace was part of the ACA.
As Claire Zillman wrote for Fortune:
“The problem that the breastfeeding provision sought to solve is uniquely American. Since the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without paid maternity leave, many new mothers are forced to return to work shortly after giving birth. In fact, 59% of first-time mothers return to paid work in the first three months postpartum.
“At the same time, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges them to exclusively breastfeed their newborns for six months, since breastfeeding is shown to benefit the health of both babies and new moms. That leaves many women with an agonizing choice: Stop breastfeeding, take unpaid time off work, or figure out a way to nurse or pump milk on-the-job.”
Fortunately, for now, Obamacare continues—and so do protections for nursing mothers.
Some places are exclusively devoted to facilitating healthy relationships with breastfeeding, such as the Pump Station & Nurtury in California, with store locations in Hollywood and Santa Monica.
The center, which describes itself as “a breastfeeding support and new parent resource center that educates, guides and encourages new parents in a soothing environment as they learn to care for their newborns,” provides programs including prenatal breastfeeding and baby care classes as well as International Board Certified Lactation Consultant–licensed assistance for nursing moms.
In 2012, The New York Times ran a fun piece that opened with the anecdote that launched the business idea:
“Twenty-five or so years ago, Wendy Haldeman, a nurse and lactation consultant, was standing in a Toys ‘R’ Us parking lot when a female acquaintance ran up, yanked up her shirt and cried out, in reference to one of her exposed breasts: ‘What is this on my nipple?'”
Isn’t transparency liberating?
At Least 40 Places in New York City
Ah, New York City—sometimes an overpriced, vicious, foul-smelling minefield; sometimes a beacon of creativity and progressive values and ideas. In 2010, a blogger for Mommy Poppins enumerated places around New York City where mothers could breastfeed without being harassed.
“In New York State, legally, you can nurse in public anywhere you want, but knowing you’re protected under the law doesn’t always make it easy,” she wrote. She came up with a list of 40 safe spots (some of which appear to have now closed, unfortunately).
One entry reads:
“Word has it that at the Ciao for Now Cafe in the East Village the owner sometimes nurses while serving customers (you go girl!) Described as “super kid-friendly,” they have a children’s menu and other toothsome offerings. This tip was for the 12th Street location but they do have two other downtown locations under same ownership.”
Looks like Ciao for Now Cafe is still open. Go forth, sweet milkful mothers, and breastfeed!
Women breastfeeding in restaurants have brought no small amount of ire. In 2015, Ashley Kaidel posted a photo of herself breastfeeding in a restaurant while staring down a woman trying to publicly shame her for doing so. The social media post was shared more than 125,000 times. She wrote:
“I don’t mean to say ‘Everyone should breast feed without a cover. Show the world your boobs!’ If a mother is more comfortable covering herself because SHE feels better doing so, then I totally support that.
“With that being said, the reason I post these types pictures is for the mother that tried breastfeeding uncovered once and she got shamed, she got stared and pointed at, she got nasty comments, she got asked to leave the room, she got asked to cover up.”
Amen, Ashley! The sad reality, as evidenced by the comments, is that many people are incapable of holding multiple things in their minds at once. If your gut reaction when seeing an exposed breast in public is to find it jarring or to sexualize it—well, we’d say that’s pretty normal, given our repressed culture’s weird aversion to and simultaneous fetishization of nudity.
But if you’re incapable of then examining that gut reaction and asking whether it deserves to be brandished as a moral code, or as the only viable perception, then we have some serious problems.
You are a human being, capable of rational thought that can modify knee-jerk reactions. Be respectful. She is not there for you to shame or to ogle. She is not for your consumption.
Breastfeeding a child is a beautiful, natural act. Let’s support moms who are keeping their babies fed by making it as easy as possible for them to do so.