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article imageOp-Ed: Moms shouldn't have to fight for right to breastfeed in public Special

By Leigh Goessl     Dec 21, 2011 in World
Breastfeeding is a natural form of feeding babies that is recommended by the medical community as being the perfect food for an infant.
Yet, in this purported age of enlightenment, nursing mothers across the globe still often find themselves a target for intolerance, often accompanied with negative comments.
Claire Jones-Hughes, a social media freelancer and writer, penned an article in the Guardian last week after "being verbally attacked for not covering up" by another female customer in a cafe while feeding her four-month-old.
As a result, she decided it was time to take action. Jones-Hughes, 38, arranged a 'flashmob' in Brighton, located in the U.K.. The group of 40 mothers gathered together and breastfed their children in front of Christmas shoppers.
This prompts the question, why do breastfeeding moms and supporters need to fight for the right to nurse their children? Shouldn't it be a personal decision to bottle or breastfeed and do so whenever is needed?
Many laws, such as the ones in the U.K., or in the U.S., support a nursing mother's right to breastfeed in public, including the workplace.
Despite this, many people object to women nursing their babies in public spaces. For instance, is not uncommon to read about breastfeeding mothers being told to feed their babies in a bathroom, or be subjected to unkind comments such as "disgusting."
Public reaction is not the only issue nursing mothers are confronted with, as often these types of reactions start a bit closer to home.
Norma Ritter, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Registered Lactation Consultant, in New York told Digital Journal, "Within my own private IBCLC practice, I have found that most of the mothers' concerns are with insensitive comments from members of their own family. These mothers are often the first in two or three generations to breastfeed their babies."
She added, "Some people have negative reactions even if they cannot actually see anything. Just knowing that a mother is feeding her baby is enough to set them off. Can you imagine how unwelcome that must make a mother feel? Being excluded from gatherings of family and friends is particularly poignant in this season of the year."
Then there are some that perceive breastfeeding in public as indecent exposure. Consider the recent incident in the U.S. where security personnel told a Washington D.C. mother she could not breastfeed her infant in a government building.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants be breastfed due to breast milk being the best nutrition for babies, not to mention much medical documentation to back up this recommendation.
Because of this whole 'indecency' perspective in countries such as the U.K. and the U.S., new moms may shy away from nursing their children, despite the fact laws protect breastfeeding, and medical experts highly support it.
When asked if she has found public breastfeeding opposition a deterrent for new moms to shy away from breastfeeding their babies, Ritter said, "Many of these comments spring from ignorance of how breastfeeding works, such as how frequently babies need to nurse."
She added, "For example, telling mothers to use a bottle when out in public does not take account of the mother's need to express milk at regular intervals to relieve discomfort and maintain her milk production."
Ritter said new mothers are especially vulnerable to criticism. Being it takes about six to eight weeks for mothers to "establish milk production and for babies to become proficient in nursing," during this time new mothers are still gaining confidence in breastfeeding.
"Derogatory remarks can be particularly hurtful," Ritter said.
In Queensland, Australia, another mother was recently asked to stop nursing her child at a water park. Belinda Lang was "shocked" by the treatment she'd received.
"The more you think about it the more it upsets you. I just didn't expect it, especially from a staff member because I know my rights and I was shocked they didn't, " Lang said.
Lang filed a complaint with the park and received a positive response. The water park representative didn't make excuses, but apologized and said staff would be trained on how to deal with the situation.
In this age of inclusiveness, awareness and equality, women should not be condemned nor put-down for nursing a hungry baby in public. A nursing mother should not be treated any differently than a mother who chooses to bottle feed.
Ritter pointed to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which indicate despite the fact 75 percent of mothers start out nursing, only 35 percent are still exclusively nursing three months later. At six months post-delivery, that number drops to 14 percent.
These numbers are far different from what medical experts recommend. For instance, the AAP states, "Babies should continue to breastfeed for a year and for as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby."
So what is a new mom to do if she wants to nurse, but is intimidated by opposition?
Kathleen Richardson, a former La Leche League leader, suggests getting support and going to organizations such as La Leche League. She also recommends developing a circle of like-minded individuals, through friendships and other relationships.
"The more champions and information you have, the better you'll be able to handle any situation that arises," said Richardson.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Breastfeeding, breastfeeding in public, Nursing, Babies
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