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Normalize public breastfeeding and show mothers respect

I was Minnesota nice long before I arrived in Minnesota. I prefer polite petitions to protests, and I avoid behavior that might invite public scrutiny or incite debate. But if I were currently lactating, I hope I’d have the courage to participate in the nurse-in that is scheduled to take place this morning at Eagles Nest Indoor Playground in New Brighton.

You’ll find the full story on the Facebook page “Breastfeeding does not need to be hidden.” In brief, the nurse-in was conceived after an Eagles Nest employee asked a breastfeeding mother to move from her spot near the play area to a private room. The woman mentioned her experience to a friend, Susan Berlien, who works as an RN and certified lactation specialist. Berlien went to Eagles Nest to inquire about its breastfeeding policy and learned that employees are trained to escort nursing mothers to a secluded room. Why? Because some people find public breastfeeding offensive.

I am disappointed in Eagles Nest, a place where I’ve found community and my kids have enjoyed active play since our first winter in Minnesota. Though management has since clarified that “there are no restrictions on breastfeeding” in the facility, I am disappointed that its staff would humiliate nursing mothers, treat them as though their actions were shameful, and expect them to herd their older children into a closed room during feeding time or leave those children unattended. As part of New Brighton’s Parks and Recreation Department — which, according its website, “contributes to the overall health of the New Brighton community, neighborhood and residents” — Eagles Nest should support healthy behaviors like breastfeeding. Its management should train staff to uphold Minnesota Statute 145.905, which allows a mother to breastfeed in any location she is otherwise authorized to be.

Broader attitude is offensive

While I am disappointed in Eagles Nest, I am downright exasperated at the broader attitude that breastfeeding is offensive.

Consider the absurdity: You can’t stand in line at a grocery store or walk through a mall or watch a televised sporting event without encountering some woman falling out of her dress on a magazine cover or Victoria’s Secret storefront or beer commercial. Why are hypersexual portrayals of women publicly acceptable while feeding an infant is not?

Most nursing mothers are all for modesty. You’d see a lot more skin if we only cared about ease of access. But disdain for public breastfeeding is about more than modesty. In fact, it’s about more than breastfeeding.

When a woman becomes pregnant, she begins to hear voices. They grow louder after childbirth and louder still as her children age. The voices tell her where and how to give birth and who should be in attendance. They declare if and when she may return to her job and how many hours she should work. They say she must breastfeed for at least a year, but she must not let anyone see her doing it. (I suspect some women who are uncomfortable with public nursing are mothers who felt bullied or judged for their own decisions to use formula.)

The voices criticize a mother’s diapering and potty-training choices, where and when her children sleep, and her approach to discipline. They condemn her if her child throws a tantrum at Target, if she lets her daughter watch television, or if she sends her son to half-day kindergarten instead of full-day or public school instead of private, or vice versa.

Time to acknowledge, appreciate

It’s time for all of us, mothers included, to acknowledge the tired woman in the adjacent minivan as a responsible adult who knows far more about her children’s unique needs within her family’s particular situation than we do. It’s time to recognize that she deliberates over and commits to each parenting decision with her children’s best interests at heart.

It’s time to appreciate the juggling act she performs to accommodate her family’s competing demands, often setting aside her personal desires in the bargain. Today that might mean scheduling a trip to Eagles Nest for her active 3-year-old during the two-hour window when nobody is napping, even if it subjects her to scornful looks when she nurses (or bottle feeds) her baby. And today it might mean returning to Eagles Nest for a collective effort to normalize public breastfeeding.

Kim Kankiewicz is a freelance grant writer and marketing communications provider for nonprofit organizations. She was not Minnesota nice to the 20-something guy at Disneyland who suggested that if she couldn’t keep track of her high-energy toddler without a leash, she should have stayed home.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Pete Barrett on 03/13/2012 - 05:57 am.

    How Bizarre

    What a strange world we live in when one of the most natural acts in the world, an infants consuming the only food designed exclusively for humans, is considered offensive.

    Moms who participate in nurse-ins rock.

  2. Submitted by Kim Kankiewicz on 03/13/2012 - 09:29 am.

    Update and Kudos to Eagles Nest

    According to Ms. Berlien, yesterday Eagles Nest issued a staff memo stating that breastfeeding is welcome throughout the facility. Staff were told to cite state law in response to guest complaints. In addition, Eagles Nest management has printed pro-breastfeeding signs to post throughout the play area. I applaud management’s prompt response to the situation and the polite, professional dialogue that led to that response. Berlien says today’s nurse-in will be a positive, celebratory event.

