The battle of the boob

In the state of Virginia, “No person shall be deemed to be in violation of [indecent exposure laws] for breastfeeding a child in any public place or any place where others are present.” So, what are your thoughts about nursing in public?

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a few months). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Today’s question: How do you feel about nursing in public?

The Salgados

You haven’t truly had to nurse in public until you are seated on an airplane (with a wiggly 8-month-old on your lap) next to a gentleman in his 50’s who is trying to read The New York Times. Can you say “awkward”? Normally, to borrow a word from my six-year-old, I am the master of discreet nursing, but this put even my skills to the test.
Trying to decide who gets the armrest can be a little tricky, let alone pulling out the left breast while my baby arches her back to try to look at this man while she nurses. Yet through all the gymnastics, I remind myself we are human. We are designed to feed our babies with (shockingly!) our boobs.

Even after almost 10 years of nursing, I still feel a little self-conscious in certain settings. It isn’t a deep seeded question about my beliefs or some other personal hang-up but mostly out of extreme politeness. I know our society is completely uninterested in the boob trying out for another role. They love her so much in the one she is in, and she’s been type-casted for sure. So I try to be aware and nurse discreetly, but the show is still going on, on planes, at the park, in the restaurant, in the library, in the coffee shop. Sometimes I might pick a more private spot or have a blanket over my shoulder, sometimes not. I hope, in some small way this will help others to see she isn’t just a one trick pony but amazingly talented and versatile.

Is it too much to ask to meet somewhere in the middle? Cue the cheesy dramatic music. Can nursing and the public be friends? No really, it would be so liberating if this were no longer a blip on the social radar. It is good for all involved. Babies need to eat, mothers need to live life and the world needs to embrace human connection. Please know I’ll do my best to do right by you and, more importantly, my kid until then.

The Catrows

I am what you could call an “awkward nurser.” I require props and various apparatuses to get everyone and everything in the correct position, a situation I blame entirely on the fact that my child is exceptionally large and hard to maneuver even in settings that don’t carry the risk of my bosoms being exposed. And after almost 9 months of doing this, I still haven’t mastered the whole, “my boob is out, but you can’t tell” trick that so many other mothers have. I probably never will.

Because of this, I tend to not nurse in public. I have done so when it’s been unavoidable: on a plane, at church, in the middle of a field during Slaughterama, etc. etc. But it’s not my first choice, mostly because of my own modesty issues.

Really, I find it funny that I’m so concerned about my various parts being exposed while feeding my baby. I fully acknowledge that I am the product of our society only sexualizing the breast, therefore making it “inappropriate” to have out in public. I wish I could get over it, but I’m not there yet.

Honestly, I admire women who are comfortable (and capable) enough to nurse their babies while they’re out in the world, living their lives. I find it kind of appalling that anyone would suggest that they shouldn’t do. (Do not even get me started on people who tell mothers to go nurse their babies IN THE BATHROOM. Gross.) Do I think women should be permitted to walk around with their breasts hanging out? No. But there has to be a middle-ground. It’s not like nursing mothers take out their breasts to put on a show. In that situation, those parts are functional, and we shouldn’t put any constraints (legal, social, or otherwise) on them to keep them from doing what they were built to do.

For me, it really comes down to this: a bottle-fed baby gets to eat in public, a breast-fed baby should be able to as well. And isn’t it funny that while women are told from the beginning that breastfeeding is best for them and their babies, other people’s hang-ups make it so difficult (and socially-isolating) to actually do it? But I guess that’s another rant for another time…

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Patience Salgado

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