Editor’s Note: Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two girls. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.
Kelly Wallace can't understand why society is so squeamish about nursing in 2014
Mom helped stage a "nurse-in" after she was escorted to bathroom while nursing
Another mom says breastfeeding "uneasiness" has to do with views on sexuality
Every time I hear about another case of a woman breastfeeding her baby in a restaurant, department store or on a plane who is asked to cover up, head to the bathroom or leave altogether, I wonder why in 2014 we remain so incredibly uncomfortable with breastfeeding in public.
In one of the most recent examples that garnered national attention, a mom in Beverly Hills says she was escorted to the bathroom at an Anthropologie store when she was breastfeeding her six-week-old baby. Outraged, she took to social media and less than a day later more than 100 women staged a “nurse-in” at the store to protest.
Beaverton, Oregon, was the site of another recent “nurse-in” after a breastfeeding mom was asked to cover up in a restaurant.
In both cases, reaction was decidedly mixed. There were plenty who were as furious as the breastfeeding mothers and pointed to California and Oregon laws, which allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location with the exception of someone else’s private home. But there were also plenty of voices in the anti-breastfeeding-in-public camp.
“It’s not about what’s ‘legal,’” wrote one reader on the Oregon Live website. “It’s more about what’s ‘right.’ And the effects our choices have on the people around us. A simple burp rag over the child and the problem goes away.”
Why at a time when celebrities bare nearly all and are celebrated for it (for example, consider Kim Kardashian leaving little to the imagination at the recent MTV Video Music Awards) do we as a society still seem so put off by a woman using her breasts for what they were made for?
“Many times you will see more ‘cleavage’ in the name of fashion than you ever would from a mom feeding her child,” said Raivon Lee, a breastfeeding mom of a 19-month-old.
Let me just say right here that this is not a piece on the benefits of breastfeeding or a push to make the case that “breast is best” and encourage women to breastfeed.
This is strictly about why the sight of public breastfeeding still makes so many people squeamish and what it will take to make breastfeeding in public as welcome as giving a baby a bottle.
Lee, who lives in Atlanta and hosts a blog called Vain Mommy, believes people’s “uneasiness” with breastfeeding in public stems from the perception of women as sexual objects.
“Women buy into that idea,” she said. “If we use our breasts for anything other than ‘play’ it’s not okay.”
Earlier this month, in connection with Breastfeeding Awareness Month, Lee joined 50 other nursing moms, members of a group called the “Badass Breastfeeders of Atlanta,” for a “Big Latch On” event where they nursed together in public and were joined by their families and other bystanders.
Part of the goal, says Lee, was to help communities support breastfeeding in public places.
“The message is simply: Nursing is normal anytime, anywhere … any way.”
Lee says she’s never been asked to leave a restaurant or store while she was breastfeeding but says it’s probably because she’s a “shy” nurser, who has been self-conscious because of people’s discomfort with breastfeeding in public.
“Sadly, it has affected me, and I’m sure other moms have been (affected) too.”
Years of experience have certainly made some mothers, like Stephanie Dulli of Washington much more comfortable breastfeeding in public.
On Facebook, Dulli shared how with her first baby, she nursed privately in the back room of her home when company was over. With her second, she nursed publicly but covered up. With her third baby, who is 2 months old, she says she “answered the door for the UPS guy while nursing, uncovered and didn’t even notice.”
“Nursing is just something I do now,” said Dulli, who blogs about parenting at Stephanie Says. “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed. When I’m in public I do try to be thoughtful to others but I nurse whenever (the) baby is hungry.”
Dulli says she has never been asked by anyone to leave a public place while breastfeeding.
“I’d love to see them try!” she told me. “I’ve nursed everywhere from the South Lawn of the White House to the National Cathedral to airplanes and Little League dug outs and no one has said anything!”