Nurse-ins at Starbucks

In my never-ending quest to provide this journal with the coolest links in the world, I most recently stumbled upon Hip Mama, an informative online parenting zine with a decidedly wicked feminist/activist streak. In other words, just my kind of zine.

While purusing the site and getting the lay of the land, I read a fantastic interview with Lorig Charkoudiana¬Ě, a Maryland woman who organized a nurse-in at her local Starbucks after being asked by the manager to either cover up or go to the bathroom because she was breastfeeding. What a brilliant idea!!! The nurse-in received a ton of positive media attention, and spawned several other Starbucks nurse-ins around the country. You can read Starbucks’ adequate but not quite commendable response on Lorig’s new website: www.nurseatstarbucks.org. You can even even organize your very own nurse-in. And not just at Starbucks. There’s a whole host of US companies which could stand a major revamp of their current (or nonexistant) policies on breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is the healthiest food you can feed your baby. This isn’t news; the AAP and the WHO have been telling us this for years. But how often do you see a woman breastfeeding in public? Sadly, I only see maybe one or two women a month breastfeeding in public. Some months go by where I don’t see a single breastfeeding woman at all. Given that there are 11,018 babies born in the US every day, shouldn’t we be seeing thousands of breastfeeding mothers in the course of a single month? According to the CDC, in 2003, 70.9% of all women were breastfeeding their babies at the 7 day mark. 36.2% of all women in the US were breastfeeding their babies at the 6 month mark. Even if that rate is nowhere near the 50% breastfeeding goal of Healthy People 2010, that’s still a lot of women. What I want to know is, where are all these women doing their breastfeeding? In their homes? In private places? In bathroom stalls? In broom closests? Why don’t we see more breastfeeding women out and about, going to Starbucks, grocery shopping, reading books at Barnes and Nobles, breastfeeding in taxis, in restaurants, in parks, on buses? Why don’t we see more companies making it easier for breastfeeding women in the first place?

The thing is, breastfeeding is a difficult undertaking in its own right. Babies don’t always latch well, and even if they do latch well, they don’t always suck. Nipples are sometimes inverted, feeding schedules can be so demanding that they can seem like a derranged experiment in sleep deprivation. The whole process is hard enough to accomplish without social taboo heaped on top of it. Breastfeeding women need our support. Maybe more mothers would breastfeed in the first place, or breastfeed for longer, if it was something they could do in public through the course of their day without having to feel self-conscious about it or, let alone stared at or banished to a bathroom. Newsflash 2005: breastfeeding isn’t shameful. It’s not a bodily function. It’s not something that needs to be hidden or covered up. It’s a baby eating lunch, or dinner, or an afternoon snack, whatever the case may be. I certainly wouldn’t want to eat my lunch in a bathroom. Why should a baby have to?

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