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Saturday, March 17, 2007Every now and then I run across an article on breastfeeding in public that makes me wonder. Now I've already made it VERY clear here that I do not support breastfeeding laws that include language like "discreet" or "covered" or anything else that leaves things open to judgement...because really, who gets to define discreet?
At the same time, I don't like the idea of a woman nursing her child in public with an entire breast exposed. Sure, it's her right, but I think it sets back the movement by creating backlash against nursing moms. Now I would never tell a mom that she should stop, nor would I shoot her a dirty look because who knows, she could be a new mom that's still learning how to nurse. She could also be someone trying to make a point and as much as I think these people are rare, I don't doubt that there are a few women in the world that WOULD expose themselves purposely just to make a point. I disagree with their methods, but hey, still their right to do it.
That said, it's been my experience that moms work to show absolutely as little as possible while they nurse. Yes, I hear stories online all the time about women 'whipping it out' (I hate that phrase) to nurse, but I've NEVER seen this. At most, you might see a quarter inch of breast if the mom's shirt isn't quite pulled down to baby's nose. Heck, my own son will occasionally grab hold of my shirt and try to lift it up a bit more. It's fun for him. ;) Not so much for me, but you do what you gotta do.
So what's with that rant? Well, a reader sent me a story today out of Cullman, Alabama. Apparently, Elizabeth McDowell was nursing her child in Johnny's Barbecue last week when she alleges that one of the employees put a dirty dish towel over her six month old son's head as he ate. (Ohh...you want to talk about something that would earn you a whippin...I would have been absolutely furious.) The owner's side of the story is that the woman was exposing her entire breast and that many of his patrons were complaining.
It gets a little more confusing, at least based on the news story that I could find online...
Becky Smalley, a Johnny's Barbecue Employee, said she was at work when McDowell was feeding her child. She said the woman exposed most of her breast. Smalley and her daughter-in-law, Katrina James, argued with McDowell outside the restaurant.
"Why would you do it?" Smalley asked.
McDowell replied "you can't breast feed yourself."
McDowell said she wants to encourage people who are offended by public breast-feeding to first approach mothers verbally, and to never act aggressively toward the mother or child.
"It is a mother's protected right to breast-feed her child in any public or private place where she is allowed to be," she said in a prepared statement. "For the upset person to take matters into their own hands is frightening and unacceptable."
I can't for the life of me figure out what McDowell meant by her "You can't breast feed yourself" comment. I don't know if it's just bad reporting or if she said it and it just didn't make sense. Does she mean that Smalley isn't able to breastfeed or that a woman can't nurse from her own breast? I would assume she probably meant the former, but even if she did, what point would that make?
I also can't really get behind the idea of "encouraging" people to approach mothers verbally if they are offended by public breastfeeding. I'd personally encourage people to look the other way and mind their own business if they don't like public breastfeeding. It's what I do if I don't like something that someone else is doing. Never seemed all that difficult to me.
That said, this part of the article really stood out to me and seems to really represent the views held by a lot of people.
I call this "lip service."
James said she is the mother of an infant, and that she doesn't have a problem with public breast-feeding as long as women are discrete.
"I just don't think you should do it in the middle of a restaurant where people are eating," she said.
How can you say you don't have a problem with public breastfeeding and then follow it up by saying that you shouldn't do it in public? Or is it ok to do it in public but not if anyone else is eating? Because apparently a child enjoying their meal suddenly makes you unable to enjoy your own?
Disappointing to see that only three mothers showed up to support this woman.
To note, Alabama is a state that has laws that specifically make it legal for a mother to breastfeed in public. However, as I've explained in the past, these laws do NOT override the ability of a business owner to refuse service to someone, they simply keep a mother from being prosecuted for nursing. Thus, if a business owner wants to, they can call the police and claim that the mother and child are trespassing and refusing to leave their property. In other words, sure, it's legal to breastfeeding in public, but it's just as legal to ask someone to leave, cover up, etc.
We still have a long way to go.