I'm spending the next couple days focused on celebrating the birth of the girl who made me a mom. Happy Birthday, My Fairy Princess! (Those of you who know her in person may be surprised to know that my bruiser of a tomboy is a closet princess who loves dressing up in pink!)
I have a guest blogger writing in my stead today. Chrissy is a friend and fellow knitter. In fact, the response from her and my other NE Knitting Mom friends after I told them my story convinced me to start this blog. I'll let her tell you how it happened and why she and so many other moms are still fired up about what happened to me, despite Fred Meyer's apology.
Chris was just going to forget about the incident and Fred Meyer's initial response, and was seriously thinking of never nursing her son in public ever again, when she told the story to a group of friends (including me) and we got really mad about the whole situation.
Despite the fact that Fred Meyer has publicly apologized and promised to do some "sensitivity training" of its employees, there are still many people out there who think that breastfeeding mothers should nurse in a bathroom, at home, in the car, or anywhere out of the sight of others. This is due to their own discomfort at seeing a mother feeding her baby in the way that nature intended. However, trying to find a private place to nurse a screaming, hungry baby isn't always possible (as I well know as a nursing mom myself of a one-year-old son) and covering up with a blanket isn't always an option since many babies will just pull it off or get even more upset. Breastfeeding will continue to be viewed as something obscene as long as we keep nursing mothers "in the closet" and don't educate the general public as to why breastfeeding is an important issue for everyone (not just the "feminazis").
When I had my daughter, I was terrified to nurse in public and it was months before I did so. I suffered from severe post-partum depression, exacerbated by the fact that I felt like I needed to stay close to home in case she decided she needed to eat. I was dedicated to breastfeeding, so I stuck with it. However, I strongly believe that the breastfeeding rate in this country is so low because new moms refuse to be stuck in the house and also because breastfeeding is seen as somehow sexual or obscene when it is neither. The perception that women should be "as discreet as possible" just feeds the fire and allows people to continue to feel like a breastfeeding mom is doing something lewd if she doesn't do it in private.
I am now nursing my second child, and I do nurse in public but I'm still uncomfortable doing it unless I'm in a place that I know is accepting. I've always tried to be extremely discreet, and have a closet full of nursing tops to prove it. However, I've still gotten funny looks from people who realize what I'm doing even though there is absolutely NO skin showing. The issue isn't people accidentally seeing breasts (which they have the opportunity to do on a daily basis anyway in magazines, on tv and on billboards). It's seeing a woman breastfeeding. I want this perception to change so that by the time my daughter is a mom, she can breastfeed her kids and feel like it is the most natural thing in the world - not something she needs to be doing furtively, like some kind of criminal or sexual deviant.
While this issue is of great importance to breastfeeding moms, it is also a public health issue. Breastfeeding is endorsed by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization as THE WAY to feed babies. You can go to either of these sites to see the enormous benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding. Besides the health benefits, breastfeeding is free (other than the extra 500 calories a day the mother requires), sterile (no bottles to deal with or water cleanliness issues) and always available (no need to worry about getting trapped with your baby somewhere - a snowstorm, an elevator, a traffic jam - and not having enough formula or water with you). While formula is a fine substitute for breast milk in cases where the mother can't nurse her baby, breast milk is still much superior (just like fresh fruits and vegetables are better than canned).
The final point to make about the controversy over breastfeeding in public is that the ones who really suffer are the babies. Whether it's a baby who misses out on the health benefits of breastfeeding because the mother decides it's too difficult to breastfeed, or a baby who has to wait to eat because his mom has to find a private place to nurse, it's ultimately the baby who is punished for society's hang-ups about breastfeeding. This fight isn't only about the rights of breastfeeding moms - it's about the rights of all babies to eat the food that nature intended for them, in peace. It's just not always convenient to stay home all day with a nursing baby, or to expect a baby to only eat when it's at home (as Chris found out with her son at Fred Meyer - she'd nursed him 30 minutes before entering the store, but he decided that he wanted to eat again and wasn't going to take no for an answer). Nursing moms are not exhbitionists trying to force you to look at their exposed breasts - they are just concerned mothers trying to do what's best for their babies while going about their daily lives.