I’m a news producer, so I see headlines and read articles from around the world all the time. It’s a large part of my job. Being that I’ve been doing this for many years, it’s easy to get desensitized with all the constant and terrible news that’s out there. But this news story about breastfeeding that I saw a few months ago shocked me. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
Breastfeeding actually got banned at council-run pools in Wellington, New Zealand. It happened after a mom was told to get out of a pool because she was breastfeeding her son. Reportedly, she was told breastfeeding violates the pool’s food and beverage policy which advised that food and drinks can’t be consumed in pools to maintain water quality standards and prevent contamination. Contamination? To me, I thought that was funny since there are a lot of people who think breast milk is a kind of superfood.
Not surprisingly, the ridiculous decision was quickly reversed and now Wellington mamas can breastfeed in pools no problem.
I’m happy about the reversal, but I can’t stop thinking about how that mom must have felt. It must have been really embarrassing to be singled out like that. It can be isolating enough as it is just being a mom. I can’t imagine how she felt to be in one minute enjoying a day at the pool and feeding her baby, and then the next minute being targeted and removed from the pool, causing such an uproar that an actual ban on breastfeeding in that space comes out of the incident.
To me, the truth behind all this is simple: some people just don’t like seeing women breastfeeding their babies. It makes them uncomfortable. The “food and beverage policy” reasoning that mom was given, in my opinion, is misleading. She was breastfeeding in public and someone wanted her to stop. Or, at least, go somewhere private.
Let me address the “private” thing first. As I mentioned, motherhood can be extremely isolating. You spend your days with a non-adult with little to no neck control who can’t discuss your new, favorite Netflix show or Jennifer Lopez’s latest outfit and who poops himself on the regular. You are dying to be around other adults, so staying in your house or going into a closet or something to breastfeed doesn’t really help your mental state.
When I was on maternity leave (and nursing), someone told me to try and leave the house at least once a day with the baby. It was a great piece of advice. But, you have to breastfeed every 2-3 hours, so guess what? If you leave the house, breastfeeding will have to be done … gasp! … in public. If you see a woman breastfeeding on a park bench or something, she’s not trying to offend or embarrass you. She’s not even trying to show you her post-pregnancy, mid-breastfeeding boobs. She’s trying to clear her head, get outside and actually feel like a human. While, at the same time, supply food to her growing baby.
For me, I breastfeed in public, with a nursing cover because that is how I feel most comfortable. But that’s me. You cannot shame a woman if you see her breast because it’s just not about you. If you see a mother’s breast while she’s feeding her baby, chances are she’s not thinking about you at all. She’s thinking about feeding her child, what she plans on doing with the rest of her day, if she brought enough diapers with her, if that’s poop in her nail or chocolate, and that’s about it. Mothers shouldn’t be expected to stay in private areas to breastfeed or stuck in their homes. Being out in the world and around people is good for one’s mental state … especially considering 1 in 7 women may experience postpartum depression in the year after having a baby.
I, for one, would rather see a baby being breastfed in public than an isolated, sad mom any day.