Why The Nursing in Public Battle Isn't Worth Fighting


I admit it, I’m a “lactivist.” What is a lactivist, you ask? I’m someone who believes in the power of breastmilk, who thinks breast is best, who will grin and bear it through pain and difficulty in order to breastfeed my child. Unfortunately, those like me have earned a bad rap over the the course of the mommy wars. Those who fight in the mommy wars have one thing in common: these women believe the way that they raise their children is how all women should raise their children. The mommy wars started between women who went back to work versus those who decided to stay home, but has expanded to every realm of childbearing and rearing, with breastfeeding as one of the hottest topics. Many in the lactivist camp shame mothers who can’t, won’t or don’t breastfeed their children for a myriad of reasons, all of which are deeply personal. This is where we part ways. It takes a lot of energy to raise my daughter. I have none left over to worry about how other people choose to raise their children.

Several lactivism pages over the past few weeks are abuzz over the above image, which is part of a student advertising campaign at the University of North Texas. The students are promoting the passage of HB1706, a bill in the Texas legislature that will protect women from harassment and discrimination if and when they decide to nurse in public. I might lose my lactivist membership card for saying this, but this isn’t one of those motherhood issues I can get worked up about. Personally, I breastfeed in public, with and without a cover, depending on if I think my daughter will stand it, depending on how discreetly I can do it, depending on how hot it would make my daughter and I to put her under a scarf or blanket.

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The above image is the first time I ever breastfed in public (my best friend, a fellow Orthodox Jewish woman who breastfeeds in public, took the photo). This was the least discreet I have ever done so – you can see a bit of my tummy in there if you look carefully. I was sitting in the middle of a Barnes & Noble’s bookstore, on the floor, in the children’s section. Not a single person noticed. Since that time I’ve breastfed across the country and perfected how to do it so discreetly that I doubt most people notice I’m even nursing. I have yet to even earn a second glance, let alone harassment. I know dozens of other women who breastfeed in public and who have done so for years, and few women have stories of harassment, if any.

While there are the few stories here and there of harassment of nursing mothers, they are met with justifiable public blowback from women who are exercising their rights to feed their babies according to the laws of their state. All but three states in the U.S. have laws on the books ensuring women’s right to breastfeed anywhere where they are already legally allowed to be. Nowhere in the U.S. has a woman been arrested and charged for public indecency for breastfeeding in public.

The war to protect women’s ability to breastfeed their babies wherever they happen to be is won, the law protects those who choose to do so. Women who work to make sure that morons who try to impede that right stage nurse-ins, public groups of women breastfeeding, whenever there’s an incident, to educate and empower women about their rights.

Despite these battles, despite the laws, many women still choose to breastfeed in private places, including bathrooms, when they’re in public. Jenny Mollen, a new mother, an actress, is the wife of Jason Biggs who has a large Instagram following. She posts humorous and often inappropriate takes on new motherhood, and is vocal (in images) about her choice to breastfeed. She has posted at least half a dozen photos of pumping, breastmilk and breastfeeding, however an image she posted Sunday struck me.

Mollen is presumably aware of her legal right to breastfeed in public. She’s not shy about posting photos to hundreds of thousands of followers of breastfeeding. She’s open about her life to the point of vulgarity, yet she chose to breastfeed her son Sid in a bathroom instead of at her table at brunch. So why did she choose to breastfeed in the bathroom at her Mother’s Day brunch? That decision, like the original one to even breastfeed, is hers alone.

The campaign to promote nursing in public is inexplicable. The only women who are breastfeeding in bathrooms are those who decide to do so, no one puts them there. One who chooses to do so isn’t less of a woman, a mother, or of a lactivist, for feeding their children in private. They are within their legal rights and are seldomly harassed when it’s done in public instead. What is there to gain by so vocally promoting nursing in public? If lactivists really want to make a difference they can start by promoting the rights of waitresses, of secretaries, of doctors and nurses, of teachers, to be given time and space to pump every day in their workplace. That may garner more enthusiasm from a wider section of breastfeeding women instead of just those who choose to nurse in public.