Raising Richmond: Lawfully latched

Like most people who learned about the legislation that makes breastfeeding in public legal as long as the mother is lawfully allowed on the premises, my first reactions were “It wasn’t legal?” and “Someone bothered to make laws about nursing to begin with?” 

Like most people who learned about the legislation that makes breastfeeding in public legal as long as the mother is lawfully allowed on the premises, my first reactions were “It wasn’t legal?” and “Someone bothered to make laws about nursing to begin with?” While I am currently not a nursing mom, I was disappointed to learn about this supplemental indignity that came with being a baby-making American.

It wasn’t illegal before, but places not owned/leased/run by Virginia could have legally asked moms to not breastfeed or move to another location. Since breastfeeding was only lawful on Commonwealth property, this explains the popular pastime of nursing moms meeting every few hours in a VDOT lobby. Just kidding–I bet that most moms had no idea such legislation was necessary.1

I have never tried to nurse in public, and I don’t know how typical it is for a mom to get the stink-eye when it happens, or if women have been commonly asked to shut it down mid-feeding (maybe it violates rules about not bringing in your own food and drink?). I probably would have tried to avoid nursing in public, as I like to have a reason to leave situations for 20 minutes, but I don’t find public breastfeeding distracting or upsetting. I get why some people would be uncomfortable around a nursing mom if it’s not something that they’ve normalized yet. It’s an intimate and intensely personal moment, but usually it happens discreetly while the baby has a thin sheet over her head. I also believe that it falls into the “get over it” category if it bothers you.2 

While this will surely be signed into law by the governor, it’s hard to see something like this as a victory. Women have the special injustice of having our bodies routinely legislated. It adds to that injustice to learn that the most basic thing on earth–a mother feeding her baby–could have gotten you kicked out from somewhere. It’s not like it’s the same thing as peeing in public, which–wait, are our babies legally allowed to do that?

There are many big-ticket problems that don’t seem to get any easier for parents. It’s a challenge now to afford and coordinate maternity leave, paternity leave, child care, and increasing insurance costs.3 Think about all the work that has been done for parents’ rights since the current generation of breeders have been bred, like FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), and, well, car seats are safer, I guess. We think we have it rough sometimes, but can you imagine how hard it was 20-30 years ago and also, all of time before that?

After I was born, my mom had to go back to work six weeks later to a job that required her to stand up most of the time (I was taken care of by cats and my two older siblings until I was old enough for pre-K).4 She was at work for 10 hours a day and couldn’t take breaks to pump, and even if she was allowed breaks, she had no place to go. My previous and current employer have dedicated rooms for new moms to use (progress!).

If you can get paid maternity leave, have affordable health care and child care, and are able to spend quality time with your child, it’s still difficult to do basic things like find a changing station, or even a clean bathroom.5 Then there are the concerns with older kids, including school schedules that appear to have been created just to vex working parents.

People love babies, and people are going to keep having them despite the fact that the world is overpopulated and will be underwater in ten years.6 Having a child doesn’t make me feel entitled to certain things, but people reproduce. That’s a thing that happens and most are OK with it. After a child is conceived and born, it needs to be taken care of and sometimes it needs to go into a public space, where it may get hungry. And it needs to grow up with support and education to be an adult who both contributes positively to society and also has the critical skills to complain about the state of having children.

Child care issues vary so widely based on the circumstances of the parents, but nursing is a special category of inclusiveness. As long as we are physically capable of and interested in nursing, any mother can do it.7 It’s free, it’s healthy for mom and baby, and it’s probably the best thing one can do on state property that wouldn’t get you kicked out. 

I hate to whine about how hard it is to be a mom when people on the outside of parenthood probably walk around with a list of ways parents are specially accommodated, but reading news like this definitely makes me want to write down every natural function of my body, mail it to my representatives, and have them put check marks next to the ones I’m allowed to do while out and about. And are we supposed to alert the government when our daughters start menstruating so it’s known when she’s eligible to be a governed body, much like boys have to sign up for the draft at 18?

If breastfeeding is something that needs governing,8 at least it will be in favor of moms’ rights. Kudos to Sen. Jennifer Wexton and Del. David Albo for sponsoring the legislation, and to those who supported it. Let’s hope that when our kids are having kids, their biggest concern is keeping babies from getting lots of diaper rash in our new underwater society.

  1. I am not a pollster. 
  2. That’s not to say that there are probably situations where it is inappropriate to breastfeed in public. I can’t think of what those are, but that’s not the point right now. 
  3. My first child cost me $300 to have, any future children would cost me 20 percent of all hospital costs, and I wouldn’t know what those are until after the baby is born because getting an estimate on what hospital expenses are is a harder question than “How much does space weigh?” 
  4. My mother is currently vacationing in Costa Rica, so I cannot confirm that cat thing. 
  5. Special shout-out to Kuba Kuba. There is a changing station in the unisex bathroom, there’s a new kid’s menu, the setting is loud and bright, the service is good, and there’s a playground across the street. Also, tres leches cake. 
  6. I am not a scientist. 
  7. I personally struggled with nursing, and instead had special bonding time with a loud pump for almost a year. I think moms are cool with not pumping in public. Still, I’m with you nursing mamas.  
  8. Here is a list of breastfeeding legislation in Virginia. You can download a trusty card to keep handy in case you find it hard to keep track. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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