Perhaps you’ve noticed this. I’m not sure I did until I became a mom, but living in Utah means living with babies. Lots and lots of babies, everywhere. Even on “date night” without children, I was often still surrounded by children. Unless you go to a bar or nightclub, chances are you’re going to be near a child.
When I became a new mother a dozen years ago, social media had not yet taken on a life of its own. In the years since I breastfed, changed diapers and cleaned up everything on everything, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, StumbledUpon, Tumblr, Vine and more have absolutely exploded into mainstream communication. Which means not only do you have the ability to share everything with everyone, most do – whether you like it or not. It’s become so prevalent in our culture there are even blogs created about the ridiculousness of it all like STFUparents.blog.com.
With such daily – nay, hourly – exposure into each other’s lives, our society scrutinizes everything – even breastfeeding – with a magnifying glass. While countries like Switzerland, The Netherlands and France don’t think twice about nursing in public; and you can find a sign in a café in Iceland that boasts “Go ahead and breastfeed. We like both babies and boobs!” in the U.S. women are often made to feel embarrassed or socially shunned for doing so thanks to our culturally conflicting views on sexuality. Scantily clad women on stage or on screen are met with no resistance, yet a mom nursing her child – and showing much less skin, by the way – can be asked to leave a public place for breastfeeding.
I interviewed several local moms about breastfeeding in public. April Despain, a mom living in Murray, told me her “main stigma that I have felt about nursing is at church.” Like many churches in Utah, hers has a “nursing room” or “mother’s lounge” that is within the women’s bathroom. “I felt like I HAD to go there to nurse, even though it was very inconvenient trying to carry my baby and diaper bag in high heels, maneuvering through the pews,” and sometimes she’d even miss taking the sacrament because, of course, the priesthood (all male) can’t go into the nursing room.
Interestingly only one of the moms I interviewed were ever verbally scorned for breastfeeding in public, yet all of them at one point or another felt as though it was something to be ‘aware of’ as an ‘issue’ or a potential problem. Thy Vu Mims of Salt Lake City told me that she has been “asked to leave, told to cover up…sworn at…gawked at…whispered about, and several weeks ago [she] even caught someone taking a photo of [her] while breastfeeding [her] son, and in turn showing it to all her friends and pointing and laughing in disgust.”
So if we can’t even breastfeed in public without stigma, can we share images online without stigma? Nope. Ashlee Wells, a mom and photographer, runs an online community in support of moms who breastfeed and has had her Facebook account disabled four times for posting photos of moms breastfeeding their babies. But in each case she says she’s complied with Facebook’s policies. Facebook’s own Terms of Service say “breastfeeding is natural and beautiful.”
“Facebook and Instagram are contributing to our societal notion that the most natural way of feeding our babies is somehow wrong or taboo by removing breastfeeding photos from their platforms,” says Wells. In her recent interview with the Huffington Post she said “So much more needs to be done in our society to embrace body positivity and normalize breastfeeding…. So, I started with my story and it has exploded into a beautiful thing from there.” Wells has launched a petition on Change.org in hopes that women everywhere will help remove the stigmas attached to something as natural as breastfeeding.
Andrea Moore, mom of two in Kearns, summed up what all the mothers I interviewed said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal to show pictures of women nursing their babies. I have no problem with the pictures themselves as I think pictures of mothers (and fathers) with their babies are beautiful no matter what they’re doing…. [It doesn’t] need to be made into something bigger than it is.”
Korilee, mom of three in Erda, feels “if [people] knew all the benefits [breastfeeding] brings with it, they would be more supportive.”
While the La Leche League of Utah doesn’t have a formal position on breastfeeding in public, they do offer a lot of local support for mothers who do. Christy Porucznik, a local La Leche League Leader, wants all mothers to know they have resources and support groups for them. They have articles online about the laws on breastfeeding, how to breastfeed in public, and have regular meetings/discussions about it. The Breastfeeding Café is another great resource for nursing moms.
Personally, I think my child’s needs are more important than society’s outlook. My hope is that in the near future my daughter will no longer equate a woman’s ability to sing with the amount of skin she exposes, and if she wants to breastfeed her future babies she will do so without a care.
There are no official laws in Utah banning breastfeeding. In fact, there was a law passed in 1995 (17-15-25) stating the “county legislative body may not prohibit a woman’s breastfeeding in any location where she otherwise may rightfully be…” which means counties are forbidden from creating ordinances forbidding public breastfeeding.
Here are some local resources that go beyond helping you learn how to breastfeed your baby:
-Utah Breastfeeding Coalition, utahbreastfeeding.org
-La Leche League of Utah, lllutah.org
-The Breastfeeding Café, breastfeedingcafe.wordpress.com