In case you haven’t heard, Twitter has been abuzz this week with the story of a woman and her family removed from a Michigan Target store because the woman was breastfeeding. Basically, Mrs. Martinez was nursing her baby in the electronics section, which was (according to her) not crowded at the time. An employee informed her that it was illegal to nurse in the store. Her husband, a police officer, explained this was not the case (in Michigan it’s legal to nurse anywhere that it’s legal for a woman to be). The police were called, the family escorted from the store. Target has since reiterated that breastfeeding is allowed in their stores.
At first, this is frustrating to me because it seems really over the top. Calling the police? I mean, c’mon! Employees need to be briefed better on breastfeeding policy, or at least be a little gentler with customers. You aren’t going to earn repeat customers by throwing out a family for doing something that didn’t even bring about any complaints from other customers.
But at second glace, I have been blown over by the really angry, disgusted comments from people over this story. They weren’t geared towards Target; they were aimed at the MOTHER. This has really struck a nerve of mine, so I want to take a minute to comment back on some of the themes I observed.
1) The woman should have just covered up. No one wants to see breasts.
This makes the interesting assumption that the mother WASN’T covered up. The article doesn’t say either way. Why do women automatically assume that a breastfeeding woman is “flaunting” her breasts or the act of breastfeeding? I’m not going to get into the debate about whether women should cover up or not cover up when nursing their children, but in all the women I’ve known who have breastfed or whom I have seen breastfeeding, none of them ever tried to make a big deal out of the act. In fact, they all tried to be discreet, whether that was using a nursing cover like a Hooter Hider or just slipping their child’s head under their shirt. I also think using a nursing cover is less discreet because it screams HEY EVERYONE I AM NURSING A BABY UNDER HERE!
2) The woman should have nursed in a bathroom, her car, or used a bottle.
Um, do you know what happens in a bathroom? Would you want to take your lunch, sit down on a toilet, and eat with all those smells, sounds, and germs? No? Then why should my child? I’ve nursed in a car frequently, but only when it was warm and convenient (I never left a store mid-trip to go nurse in the car). In Mrs. Martinez’s case, this was Michigan in November…never mind the hassle: it’s COLD out there! I had a couple issues with people being uncomfortable with my (covered) breastfeeding during the time I nursed Menininho, but the worst was this summer, when I was COVERED in my CAR. The man who pulled up in the car next to me was so…interested…that I actually felt threatened. Had my mother not been with me to drive us to another part of the parking lot I would have called security. And bottles definitely have their place, and if people prefer to use them, great! I had times where I pumped, particularly if I was going to be eating at a restaurant when my son would be hungry. But, bottles and breastfeeding aren’t the same and some babies don’t take even bottles. No woman should feel forced to bottle feed.
3) Breastfeeding makes other people uncomfortable, so it shouldn’t be done in public.
I have a couple of responses to this. First, people in the US (breastfeeding is not as controversial in other countries) are never going get over having issues with breastfeeding if we all go hide in the bathroom. Breastfeeding moms need to be willing to stand up for their rights, be visible, and show the world that breastfeeding is not gross or shameful. I’m not saying we all need to go topless or make a big deal out of it, but we need to be comfortable enough to breastfeed wherever is comfortable for us and our child, whether that’s in your car, on the bench outside Macy’s, or using a sling to nurse while walking through the grocery store. Second, being uncomfortable is part of life. Hate to break it to you, but the world is not always going to acquiesce just because you don’t like something. People who use crass language, pick their nose in public, smell like cigarette smoke, or dress like hookers make me uncomfortable, but unless it’s extremely out of hand I don’t say anything because other people have the right to exist. Which brings me to my last point: if you don’t like to see a woman nursing her baby, LOOK AWAY.
4) Think of the children. They shouldn’t have to see this/their parents shouldn’t have to explain this to them before they’re ready.
I gotta be honest: I don’t really get this one. I would imagine not too many kids would even notice this taking place for one, and if they did ask about it, not require a long explanation. “That woman is feeding her baby,” should suffice, with “breasts are for making milk to feed babies” for the really inquisitive. I don’t see either of those statements as being controversial or scarring. And, are the same parents upset that their child might see a flash of breast from nursing also removing any actual sexual images from their child’s view? It doesn’t make sense to me that breastfeeding would be inappropriate but Lara Croft, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, or any of the many over-sexualized women in movies would be totally ok viewing.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. I welcome any discussion in the comments, but PLEASE keep it respectful.
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