Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No Nursing in the Nursery?

So this past Sunday I had an interesting experience.  I'm not great at responding intelligently when people are inappropriate in public, so I wasn't that coherent in the moment, but I am considering writing a letter to our church regarding breastfeeding as a result of this incident.  And I will hand deliver a copy of that letter to the woman who was volunteering in the nursery that day (I know her face but not her name).

Our oldest three attend Sunday School each Sunday.  They love it, and although Riley sometimes requests that we stay in his preschool class with him, and had a long transition feeling comfortable staying alone, for the most part he is now very comfortable there and enjoys his friends and activities.  Amarys is, in my opinion, too young to be left in the nursery, but also in my opinion, too vocal to sit with us in the sanctuary.  She's a talker.  So for the past three or four weeks we have kept her with us during the singing portion of church when it doesn't matter much how talkative she is, and dropped her off in the nursery during the sermon portion (about half an hour).  She loves the nursery, because she's big into toys, and she's very sociable so as long as someone will play with her while she's there, she's happy.  Our nursery has a main volunteer and two teenage helpers, and only a few babies, so there are plenty of people to play with her.  Main point: she's happy.  We can listen to the sermon in peace.  It works.

Now, I'm a public breastfeeder.  I do it all the time, including in the sanctuary at church if the need arises, because I believe that breastfeeding is a normal, nurturing human behaviour that our culture has mixed feelings about because of hypersexualization of the breast and a limited exposure to breastfeeding as normal and healthy.  The law agrees with me: in Canada women have the legal right to breastfeed in any public or private place and the law specifically states that asking a woman to cover up or move locations while breastfeeding is discrimination and a violation of her human rights.  I also believe strongly that it is healthy for children and adults to see women breastfeeding, because it desensitizes adults and exposes all people to the nonsexual functioning breast.  Nursing in public also helps other women breastfeed their babies, because the more they see it done, the more normal it will seem to them, and the more likely they will see HOW it is done and encounter fewer problems.  If we don't see how its done how can we learn to do it well and effectively?  If shame and breastfeeding are mixed together success will be less likely.

I also breastfeed in public because my daughter gets hungry and her food is attached to my chest.

I recently saved a link to this amazing post on the issue of covering up while breastfeeding, which I think is the best, most rational, and most comprehensive article on this subject that I've ever read.  Being a 'Breastfeeding Counsellor' (which is a title being phased out but which is recognized) and a lactivist, I've read a lot of articles on breastfeeding.  If you only ever read ONE, this post is the one to read.  Here is the link to that post in full, and here are some very good points she noted:

  What’s so wrong about requiring a nursing mother to just cover up, to show some modesty or discretion?
  1. The law is on the side of the nursing mother. There is no legal obligation for her to cover.  In my state, the law reads, “A woman may breast feed in any public or private location where she is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breast feeding.”
  2. The nursing mother has no greater moral obligation to appease the bystander than the bystander has to appease the nursing mother. And it follows that the discomfort of the bystander does not have greater importance than the discomfort of the nursing dyad.
  3. Discretion

    This wasn't discreet enough for some because her head wasn't covered
     is subjective and means different things to different people, ensuring that it is impossible to mandate.  It can mean anything from covering the nipple to covering all flesh to covering the entire baby.  Whose definition of discretion should be used? The nursing mother should cover to the level that SHE is comfortable with. That choice is up to her and nobody else.
  4. Discretion is often used as an excuse when the real problem is with breastfeeding itself. Mothers have been told not to breastfeed their babies in public even when completely covered by a blanket, or otherwise not showing any skin (such as in my case).  It’s not just that those people don’t want to see you breastfeeding, they don’t even want to know you are breastfeeding.
  5. Many mothers who are trying to be discreet feel that using a cover draws MORE attention to themselves. It says “Hey! Look at me! I’m nursing under here!” If a mother just casually lifts her shirt, she is likely to draw less attention to herself.
  6. Covers can be impractical.  Many babies refuse to be covered and will just pull a cover off anyway. When my baby was little, I wanted to be able to see her and check on her latch.  In the middle of July, in the heat wave we’ve been having, it is too warm to be covering baby’s head unnecessarily anyway.
  7. Modesty refers to “Behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency”.  To say that a breastfeeding mother is not modest, says that breastfeeding itself is inherently improper or indecent. When strangers, particularly those with some kind of authority, tell a nursing mother to cover up, they are attaching a negative stigma to breastfeeding. They are implying that there is something dirty, shameful, or wrong about it.
  8. Fear of nursing in public is one reason many women cite for weaning early or choosing not to breastfeed at all. In order for breastfeeding to become normalized in our society, we need to remove the stigma that says that breastfeeding is improper.
  9. Bottle-feeding should not be socially preferred over breastfeeding.  My wish is that breastfeeding mothers be able to feel comfortable feeding their babies in any place, and with as much “discretion,” as would a bottle feeding mother.  Suggesting that a nursing mother needs to cover up while a bottle-feeding mother would not, implies that bottle-feeding is more appropriate than breastfeeding.
  10. It is good for society to see uncovered breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding needs to be seen in order for it to be normalized compared to bottle-feeding.  We also need to see examples of breastfeeding in order to learn it ourselves because we learn by seeing it modeled. I believe that a major reason why mothers today have so many more problems with breastfeeding than they have historically is because they have had little exposure to breastfeeding.

