Calling All Lactavists!

I was having lunch with a friend of mine the other day who became nervous when her fifteen week old son wanted to nurse, not knowing whether the restaurant we were patroning would take kindly to her nursing since her son would invariably battle her nursing cover and lead to certain public exposition of her milk ducts. She was nervous despite knowing full well that the law protected her right to do so. Unfortunately, while the law protects women breastfeeding in public, not all women know this and even the women that do (like my friend) feel uncomfortable because there is a culture of seclusion.

Many places that cater to young mothers provide "breastfeeding areas" which while respectful of an infant's need to feed in a serene area, may also be unwittingly contributing to (or more insidiously the result of) this unspoken custom of accepting breastfeeding but expecting it be done away from public view. This is further fortified by the fact that it is expected that women use a nursing cover when feeding as if providing sustenance to their babies is somehow indecent, somehow shameful. We cannot on the one hand glorify the benefits of nursing and on the other provide no support to women that nurse their babies and seclude them away as if their nursing is an act of bodily secretion slightly above dispensing with your dinner in the usual biological way.

The law in California protects a mother's right to nurse her baby IN ANY LOCATION, PUBLIC OR PRIVATE, notwithstanding any other law, with the limited exception of someone's private residence (private here referring more to restaurants, shops and office buildings etc), unless the mother is not authorized to be there in the first place (California Civil Code 43.3).  This right is NOT conditioned upon the mother covering up and essentially noosing her baby while he or she feeds.

Some babies do not want to nurse under a cover- part of the reason babies do not want to cover up (apart from the obvious discomfort) is that babies' temperature may increase during nursing (it does with my sons) and also I wonder whether since they are already limiting the scope of their breathing whether limiting the air around them is quite stifling. That babies do not prefer to nurse under a nursing chador and that some babies refuse to, should not be a surprise to anyone for I would wager that hardly anyone would find favour in being told they had to eat their lunch under the cover of a blanket.

Nursing is a miracle and should be treated as such. I can't believe that my teeny tiny 6lb 10 oz baby is  2 moths in, now nearly 14 lbs and all from my miracle milk!

The nursing chador is akin to laws that target pedophilia by unwittingly sexualising the bodies of children. For instance, some schools prevent parents from taking photos of their children during swimming competitions, lest they capture photos of other people's children so scantily clad. My first cultural clash when I migrated to Australia from Yugoslavia - an engram etched into my memory - was this difference of covering up. My parents had recently started buying me bottoms for the beach and pool when I previously would run around naked (they also weren't as afraid of the sun as the antipodeans with their ozone amiss) but at seven and a half, I still lacked a top. After all, what would any top cover? My chest was indistinguishable from a boy's and may I repeat, I but was seven years old. Yet I noticed that girls either had a swimming costume that covered their entire torso or tops and bottoms while only boys had bottoms so in my stunted staccato English I gesticulated to the teacher that I only had a bottom and wondered at her response - which was that I was not to swim since I had forgotten part of my swimmers, not a thought in her mind that it would be suitable to expose my seven year old chest to my classmates. There seems to be a little of the Victorian lingering in the Anglo world which translates to the nursing chador that ensures no mis-latchings would lead to the sensational exposure of a nipple.

We should not sexualize nursing and impose a nursing chador over women and babies. It is
extremely inconvenient, sometimes even impossible to have these babies nurse- so are we on the one hand meant to praise the benefits of human milk and on the other deny a famished baby its food because it does not want to eat under cover?  Are we on the one hand meant to praise women that nurse and on the other ensure that they do so covered up under a nursing chador?

While I have noticed some discomfort, I have experienced only one instant in which I was told to stop nursing (thankfully the Bay Area is not gripped by the fear of the nipple, but I fear for my sisters in other parts of the world). I believe the exact terminology used was that I had "picked the wrong place" to start nursing my son, being the Home Depot in Oakland, as if nursing were somehow anathema to buying home supplies and construction tools. I politely replied that I did not pick when my son was hungry or thirsty and that I was going to finish nursing (albeit my husband does not remember me being so diplomatic, but I wager that it is his memory that is faltering and not mine).  They recalcitrantly "allowed" me to finish nursing (which, apart from the attention resulting from the staffer's commotion with me, otherwise seemed to not attract any interest, good or ill and I doubt had any effect upon their sales that day). It might be a good idea for managers to instruct their staff on a women's legal right to nurse - without cover- so that women do not have to bother with justifying their legal right while they are concomitantly feeding their babies.

I would of course recommend that lactivists carry around a nursing chador, if only to throw it over a person that may be uncomfortable so that they can be happily protected from bearing witness to such a miracle.


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