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Wednesday, September 26, 2007There's a pro-breastfeeding shirt that reads "I make milk, what's your super power."
It's always bothered me.
I see the humor in it. I understand why so many moms like it. But there's something about that shirt that really bothers me.
Maybe it's because I don't see milk production as a super power. I simply see it as part of being a mom. In fact, I feel downright uncomfortable with the implication that breastfeeding makes me "special." That somehow, I'm able to do things other people aren't.
It's a theme I'm seeing pop up more and more in the past few weeks.
In fact, there seems to be a new lactivist tide rising and it worries me.
But I'm SPECIAL!
Lately, I'm seeing the idea pop up that being a breastfeeding mom some how confers special rights on a mother. I've actually had several emails in the last month or two from mothers who are upset that they were not allowed to take their breastfed baby some place. To note, I'm not talking about being denied the right to breastfeed in a place where a baby could be bottle fed. I'm talking about someone who gets upset when they can't go anywhere they want with their breastfed child.
You know...bingo halls, bars, day spas, and so on.
These moms are upset that a business would dare deny them the right to bring their breastfed baby with them.
I've responded to each to point out that if the business allowed breastfed babies, they'd have to allow ALL babies. After all, to do otherwise would be to discriminate against bottle fed babies.
Unfortunately, these moms don't seem to be bothered by that.
In fact, most responded to argue that the discrimination here is against THEM because as a breastfeeding mother they can't go to this business or facility unless they bring their babies with them. They go on to point out the language of the law here in Ohio.
A mother is entitled to breastfeed her baby in any location of a place of public accommodation wherein the mother otherwise is permitted.
According to these mothers, that law gives them the right to breastfeed their child whether the child is allowed on the premises or not.
In fact, one mom told me she never even dreamed her child might be considered a violation of the rule. After all, she can't go there without her baby, and she's allowed to nurse wherever she is, so it must be ok to take the baby, right?
Well, no. It's actually not right. (To note, I'm not a fan of that form of the law and have said as much. I prefer the wording that includes the phrase "mother and child are permitted to be" because it makes this issue crystal clear.) That said, the Ohio wording of the law still does not back these mothers.
One thing I've learned in my time here at the Lactivist is that most people (myself included) have a hard time understanding the finer points of the law. I've had to spend a LOT of time asking questions and seeking clarification on the subtleties of legal language. I've had to learn about how where a law resides (civil code, health code, etc...) can have an impact on how it's interpreted. I've also had to swallow the very difficult truth that the greatest majority of breastfeeding laws in the United States do NOT protect a mother from being kicked out of a business for breastfeeding.
So let's break this law down a bit to understand WHY it doesn't mean you get to take your breastfed baby anywhere you want.
First, the law does not confer ANY rights on the child. While you may *think* the word child is implied by the very fact that a mother cannot nurse unless she has a child to nurse, the truth is no legal rights are given to the child by the wording of this law.
Second, the law actually has nothing to do with conferring rights on mother or child to BE anywhere. The law has to do with their actions. It makes it legal for a mother to breastfeed her child wherever she may be. It does NOT give her, or her baby, the right to go where they are otherwise not allowed to be. That law would actually be part of what are called "public accommodation laws." Most states DO allow businesses to "discriminate" against children based on issues of safety. (Can't take your kid to a bar, along with you to your job at a steel mill, have them in a casino, etc...)
Some states also allow businesses to "discriminate" against children for other reasons. Think of the retirement community that does not allow children or the high end spa that says no one under 16 is allowed.
To the best of my knowledge (and those I asked), I do not know of any instance in which a breastfeeding law was interpreted to create the right to bring a baby into a space they are otherwise not allowed to be.
One or two of the moms I spoke with plan to fight the companies that told them they could not bring their breastfed babies along with them. I can't say I believe they'll win.
I also don't think they should.
See, here's the thing. Breastfeeding does NOT give you the right to trounce over pre-existing rules. Not when those rules have nothing to do with breastfeeding. Your baby isn't exempt just because only you can feed him or her. YOU are not exempt just because you have to take care of your child. While it may be poor customer service to tell you your child isn't welcome, it's FAR from discrimination.
Lest you think I'm unsympathetic to the needs of a breastfeeding mother, let me remind you that Emmitt would not take a bottle or sippy until a few weeks ago. That meant I spent 11 months being the ONLY person who could give him breast milk. Since he's a frequent eater, it's also meant that he has to go with me everywhere. This means I get to go less places.
That's life. I deal with it.
I've mentioned in the past that Emmitt travels with me to the conferences I speak at. I've also mentioned that at smaller shows, he's stayed with me during networking events and that I've even nursed him while discussing business with attendees. However, several of the shows I go to have a "no one under 18 rule." I actually happen to know the folks who run these shows. They're kind enough to allow whoever travels with me to meet me in the speaker's room when I'm between sessions, but I am NOT allowed to have Emmitt anywhere at the show. Not in the back of the room, not outside the door of the room, not in the hall near the rooms, not in the expo hall. NO kids allowed.
Does it make my life less convenient? Yes, by a lot. Is it how life goes? Yes. I count myself lucky that Emmitt can be in the same city as me at these events. I'm not going to complain if I have to walk an extra 5 or 10 minutes to get to him.
If I would interpret the breastfeeding law as liberally as some of the women I've spoken with, I should be able to carry Emmitt into the room where I speak and deliver my presentation while nursing him. That's great if it's a lactation or childbirth conference. Not really so appropriate or realistic when you're speaking to a room of 1000 about marketing.
Heck, if we're going with liberal interpretation, I would have been able to nurse Emmitt in the kitchen of the cafe I used to work as a barista at. Doesn't matter if the health code says no one under 18...he's nursing.
I suppose Rosie the Riveter could have taken her breastfed baby on the factory floor with her. Safety comes second, right?
My point is that not only do these moms lack the legal right to do what they are demanding, they also miss the common sense factor. There are REASONS why businesses have "no children" rules. Sometimes it's about the ambiance, sometimes it's a genuine issue of safety. Either way, there IS a reason. (And that reason is rarely "we don't like to see breastfeeding.")
Even beyond that, consider the reverse discrimination that would occur if these exceptions were made. Does anyone REALLY think it's ok to say "no kids, EXCEPT breastfed ones."
Really? Anyone? I'd love to hear your reasons why.
As the mother of both a bottle fed (exclusively pumping) and breastfed (refusal to take a bottle) child, I can tell you that it would NOT sit well with me. Not at ALL.
This new tide of lactivism reeks to me of "I breastfeed and that makes me special." While I have the greatest respect for moms who put the time and effort into breastfeeding, I firmly believe that this attitude is bad. Bad because it leads to a sense of entitlement and bad because it leads to hard feelings with moms who cannot breastfeed. Mostly though, it's bad because it hurts our movement. It takes us from a legitimate movement fighting for equal rights to a fringe movement that wants the world to revolve around us.
We won't get ANYWHERE that way.