In his first seven weeks of life, my son has made one thing very clear: he is not a discreet eater. A chorus of wheezes, grunts, sighs, and gulps issues forth as he nurses and when he unlatches from my breast to take a breath. Then he whips his head back and forth before attacking his meal again.
My son’s eating style isn’t an issue at home, but it does make breastfeeding in public even more, well, public.
And it makes covering up while I feed him difficult. He unlatches often — and even more frequently when he is warm from having a blanket over him. It is not any more discreet to nurse under a cover from which loud noises are issuing and under which I am constantly ducking to help him relatch than it would to have him breastfeed in the open air.
Being a mother with a hungry child is stressful enough, but wondering if I have the right to feed him in public and what would happen if I expose myself only adds to my angst. Therefore, I found it helpful to know NC’s breastfeeding law makes it legal for women to breastfeed in any public or private location as long as they have a right to be there, regardless of whether my little barracuda unlatches and displays my nipple.
North Carolina’s law is not an anomaly. While wording varies, almost all other states have laws that protect a woman’s right to breastfeed on public or private property, or at least protect her from indecent exposure charges.
But having a law on the books doesn’t do any good unless people are aware of it, so moms, please know that you have the right to feed your child wherever necessary. You do not need to cover up, retire to a bathroom, or leave the establishment — even if asked.
While I don’t think it happens as often anymore, there are plenty of horror stories about breastfeeding mamas being harassed and humiliated in public. If someone were aggressive or hostile to me while I was breastfeeding, I would leave, probably in tears. So I’d like to see NC amend its law to include wording that prevents nursing mothers from being discriminated against either by the owners or the patrons of an establishment.
In the meantime, business owners can help by creating a breastfeeding-friendly area in their establishments (while knowing that women are not obligated to use them), training employees in the correct way to approach someone who is breastfeeding, and explaining the law to concerned customers.
An upset customer might leave at the sight of a nipple, but I imagine more customers would be annoyed at the sound of a screaming baby. And there is more clientele to be gained by supporting the lactators, if social media is any indication. The internet is being used to promote places that support the cause, and people are using it to share their stories and cause change.
Whether you breastfeed, bottle-feed, or never had a kid, the most important thing is that our children are well nourished and well cared for. That starts with supporting our mothers and helping them to do their jobs.
Jennifer Brick is a writer and teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.