The health benefits of breastfeeding your baby are widely known. The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. The immunity boost provided by mother’s milk leads to lower healthcare costs, fewer parental absences and less antibiotic use.
Given these facts, it’s tough to believe the backlash against public breastfeeding that we see on a seemingly daily basis. As an active member of the community of breastfeeding advocates, I am surprised by the negative reactions many mothers receive when they feed their baby in a restaurant or retail store. Every week there are new reports of mothers being asked to leave public places, cover up or threatened with indecent exposure charges for feeding her baby. As a nurse and mother of three, I am immune from the shock of seeing any part of the human body unclothed. Although I can sympathize with the people that do not share my profession, I think those who find breastfeeding offensive can simply look away.
Photo of a "nurse-in" at a Target in Plano TX. This protest was staged in response to Michelle Hickman of Houston sitting on the floor of the women's clothing department and breastfeeding her infant who had just woken up hungry. Despite covering herself and the baby with a blanket, two female employees came over to her and asked her to move and threatened her that she'd get a ticket if she continued to nurse her baby outside of a dressing room. Michelle is a blogger for Best for Babes, a breastfeeding advocacy group. A mother’s right to breastfeed in public is protected. Read the law and learn about breastfeeding specific legislation in your state here. Photo courtesy of CBSDFW.com
Although science supports breastfeeding, we don’t need to look far to find a social stigma against it. As breastfeeding advocates, it is important that we acknowledge this stigma exists, and then empower mothers in their choice to breastfeed.
There are many ways we can support mothers and mothers-to-be in her breastfeeding journey. Here are some ideas for showing your support for a breastfeeding mother:
- Your words are powerful; if you have a friend or family member that is pregnant, assure her that she can be successful.
- Many mothers don’t have exposure to a breastfeeding role model. If you have breastfed, tell other moms about your experience. The good and bad! It’s important to give a realistic view of breastfeeding. If you only share the great parts your listener is going to perceive any struggles as abnormal.
- Research shows mothers that attend a breastfeeding class during their pregnancy are more likely to start breastfeeding and breastfeed longer. (CDC) Encourage pregnant women in your life to find out about the options for breastfeeding education in their area.
- Be a good listener. Breastfeeding can be tough in the beginning and she may need reassurance that the struggles will pass and breastfeeding gets easier.
- If you see a mother breastfeeding in public, let her know you support her with a smile or kind word. If I see you nursing in public, I will tell you “Nice job mom!”
- Dads are a critical part of the breastfeeding support system. Encourage him to attend a breastfeeding class, learn why breastfeeding is important and ways he can help mom be successful.
- If you can, encourage your husband or significant other to share his/her experience as your supporter. Dads need positive role models too!
- Keep focus on the positive aspects of breastfeeding – you can travel light without formula, bottles or nipples.
We know the topic of breastfeeding can be controversial due to the sexualization of breasts in American culture. If we are able to focus on the benefits of breastfeeding and the love we all have for our children, the actions we take to empower mothers in their choice to breastfeed become more essential.