  3. Submitted by Susan Berlien on 03/13/2012 - 02:49 pm.

    Todays Event

    I am very pleased how Upper Management and Eagles Nest responded to the compliant we had about a woman being asked to move to a private location for feed her son. It was an education issue with shift management and some ofthe staff at Eagles Nest and it has been resolved. Eagles Nest went above and beyong to also include posting the International Breastfeeding Symbol in several locations thoughout the facility and providing written education to staff on policy and provedure as it regards to breastfeeding in the facility and about MN laws on Breastfeeding. The event today was very postive. I shook hands with Jason Hicks the New Brighton Community Center Director and with Sandra Bruer the New Brighton Parks and Rec Director and everyone agree this ended up to be way for Eagle’s Nest to show how family friendly they really are by responding to this issue to quickly and so effectively. We had a great time at the park today and I will be bringing my three kids back to play soon. If you get a chance please go like Eagle’s Nests Facebook page and let them know that we appreciate businneses that are breastfeeding friendly. I hope to see more places follow suit and educate their staff and use the International Breastfeeding symbol to let mothers know that Breastfeeding is welcome in their facility. Being a new mom is hard, and in out culture Breastfeeding in public is hard. We need to do everything we can to support Breastfeeding Mothers so they can reach their personal Breastfeeding goals like those put out by the AAP 1 year and the WHO 2 years.
    Please also visit my blog http://www.warmchocolatemilk.com for more information. Thank you!

  4. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/13/2012 - 06:25 pm.

    Meh

    I would venture to say that fewer people actually find it “offensive” than find it distracting and uncomfortable. Showing a little respect for those that do will advance your cause far more than blatantly trying to shame them into agreeing with you. There are lots of natural things that we simply don’t do in public. While I agree that not all of them are equal, it would be hard to differentiate some of them from breastfeeding from a biological perspective.

    Quite frankly, for the same reason that I feel that gay pride parades in which some people feel the need to bare more than is necessary are foolish, I feel the bare all breastfeeding movement is counterproductive and offensive. You’re not going to win anyone that might otherwise side with you by being outrageous. Businesses and those that patronize them have come a long way in being accommodating to those who wish to breast feed. Claiming that a separate room being specifically available for breast feeding and/or breast pumping isn’t breast feeding friendly is to ignore the fact that no such thing was available in the past.

    • Submitted by Pete Barrett on 03/13/2012 - 08:31 pm.

      Bare What?

      The “bare all breast feeding movement”? Really? Bare all? Do they completely remove their shirts and bras?

      Nursing moms are modest and not interested in putting on a show or attracting attention to themselves.

  5. Submitted by Melissa Walker on 03/13/2012 - 08:11 pm.

    Not about being “radical”

    Rachel Kahler,

    You say, “there are a lot of natural things that we just don’t do in public.” Does this mean that you don’t think that mothers with nursing babies should be in public? How would that work?

    This isn’t about some radical “bare all breastfeeding movement.” This is about a mom being able to feed her baby while out in public without some random employee approaching her and acting like what she is doing is shameful. That is all.

    I do give the Eagles Nest lots of credit for having a private nursing room available and I also applaud their response to this issue! Their decision to provide appropriate training to their staff and signage to welcome breastfeeding mothers (a huge segment of their clientele, no doubt!) was a good one.

    I remember being a young person and seeing my cousin breastfeed her child at a family event. She was totally discrete and I still found it *weird* and yes, uncomfortable too! Thinking back, I wonder if I would have had this same response if I would have been exposed to more mothers breastfeeding in public?

    There’s nothing radical about any of this, it’s all just normal stuff.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/14/2012 - 01:25 pm.

      Attention for attention’s sake?

      I didn’t say any such thing. However, making a big fuss over the whole issue leads to people who might warm to the issue uncomfortable. 1 step forward, 2 steps back. What I said is that there are people who ARE uncomfortable and embarrassed about it. You recognize that. And, no, you probably would have never felt that way had you been used to it. We SHOULD be used to it. But making a spectacle of the issue is a push that creates resistance. Let it be natural. Loud and proud is sometimes counter productive. If you want to get your message across, put yourself in your detractors’ shoes. WHY do they feel uncomfortable? Why have we not moved forward? You can’t use the excuse that it’s natural, because there are things we will likely never accept in public that are perfectly natural. You have to make it more acceptable than those other things. And being militant and aggressive won’t help. Rubbing your detractors’ nose in how you succeeded won’t help.

      You’re right. The employee screwed up. But a “nurse-in” in response? That employee was not only shamed, but shamed publicly and thoroughly. Do you think they’ll respond well to that? I think that person has probably put up a mental middle finger toward the whole issue. And there are others who could have been convinced that it was a learning experience rather than a reprimand and judgment.

      I think the response was overblown and counter productive. You think it was great. In the end, the response will make the already converted applaud, but infuriate the chastised and those that are skeptical of breastfeeding in public.

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