I don’t really want you to see my boobs, but if that’s what it takes to feed my kid, then call me Janet Jackson (or Rihanna, or Gaga, or…) because I’d rather have a nip slip than leave Babydude hungry. So to the Toronto couple who glared at me as I nursed him on the subway several months ago? Not only was I protecting your ears from infant shrieking, I was balancing a hungry baby, a slippery breast and a modesty scarf, all on a bumpy train. Do you realize the concentration it takes to achieve that kind of multitasking? Seriously, I deserved a thumbs-up or a celebratory fist pump, not derision.
Luckily that’s the only time Babydude and I have received flak for public breastfeeding. Most often people ignore us. Occasionally we’re offered a quiet or more comfortable space, a courtesy I love as much as I hate. Yes, I’d love a comfier chair, but not if it comes with the suggestion that breastfeeding should be done in private.
Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants, and the Health Canada guidelines are clear: if you can breastfeed your baby, you should. (Note: I won’t be shamed for doing the best I can for my baby, and neither do I judge those moms who, for whatever reason, just can’t nurse. We’re all doing the best we can. Celebratory fist pumps all around!)
Breastfeeding in public is your right, one specifically enshrined in the Ontario and British Columbia Human Rights Codes. And it has nothing to do with the baring of breasts (if that was a problem, Victoria’s Secret would not be so profitable). Limiting a woman’s right to nurse not only restricts her child’s opportunity to eat, it also discriminates against her specifically because she is a woman and a mother. Newborn babies can spend up to eight hours a day feeding, in increments spread throughout a 24-hour cycle. It is impossible to leave the house for any stretch of time without having to feed the baby, and if a mom can’t nurse comfortably, she can’t go anywhere.
So next time you see a mom and her baby enjoying a mid-day snack, don’t stare or glare, but do flash a smile or give a word of encouragement. We’ve come a long way since moms were expected to feed their babies in the bathroom (gross!), but it can still feel awkward, and public support never hurts. And if you’re a new mom, remember – the more you do it, the easier it gets. Worst-case scenario, you can always carry a few of these Breastfeeding Rights cards, to explain your rights. Or, do like I do and prepare to sing critics your own version of Rhythm Nation, complete with fist-pumping actions. They probably won’t understand what you’re doing, but chances are they’ll leave you and baby alone.