It’s 2017, and Somehow We’re Still Arguing About Whether Moms Can Breastfeed in Public

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It seems like every week there's a new viral horror story from a mom who has been denied her legal right to breastfeed in public. Despite the fact that 49 states have laws on the books currently allowing mothers to breastfeed in public locations, and that a vast majority of doctors support breastfeeding for the health of mother and baby alike, there is still a raging debate about who should be allowed to breastfeed in public, and how.

Just last month, one Virginia mom was chastised for nursing her baby in her local church--surely a place where she would have expected to have support for doing what's best for her baby. The reason? It could make some of the male attendees "uncomfortable," according to what the mother, Annie Peguero, was told. Now Peguero, who had previously relied on her church community to get her through difficult times, feels alienated from those who she thought would support her. "I can never go back there," she told the Washington Post. Her lawyer expanded on this feeling of betrayal: "Breast-feeding is hard enough for moms alone, much less when you have barriers...Why should she have to choose between feeding her child and being able to pray?"

MORE: Breastfeeding Mannequins Appear in Malls to Reduce the Stigma of Nursing in Public

This sentiment is one that's echoed throughout the mommy blogs, and puts a more personal face on the issue of public breastfeeding. As mom Amber Hinds recalled from her experiences with her first child, "No one, myself included, would breastfeed for a year (which is really just the minimum recommendation) if we could not continue with our lives while doing so. If we were stuck at home, unable to go shopping, eat at restaurants or play with our older children in the swimming pool, it would be impossible to breastfeed for a year."

Furthermore, she drives home the point that the initial reactions from bystanders can shape a mom's entire nursing journey. "If our first experiences with nursing outside of our comfort zone are of someone telling us we shouldn't be doing it or creating a feeling of shame or embarrassment, then it is incredibly unlikely that we will continue." With many health professionals supporting the ideas that "breast milk is the ideal food for babies — and the best way to keep a baby healthy," it's no exaggeration to say that a few negative experiences with public breastfeeding can lead to a negative impact on a baby's health. Public breastfeeding rights are nothing short of a public health issue.

Still, there are some who prioritize their own preferences over the health and comfort of mother and baby — like one Connecticut man who became verbally abusive when he encountered a mom breastfeeding her baby in Target, before Target employees and fellow shoppers came to her aid. Unfortunately, being accosted by strange men isn't uncommon for women (whether breastfeeding or not), but adding a vulnerable baby to the mix makes this incident even more unacceptable. Other moms have shared stories of being told to "cover up" (not a requirement for breastfeeding in public, according to state laws), or even being sexualized for breastfeeding, as in the case of New Hampshire State Rep. Josh Moore's now-infamous opinion that men should be allowed to grab the nipples of moms who breastfeed in public.

There are, sadly, countless stories like these. But the upside is that public opinion does (slowly) seem to be turning. An increasing number of moms are speaking out on social media and even hosting "nurse-ins" (a form of breastfeeding sit-in) after they encounter toxic attitudes toward public breastfeeding. Until public breastfeeding is seen for what it is — "simply good moms for feeding their child when their child is hungry," as one mom put it — the best way to normalize it may be to just keep doing it. Knowing the laws about breastfeeding in your state can go a long way toward emboldening you to correct the assumptions of any uninformed individual, whether it be a security guard, a flight attendant, or even your own father. And if all else fails, simply remember that you're just doing what's best for your baby.

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