Public Breastfeeding is ‘Indecent?’

Originally posted Sept. 12, 2009

What’s that expression? Don’t bring up religion or politics unless you wanna pick a fight? Well, go on and add public breastfeeding to the list. It seems it still raises eyebrows and ire, as Chicago mom Lauren Trost recently learned.

Various news outlets reported that last month, Trost nursed her seven-month-old son in Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square when a woman approached her and threatened to call the police. Trost’s behavior was “indecent,” she claimed, then she cited the other children present as her concern.

Maybe those other children were hers. Maybe she didn’t want them to see a mother bonding with and feeding her baby, perhaps in a way unfamiliar to them. They might get ideas about what others consider natural and normal, and learn that breasts are more than mere sex toys.

They might even be inspired to breastfeed their own babies someday.

And that would be a bad thing?

Trost, who reported that she’s always discreet when nursing in public, was stunned. “I’m just feeding my baby,” she said.

Public breastfeeding is perfectly legal in the U.S. At least 43 states, including Illinois, specifically protect a “mother’s right to breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be.”

Trost was so upset by the incident that she decided to take a stand and staged a nurse-in last Friday at the same park. She figured on a few friends, but word spread and sixty mothers showed up. Some even drove a couple of hours or more just to be there.

These days it’s common knowledge that breastfeeding is beneficial to both mothers and babies, but I get that sometimes it’s hard to watch. I think that breastfeeding, like other public displays of such obviously intimate experiences, inspires curiosity and a myriad of thoughts and emotions for observers. So maybe your heckler was really just having a ‘moment,’ Trost, while you and your baby were having yours.

Long before I had kids I got a glimpse of what the debate was about.

Oh,but maybe glimpse’ isn’t the right word…

Wanting to contest a speeding ticket, I reported to the crowded courthouse and took my seat in the corridor outside the courtroom. A teenaged boy nervously sat down beside me. Directly opposite us was a mom and her children and before long she unbuttoned her shirt. My neighbor squirmed when her daughter, who looked to be about four-years-old, climbed into her lap and asked to nurse, but then her much older brother kicked her off and demanded his “turn.” His feet never left the floor. He just kind of leaned over and, well, you get the picture.

“I will never speed again, I swear,” my neighbor whispered. Beads of sweat appeared above the peach-fuzz on his upper lip as he turned to me wide-eyed. “I can’t watch.”

Giving up your seat meant forfeiting your space in line, so we were forced to stay put and wait it out.

“There there, it’s gonna be okay,” I shushed, patting his knee.

Traffic court was nothing compared to the scene in the hallway.

Later, I had my own babies.

Like Trost, I chose to breastfeed. I also nursed in public, because, frankly, breastfeeding newborns need to be nursed every two to three hours and I had places to go and things to do. I made my first attempt when Noah was four weeks old. I sat toward the rear of the group of writers I’d recently joined but the moderator came and stood behind me to make his announcements, forcing the group to look my way. I wanted to disappear, but, as you know if you’ve ever nursed a new baby, you don’t just get up ‘midstream’ and relocate.

Nursing in public isn’t always easy, but if you want to get a life, it’s necessary.

By the time Holly came along I had it down. I rescued my toddler from various perils while the baby was “latched-on” and even engaged in witty repartee with other parents while I nursed and scanned the jungle-gym for signs that my three-year-old, caked in a gritty mix of sunscreen and sand, still had a heartbeat. It was thrilling and I miss it.

I thought I could leap over tall buildings back then.

My mom used to claim she could cook dinner while nursing. I never tried that, but I admit I often typed columns with one hand while nursing, particularly at deadline time.

Aren’t you glad I gave that up?

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