Last week, breastfeeding in public became legal in all 50 states. Hooray! We did it, ladies! While this is an amazing accomplishment and a step in the right direction for mother’s and women’s rights, surprisingly enough, it was still illegal for the longest time. Now, moms (finally) have laws and rights that specifically protect them from harassment while nursing in public. But that doesn’t stop the public from feeling offended or uncomfortable by this natural act.
Back in July in Minnesota – a state that already has laws that protects nursing mothers – Stephanie Buchanan was at a public pool with her sister-in-law and her three-month-old son. Once Buchanan started to feed her son, she told CNN affiliate WCCO that “a patron came up, a lady, at the pool and told me that I needed to cover up because her sons were swimming”. She refused, and a few minutes later, was approached by an employee of the pool who asked her to go into a more private area. She again refused, and the police were called to the scene. Mary Davis, Buchanan’s sister-in-law shared her thoughts on the double standard of nursing to WCCO: “People have no problem seeing puppies feed from their mama […] But the minute mama’s breastfeeding, some people, it makes them uncomfortable. … They have a certain set of expectations how a mother should breastfeed” Buchanan protested this by organizing a “nurse-in” where hundreds of mothers across the state of Minnesota went to the pool to openly nurse in public. Buchanan also plans on filing a police report. Thankfully, she has the law on her side.
Breasts only biologically exist to produce milk for nursing and feeding young children, but they have been so overly-sexualized by the media and the patriarchy that we as a society have completely forgotten their purpose. Breastfeeding in public has become so taboo because of societal beliefs and norms. Lawmakers have been afraid of legalizing public nursing because women would feel inclined to ”whip it out and do it anywhere” which was a popular belief back in 2003 and – believe it or not – was still a main factor in why it took so long to legalize this completely natural act.
The last two states to pass the legislatures were Utah and Idaho. Utah Representative Curt Webb expressed his opinions during a hearing on the act. The Salt Lake Tribune picked it up: “This seems to say you don’t have to cover up at all. I’m not comfortable with that, I’m just not. It’s really in your face”. A Utah woman even talked to Buzzfeed News about her experience breastfeeding in public. She was excommunicated from her religion because the church leaders believed the act was sexualized and immodest. But it’s not sexualized and immodest, it’s a natural connection between mother and child; all mammals do it.
And this is exactly why Stephanie Buchanan protested her public pool. Some people today still believe that breastfeeding in public is an act of indecency. The fact of the matter is mothers can’t control when or where their kid gets hungry (they certainly wish they could, but this is not a perfect world). This is not an indecency issue. This is a sexism issue. Representative Paul Amador fought for the bill in Idaho’s state legislature and got it passed 66-0 with no debate or fight. He said to the House: “Personally, I find it disappointing that we’re in 2018 and we still haven’t passed this law in Idaho. I think we can take a proactive stance here through legislation to promote the natural bond and health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child. I also believe the health and nutritional choices of our families are best left as decisions for our families, not our government”. Amador is a new father of a 5-month-old son, which may have helped sway his opinion on the issue.
With this incredible and progressive landmark, we can only hope that the stigma of nursing in public will become a thing of the past. It is important that we educate those younger than us and let them know that nursing is not an act of indecency, instead, it actually creates and strengthens the natural and healthy bond between mother and child.
MOMS, KNOW YOUR RIGHTS:
- National Conference of State Legislature has a list of each nursing law state by state.
- Parents.com lists the same information as NCSL and is not as technical and easier to read