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NIP in America: An Insider’s Perspective From 10,000 Miles Away

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 Katesurfsbreastfeeding

NIP stands for Nursing in Public

A year ago, I would have never posted a picture of myself breastfeeding on the internet. Now, I feel like there’s no better way.

I’m American through and through. Born and raised in New Jersey on pizza and bagels. I grew up in Small Town America. We never locked our front door. I sold girl scout cookies and caught minnows in the creek with all the kids in the neighborhood. I played soccer and remember nearly peeing my pants while playing man hunt with all the kids who lived on our street. You get the idea? One day, when I was about 5 years old and walking home from school, I distinctly remember thinking how lucky I was to have been born in America. I mean, really, what a fantastic place, we had the freedom to do whatever we wanted.

But today, my thoughts on America have changed dramatically. And, it’s mostly over one small, but very important topic to me: breastfeeding in public. What happened, America?! What’s with the crazy social no-nos? Are we, are women, really free to do it as we please need? I was reading the comments in a thread on a recent story about a woman who was asked to stop breastfeeding in public and I found something that went like this:

Well, breastfeeding in public is not written in the constitution, so therefore, it shouldn’t be any woman’s right to do so.

Excuse. Me. Wait… EXCUSE ME?!?!

Not in the constitution?! You mean it’s not mentioned in a document that sets out the rules for a government? Maybe because breastfeeding a baby is a natural/God given right and has nothing to do with politics? Maybe the constitution writers didn’t put breastfeeding in the constitution because babies need to eat no matter where you are and they knew that life just had to go on whether your baby was hungry or not! I’m pretty sure our founding fathers would be rolling in their graves if they could somehow read what I read today.

The person who wrote this comment was not joking. He sincerely and 100% meant it. And, when I started scrolling through the comments, I found even more words that broke my heart, like, “I breastfed three children, but I never would dare to feed them out of the house, you can just pump a bottle, then no one has to see what a woman should be doing in private.” And on. And on. And on.

I nearly cried because it suddenly all came together for me that there is something so twisted and backwards about my country. For years, I’ve never been able to understand all these American organizations and facebook pages with hundreds of thousands of followers, who were all fighting for normalization of breastfeeding in public. I never wanted to believe it. I thought that maybe people were making up this unacceptance of breastfeeding in public. But no, I read the comments, and now I see that it’s true. The laws are there to say it’s ok, but in reality, it’s ‘not ok‘ in many MANY people’s minds.

You see, I don’t live in the USA right now. In the past six years, I’ve only spent five weeks of that time in America. My husband and I moved to Australia in 2008 and we’ve had two children here. I haven’t stopped breastfeeding in almost 4 1/2 years. I’ve breastfed my kids in more public places than you could shake a stick at and nobody, I mean NOBODY has batted an eyelash. The worst comment I’ve ever heard was from a lady walking past with her own two year old. When she saw me, she mischievously winked and said, “Oh, titty time.” I smiled back because I knew what she was saying, but I thought to myself, “Ewww.. who calls them titties?!

I honestly can’t remember too clearly what it’s like to breastfeed in America. When I visited the USA, my older daughter was about 8 months old.  And, probably because I was too naive and too tired from traveling and having culture shock, I didn’t even noticed anything at the time. Looking back now though, I do remember everyone sort of clearing the room when it was ‘booby time‘. It was way more awkward than what I was used to in Australia, that was for sure.

The attitude I’ve seen displayed on the internet and TV towards breastfeeding in public in America is shocking. It’s rude. It’s uneducated and it leaves me scratching me head. Hearing American reporters or TV talkshow hosts talk about breastfeeding is actually hilarious and sad all at once. I can just see them squirming and writhing inside, because they’re totally uncomfortable talking about ‘boobs and babies‘ in the same sentence.

When I was a kid, my mother breastfed all three of us, it was just the way you fed a baby. I never remember it being a big deal. Maybe it still isn’t a big deal, but because of the internet and TV, I’m able to see the whole yucky spectrum of people’s closed minded opinions on breastfeeding in public. Breastfeeding in public needs to be normal. It needs to be normal because it IS normal. Most of the laws are there, it’s just a matter of a shift in people’s attitude. Nobody should be shamed for doing something so natural. It’s something that is going to take time and a lot of loud voices to change. What I wish I could say to every breastfeeding woman in America (or in the world really) is, hold your chin up, don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing something gross. When in doubt, whip ’em out, it’s what most of the rest of the world does.

