Last week my husband and I popped into a restaurant for lunch. Seated at a table nearby was an adorable young family. I noticed that the mother was discreetly nursing a child, fully draped and covered by a poncho. The nursing did not register on my husband’s radar at all. In fact, it was only after we had been seated for several minutes and the baby was sated and cooing in his mother’s arms when he commented with surprise, “That couple has two children, not just one,” as if a miraculous birth happened while his head was turned.
Our experience got me thinking about a hot topic of debate—breast-feeding in public. Women have an absolute right to nurse their children in public, but emotions and responses are mixed when the act is put into practice. Out of curiosity, I took a quick, unscientific and anything but random poll of a few friends and colleagues, men and women, to get some views on the subject. My query garnered swift responses, ranging from “Kid’s gotta eat—nothing to hide” to “Ohhhhhhh. Not a fan.”
Most, but not all, of the women surveyed responded with passion about the benefits of nursing, both for the health of the baby and the bond that is formed between mother and child. Describing breastfeeding as beautiful, natural and empowering, they shared stories of nursing on a park bench, at the beach, and other public spaces. Several noted that pumping in public is a correlated task, especially for working moms. Imagine working as a busy television reporter, pumping in the back of the news van while racing to get the scoop, as became routine for one of my friends.
The gentlemen were far less enthusiastic on the subject. When my question was posed in person, the reaction was consistent across the board—first, silence and hesitation, followed by a slight contortion of the face before a response could be formulated. As a rule (in my non-standard survey) the guys were big on the breastfeeding mother “not making a scene” and “practicing modesty,” reminding the mothers (as if they needed a reminder) that they are not putting on a show.
I will say that men and women alike expressed a little less comfort with mothers nursing toddlers. As one grandmother expressed, “I prefer a nursing ‘baby’ not to be walking and speaking in complete sentences, asking for cookies with his milk.”
Though he was not included in my small survey, I did learn that one very famous man quite publicly expressed his thoughts in favor of women breastfeeding in public. In 2015, Pope Francis baptized 33 babies as part of the celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in the Sistine Chapel. During his homily, he specifically encouraged women to breastfeed their children publicly saying, “even now, if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them, don’t worry.”
Bottom line and with the Pope’s blessing, nursing in public is a natural, accepted practice. Let’s stop the funny looks at mothers who are doing precisely the thing that everyone from your grandmother to the CDC says is providing the ideal nutrition to their children. But moms, modesty is appreciated. With so many nursing shawls, ponchos and blankets available, a little discretion will help you avoid chastening looks (even if unwarranted).
I’m here if you need me. Until then, y’all behave.