Calls for Cultural Acceptance of Breastfeeding in Public
Online PR News – 21-April-2015 – Washington, DC – Hundreds are expected to participate in the Nationwide Nurse-In on Friday, April 24 at Capitol buildings throughout the United States.
The event has drawn support from around the country.
Laura Delmonico of Broomfield, Colorado decided to organize the nurse-in to bring attention to a rash of discrimination incidents against breastfeeding in public. Delmonico states, "The shaming of the simple and beautiful act of breastfeeding a child is wrong and needs to end."
Vanessa Simmons of San Diego, a mother of three and founder of the NormalizeBreastfeeding.org campaign, has endorsed the event. "Now more than ever, breastfeeding is socially unacceptable in the United States. Daily, mothers are being asked to cover up and leave business establishments regardless of the laws in place."
Earlier this month, Univision 34 Los Angeles shared video of a man and woman berating a mother for nursing her baby while at a park. The video ended with the man spitting in the mother's direction.
Jake Marcus of Philadelphia, the nation's foremost expert on breastfeeding law and the founder of BreastfeedingLaw.com, states that breastfeeding families "have become second-class citizens." Marcus believes the United States culture "serves to effectively remove large numbers of women from the mainstream of public culture and turn parenting into a negative and exclusionary experience" because of its inconsistent support for breastfeeding.
Most states have laws on the books protecting a mother's right to breastfeed her child anywhere she is lawfully permitted to be. Delmonico's desired outcome from the Nationwide Nurse-In is to bring awareness to these protections.
Virginia is the latest state to add protections for nursing women. Kate Noon of Richmond, Virginia, along with Rebecca Geller of Fairfax, Virginia, championed the bills, HB1499 and SB1427. Both bills swept through the Virginia legislature without a single vote against them. Noon notes, "In the end, we had 44 legislators signed on as patrons and co-patrons of [the House and Senate bills]. We could not have hoped for a better show of bipartisan support for women, children, and families in Virginia." The bill was signed into law by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe last month and will take effect on July 1, 2015.
The Nationwide Nurse-In will also bring awareness to new laws that are needed to fully protect breastfeeding families. Idaho is the only state left without protections for breastfeeding.
Marcus has been observing the effects of breastfeeding laws on United States culture since the first state laws came into effect in 1994. She notes that most of the current laws can use improvement. "Most breastfeeding laws have no enforcement provisions. With no penalty for violating the law, there is no incentive to follow the law. Breastfeeding laws must have clear enforcement mechanisms available to all those who need them."
There are also no federal protections for breastfeeding in public. Delmonico notes, "I ultimately want a federal law that protects a woman's right to breastfeed her baby anywhere and everywhere -- a law that provides protection and repercussions."
Jill DeLorenzo of Ashburn, Virginia is organizing an affiliated event at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC to bring awareness to the lack of federal breastfeeding protections.
DeLorenzo states, "I want our presence at the Jefferson Memorial to send a powerful message. Our country was founded on the ideals of 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'. Unfortunately, our current American culture threatens breastfeeding mothers who choose to go about the business of their lives -- making it difficult for them to achieve these ideals."
Jaharia Lewis of Lafayette, Louisiana is participating due to a cultural expectation of early weaning from the breast. "When I first got pregnant, people commended me on choosing to breastfeed. However, once my son hit the six-month mark, I started receiving weird looks and getting ask[ed] when was I going to quit."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Louisiana is at the bottom of the list for breastfeeding rates. The CDC's Breastfeeding Report Card states that just over half of Louisiana babies have ever been breastfed, and only 23.6 percent are breastfeeding at six months of age.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, with no other liquids or solids. After six months, WHO advises parents to feed complementary solid foods in addition to breastfeeding. WHO also recommends that breastfeeding continue through age two or beyond.
Aileen Braese is a military spouse stationed at Quantico Marine Base. She recounts an experience she had while on base. "I was asked to stop nursing my child or go into a private room because it would make others uncomfortable." Her embarrassment after that encounter almost led her to stop breastfeeding. However, another mother who overheard what happened approached her and lent her support. Braese notes, "If it wasn't for her, I probably would never have nursed in public again. It was just that embarrassing for me to be called out in a public setting."
Participants at the Nationwide Nurse-In hope to normalize the public support that Braese experienced, while making the words of shame she encountered a part of the past.
Support for the event has also come from citizens who are not currently breastfeeding or have never breastfed a child, including grandparents, fathers, children, and friends of participants.
Erin Keniston, 60, of Huntsville, Alabama calls on her fellow grandmothers to help the next generation in their cultural battles. "Those of us grandmas who nursed our babies should be fighting alongside young mothers for their right to do the same, without shame and with clean, comfortable places to feed their babies."
Patricia Apple, 57, of Haw River, North Carolina is astounded that mothers are forced to defend their choice to breastfeed. "Nursing in public should be a non-issue." She encourages the participants in the Nationwide Nurse-In as they aim to make breastfeeding more socially acceptable. "I am pleased that breastfeeding is so much more common, accepted, and even protected than it was when I fed my children in the 1980s."
Joseph LaPuzza, 9, from Boise, Idaho offers words of support for his mother, Amy Miller, who is currently breastfeeding his younger sibling, Benjamin Miller. "If a baby really needs milk they should be able to get some, because they can't get it on their own. I think they should get it whenever they want."
Patrick Murphy of Clear Lake, Texas began advocating for breastfeeding rights long before he became a father. He proudly states, "I know that breastfeeding is what is best for my child." Murphy encouraged his wife, Jacque Walters, to research the benefits of breastfeeding prior to giving birth. He is working actively toward a culture that respects breastfeeding in the United States. "It's how people have fed their children since the beginning of time. We need to allow women to do what is natural. I find it comical that people would be offended by my wife feeding our daughter in public."
Rachel Spina of Oakland, New Jersey admits that she used to judge mothers who chose to breastfeed in public. "However," she states, "it dawned on me that I don't feel that way toward bottle-feeding." She now supports a mother's right to breastfeed. Though she does not have any children of her own, Spina offers her full support to all mothers. "Your child's needs come before anyone else's discomfort. Shame on anyone who believes otherwise."
Jacob Piercy of Holly Hill, Florida declares that mothers "should be able to feed their babies however and wherever they see fit". Doing so, he hopes, will normalize breastfeeding. "The more people are exposed to this natural bond, the more people will come to be okay with it." Piercy adds, "If people aren't made to feel embarrassed while preparing food or eating it, why should a breastfeeding mom and baby be made to feel that way?"
Delmonico ultimately envisions a future free of harassment. "When and if my daughter decides to become a mother, I want her to have no fear or reservations about feeding her babies anywhere and everywhere they need."