(I really hope she doesn't mind my copying a large quote from her post~please visit her site itself, Lactation Narration, for the full article and access to all the links she took the time and effort to embed in her article!  She has a lot of other well written articles, resources, and links as well)

In particular I appreciate her statement that modesty is subjective, and her examples that some people don't even want to be able to see the baby's head while nursing.  I am not opposed to women covering up while nursing, or removing themselves to a quiet or private place to do so: I think that whatever makes a woman comfortable enough to breastfeed, that is what is right for her to do.  I think those nursing covers, while popular, are a bit ridiculous: you cover yourself up with a black and white cow print three foot by three foot square piece of fabric (which looks like a giant adult bib) and you think it draws less attention than just lifting your shirt??  But I'm not opposed to women using them if it makes them feel more comfortable!  Some of us are comfortable in bikinis and some are comfortable in a one piece bathing suit and shorts (and some are more comfortable in something from Wholesome Wear, courtesy of 19 Kids and Counting, lol), and all of us are wonderful and beautiful and fully within our rights to wear what makes us comfortable.  
I guess I'm a bikini nurser.

So this past Sunday I put Amarys in the nursery and sat down to listen to the sermon.  Near the end my nursery pager went off, so I went to see what was the matter.  Amarys is teething so she's nasty cranky, and church is, of course, smack in the middle of naptime, so I figured either she was tired or had a dirty diaper, or she just needed me because her mouth hurt.  The nursery volunteer said,
"She's okay, she's just hungry."
"Okay!" I knew she wasn't hungry.  I fed her just before we left for church and it had only been an hour and a half (at five months she can go up to 4 hours, but generally prefers to eat every 3 hours).
"Do you have a bottle for her?"
Me, sort of indignant,
"No, she's breastfed."
"Ohhhhh, do you want to go into one of the pastor's offices or something to feed her in private, then?"
********angry crickets********

(i borrowed the crickets from Cinco De Mommy, she's funny)

Okay, SINCE WHEN is the nursery....at church....where the babies are cared for by women volunteers and female teenagers, the WRONG PLACE TO NURSE MY BABY?!?!!!  I was SO MAD I was sputtering.  I gathered up my stuff and left for fear of tarnishing this woman's experience of breastfeeding and lactivism for the rest of her life.  Or simply punching her in the face.

#1, Amarys wasn't hungry.  She was tired and her mouth hurt.
#2, If she were hungry, I'm comfortable nursing her in the sanctuary
#3, If I weren't comfortable nursing her in church itself, the nursery is the logical place to go
#4, If she offers this to every nursing momma those women will get the message that nursing is dirty, and should be done in absolute privacy and with maximum inconvenience for everyone (can you imagine the kerfuffle if you had to find a private office every time, notify the owner or users of the office, and shut the door and cover the window in the door and try to get comfy in an office chair?  Good grief, no wonder women find breastfeeding a pain in the butt)


Alicia @ Lactation Narration said...

I'm glad that you liked my post so much on "Just Cover Up?"

Regarding your experience, did you feel like she was saying that you were not welcome to breastfeed in the nursery and that you HAD to go somewhere else? Or is it possible that she just erroneously assumed that you would WANT to go somewhere else and was trying to be helpful? In the 2nd case, I'd probably just say "No thanks, I'm fine right here" and just sit there and nurse. Maybe she needs a little more exposure to breastfeeding!

If she was saying that you are not welcome to nurse in the nursery (funny - it's CALLED the NURSEry) then that is completely unacceptable. I know you have been to my site - have you seen my most recent post about Nursing in the Toddler Room at daycare? There might be some relevant points that you can use if you write a letter.

Doulanic said...

Great post! I totally agree with the fact that a breastfeeding mom should be able to breastfeed whenever, wherever without problems.

However, I'd like to point out the same observation that Alicia had -- is it possible that the woman who spoke to you assumed you'd want a private place to nurse?? IF I was in the nursery, I would want to offer that to a nursing mom to let her know that such was available. Of course, I'd also preface it by saying "well, if you'd like to nurse her here, that's fine, or if you want, we can offer you a .....".
So -- just wondering if that lady asked you that question with good intentions perhaps? :-)

nancy said...

"no nursing in the nursery" is like no breastfeeding with your breasts!

Rachel Clear @ Clearly Speaking said...

I'm probably the wrong person to comment on this because I am the least offended person I know. I almost never get offended by others and usually (not always) assume they weren't intending offense. Mainly, because that makes life happier for ME and I spend less time being angry. However, I didn't see the gal's face or hear her tone of voice, and you did. Was she smarmy? Rude?

I personally would have taken this as a gesture of kindness on her part, that she was trying to provide me with comfort and privacy. And honestly, a LOT of nursing mamas I know still do want and need privacy because their babies can't or won't latch well if it's noise or too bright (or whatever).

I feel we need to be REALLY careful to not be so defensive that we create and us vs. them mentality. If every breastfeeding mama is constantly offended by everything anyone does that offers an opposing viewpoint (whether real or perceived), we will aleniate, instead of educate others. Just my thoughts.

I think that some "anti-breastfeeding" folks are more anti "US" and... if that makes sense.

I wish we could find a way to bridge the gap - in love and grace - so the whole issue doesn't feel so heated and militant, especially if that isn't intended on anyone's part.

Rachel Clear @ Clearly Speaking said...

Geesh. My comment was filled with typos, but I blame that on (fittingly) the babe I had tugging at my pants, wanting to nurse. <3

Louise Chapman said...

Come to our church now that we are in our official building! We have three gliding chairs for breastfeeding in our nursery and they are always being used:)

Sandra said...

If I get thirsty or hungry I don’t go and hide so why would my baby have to wait to eat until I can find a place away from everyone? People just assume that a mother wants breastfeed in private. The attitude to public breastfeeding need to change. The more mothers I see breastfeed their babies in public the more comfortable I feel to breastfeed my baby in public. I think you are awesome! <3