 

9 Responses »

  1. This is the first time that I’m hearing about the state of breastfeeding in public in the United states. Sounds terrible, but sadly doesn’t surprise me much. I watch quite a few American tv-shows and babies are almost always bottle-fed, so I pretty much figured it from there.

    The situation here in Finland is quite similar – maybe not as bad, yet, but alarming. Some headlines about women being asked to go breastfeed in a bathroom of a restaurant, ’cause nursing in public had bothered other clients etc. I breastfeed wherever I want and have gotten some pretty gruesome looks from passers by, but it doesn’t scare me. Also it is quite commonly thought that breastfeeding is not necessary after the first birthday “because we live in a civilized country where children can be fed sufficiently without breastmilk.” Only 0,5% of the children are exclusively breastfed until six months old. But, that’s a completely different issue.

    Mainly I wanted to comment because I totally adore your blog. You are a great source of information and inspiration for me and I’m so happy I found my way here. You seem like such a wonderful person and an awesome mother. The picture you posted here of your little one with the rainbow on her forehead – so sweet.

    Thank you so much and have a lovely summer.

    PS. Sorry if my english is weird somehow!

    Reply
    • Oh, so glad to hear that you love my blog, thank you! I had no idea it was bad in Finland!!! I thought that Scandinavian countries were always so ahead of the rest of the world! It could also be the climate? Maybe that’s why you don’t see as many nursing mothers out and about?

      Reply
      • It would be nice to think about us as ahead of others, but actually this is a somewhat backwards place when it comes to animal rights, gay rights etc.
        I don’t think the climate affects too much. No one breastfeeds outside when it’s winter (except for me, the one time we got lost in the woods), which is kind of obvious, as it can be very cold. But even now that it’s summer (22c) I haven’t seen anyone breastfeeding in public. During these nine months I’ve been nursing my baby I have seen maybe three mothers breastfeeding their babies outside given areas (bathroomlike rooms in shopping malls for example.)

    • I had a look at your blog… lovely photos, although I can’t read the language 🙂

      Reply
  2. I’m an American, and a recent law school graduate. For my “senior thesis” as you might say I did a piece on Public Breastfeeding Laws and the social revolution surrounding it. And while the state of affairs on this issue seems bleak, take a moment and remember where we came from. Fifty years ago only 30% of American mothers breastfeed their infants, Today over 75% of American mothers initiate breastfeeding at birth. That is a huge accomplishment for the movement.

    I tend not to read the comments on posts because, as you pointed out they are infuriating and disheartening, but what the trend now seems to be is “i’m all for breastfeeding, just not in public” or “they should be discreet/classy/modest” “use a cover-up.” However what I find the most shocking is that a lot of these comments come from other women, and other breastfeeding moms. They would say “I always used a cover-up, so should you.” And of course my favorite “what about the children that have to see that, and then I have to explain it to them.” As if telling your child “that baby is eating” is like explaining sex to them or something.

    I try to keep to topic, but as a feminist, I really feel this is just another way of keeping women down, of putting them in their place (the home) and not allowing women control over their bodies. In the end it is a woman’s choice to breastfeed, to breastfeed in public, to use a cover or not. Each woman is entitled to make those choices and do what is best for them, and their child. And as other women walking this earth, who want to be in charge of our choices, we should support each other, not put each other down, or shame each other.

    Thank you for you piece on this subject. Keep up the good fight, we will win!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your reply! Interesting topic to do a thesis on! That would not have been boring, for sure! Yes, it is so weird when you hear those comments from other mothers, isn’t it?! It is true that breastfeeding rates are back on the rise. Just not quite where they should be yet! I’ve used a cover once or twice in the very beginning and it was so awkward and I felt like I was drawing more attention to myself. But, actually, when my kids got older, I would purposely go somewhere private or at least feed in the baby carrier because they would get so distracted, even though I knew they wanted boobs!

      Reply
  3. Born and raised here in the US. I’m 23 and going on three months of EBF my first. Looking back, I don’t remember seeing many mothers NIP as I grew up. But it wasn’t something I was against, either. I told my husband before we even got pregnant that I wanted to breastfeed, and I’d NIP too. Yes, it was a confidence issue the first few times, but now I don’t care. Like you said, when in doubt, whip ’em out. I love blogs like yours for spreading the word to normalize NIP!

    Reply
    • Oh yay! So good to hear! It’s so sad that we’re not used to seeing breastfeeding mothers in our society. Breastfeeding is a learned trait, it’s actually amazing that we do so well with the little support that we receive!

      Reply

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