Recent conflicts between stores and employees and nursing mothers are bringing attention back to the issue of public breastfeeding.
Although there is a consensus that breastfeeding is the healthiest and best option for new babies, as reported in the Deseret News, the debate continues over whether or not nursing in public is inappropriate.
Breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 states, but businesses like Barnes and Noble and Walmart have come under fire recently for asking nursing mothers to cover up or leave, according to Salon and Huffington Post. In response, mothers are taking action.
A mother asked to leave a New York Barnes and Noble came back the next day with 15 other nursing mothers for a "nurse-in," a form of protest that is common after an incident of breastfeeding discrimination. She also contacted the Barnes and Noble corporate office, but got no response, and finally involved the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman.
The result? Schneiderman ordered the store pay $10,000 to a local breastfeeding support group, and mandated breastfeeding sensitivity training for the store's employees. Barnes and Noble also released a statement saying it is "committed to ensuring our stores continue to be a welcoming environment for breastfeeding mothers," according to USA Today.
Another group of women holding a nurse-in at a South Carolina Walmart resulted in the company releasing a statement saying, "We welcome nursing mothers to breastfeed their child in our store. We recognize the intimate and personal nature of the decision a mother makes to breastfeed their child — and we never want to make her feel unwelcome in our stores because of it."
Not everyone feels like breastfeeding is appropriate for the public, or that public nursing is a right that must be respected by all institutions. Texas Rep. Debbie Riddle posted on Facebook criticizing a bill that would prohibit anyone from asking nursing women to cover up or leave, saying, "Now, I am all in favor of breast feeding — however it is important for women to be modest while feeding their baby — and most women are modest and respectful. But, a bill that would allow for lawsuits if one 'interfered' with a woman breast feeding is really going a bit far."
A recent satirical article in the Huffington Post called out the double standard of immodesty being acceptable in the entertainment industry but inappropriate if a mother is feeding her child. It also said other options for nursing mothers, such as going to the restroom, using a cover or staying home, can be impractical or even harmful.
"Do not be fooled, the importance of air circulation has been exaggerated by politicians," the article said. "Ten out of 10 babies reported loving the sensation of breathing repeat CO2. If you have a rebellious/bad child who pulls your cover off in a desperate attempt to breathe fresh air and see the world around them, consider some home training."
More and more people and institutions are coming out in favor of public breastfeeding. Michigan introduced a "Breastfeeding Anti-Discrimination Bill" to protect nursing mothers earlier this year. Pope Francis drew attention to the issue when he told an embarrassed mother that it was all right to feed her child in front of him.
As moms stand up for their legal rights to feed their children, they hope their efforts will make nursing in public more socially acceptable. "It should be something as normal as feeding your baby a bottle. It shouldn't be something I have to hide," Sarah Frady, one of the moms at the Walmart nurse-in, told Greenville Online.
Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.