Today women around the country will be bringing their babies to Target, not to pile their cart with a few things that inevitably add up to $100 dollars without fail, but to demonstrate their right to nurse in public. The “Target Nurse-In” was organized in response to a recent incident where a mother was discreetly nursing her baby in a Houston Target, when she was accosted by employees who threatened, embarrassed, and humiliated her. Although the law protected her right to nurse in public, the employees continued to harass her and after failed attempts at eliciting an apology from Target Guest Relations, she did what any self-respecting breastfeeding mother in the 21st century would do. She took to the internet.
Anyone who has read my posts here on Kveller, met me in person, or driven behind my little black compact car with sticker that reads, “feed your baby everywhere” knows that I am a huge proponent of breastfeeding. I am active in my local La Leche League and I’m currently nursing my 22-month old son. I’ve even written about nursing in public – IN TARGET! However, you will not find me at a nurse-in.
I’ve always had mixed emotions about public gatherings of breastfeeding mothers, aside from designated meetings or support groups. I believe that breastfeeding should and can be normalized in our society. But if society is “offended” by seeing one person’s breast in the mouth of their babe – will they be more accepting if they see a gaggle of exposed breasts all at once? What are we proving by doing this? I believe it only feeds into the old stereotypes of crunchy, granola lactivists.
The fundamental reason to nurse in public is because you cannot predict when or where you child will be hungry or need to be comforted. I have always preferred to nurse my son in the comfort of our own home, and now that he’s a toddler we nurse at home 99% of the time. But unless you want to be completely home-bound as a new mother, nursing in public is inevitable and a bathroom is no place to eat a meal. And if my toddler were to have a supreme melt-down in public, the kind of melt down that can only be calmed by a quick nursing session; I would offer him my breast without notice or consideration of anyone else.
But, to me, a “nurse-in” is using your nursling to prove a point. What if your baby doesn’t need or want to nurse at 10am when the scheduled “nurse-in” is to begin? I am not interested in being photographed by the media or filmed for the evening news while breastfeeding my child. And I have to ask myself, is this something he would want for himself? While I have very strong social and political views, I will not use my baby as a vector for the change I wish to see.
In early November, a woman was asked to cover up at a Sacramento-area pumpkin patch. After suffering humiliation, she organized a nurse-in where several mothers nursed their babies on the side of the interstate in protest. When I saw the video of the nurse-in, I was not proud to be a nursing mother. While I felt empathy for her situation, I was horrified that anyone would think that the side of a busy interstate was a comforting or appropriate place for a child to be fed.
I am not making excuses for the rude behavior of the Target employees or the pumpkin patch owners. And I am not in the least bit squeamish or hesitant to nurse in public. But I believe that by nursing you are meeting your child’s needs, not your own. There are times when breastfeeding is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and even embarrassing but we do it because it is what is best for our babies. There is plenty of evidence in support of breastfeeding and there are dozens of states that have laws, which protect a woman’s right to feed her baby in public. I can only hope that the breastfeeding community can find better ways to elicit support for nursing, ways that don’t involve breastfeeding your baby near the interstate or on the evening news, just to prove a point.