There seems to be a new story daily of a mom being shamed for nursing her baby in public. Breastfeeding moms have been asked to cover up at pizzerias, confronted at malls, singled out on flights and booted from water parks.
So I guess we need to explain why mothers are feeding their hungry children.
There are many ways to feed a baby and every parent’s journey is different. Some only breastfeed. Some breastfeed and bottle-feed pumped milk. Some only use formula. Many probably use a combination of all of them — a fed baby is best.
But for those women who are able to nurse their children, there a million benefits for both baby and mother. And, yes, babies want to eat in restaurants, on planes, at the pool, at the museum and at the doctor’ office.
World Breastfeeding Week runs from Aug. 1 through Aug. 7. To celebrate, we are here with all the medical, legal and just plain obvious reasons moms are breastfeeding and doing so in public. So let the babies eat!
Babies are hungry. A lot.
If you aren’t familiar with newborns, here’s what they do: Eat, sleep, cry and potty. And eat is big one.
“Infants typically feed anywhere from eight to 10 times in a day,” Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter told USA TODAY. She chairs the breastfeeding wing of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “It’s normal that babies feed regularly throughout the day and may literally feed as often as every hour.”
Babies may go longer when they are resting or sleeping, she added.
Science also backs this. “Nutrients in human milk are absorbed rapidly and thoroughly so they can provide the best benefit,” Feldman-Winter said. “(Babies) feed in small volumes as the stomach capacity of an infant is very small.”
Breast milk keeps baby and mom healthy
Studies show that breast milk is one of the best ways to protect babies and mothers from illness and disease.
“Breastfed babies are better protected against pneumonia, otitis (ear infections), diarrhea, excess weight issues and diabetes,” certified lactation consultant Norma Escobar said in an emailed response to USA TODAY.
Breastfeeding also helps to protect against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and breastfeeding mothers see increased protections against cancer, diabetes and heart disease, Feldman-Winter said.
Laws respect a mother’s right to breastfeed in public
It is legal to breastfeed in public in all 50 states.
Idaho and Utah were the last to pass laws protecting mothers who breastfeed outside the house and sadly, that was just in 2018.
Idaho bill sponsor Republican Rep. Paul Amador, a father of a then 5-month-old son, called it shameful in this age that breastfeeding moms were offered no protection.
“I believe the health and nutritional choices of our families are best left as decisions for our families, not our government,” he said.
Feeding on a flight helps small ears
You know how you chew gum to help your adult ears from popping on a plane? Babies eat!
“Any type of suckling or swallowing will equalize the pressure in the eustachian tube,” Feldman-Winter said. “Breastfeeding…allows fluid to drain as well as equalize that pressure as the pressure changes when you’re up in the air.”
Breastfeeding mom Shelby Angel issued a public warning after a flight attendant on a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight asked her to cover up. The airline defended its policy.
She says that she breastfeeds her daughter on takeoff and landing which helps her baby sleep and prevents problems with her ears.
Breasts as sexual objects is a ‘purely cultural belief’
A common response to breastfeeding is that it makes others feel uncomfortable.
This is a “purely cultural belief,” Escobar said. “In a society where breasts are seen as sexual, the sight of a baby feeding at a breast can seem inappropriate.”
But experts agree that we all need to learn how to react to and respect this very natural process. Escobar invites those who feel uncomfortable to avert their gaze, smile and just remember that this family is doing the best possible thing.
“Breastfeeding isn’t some newfangled Western fad. It’s what has allowed our species to survive,” Angel said.
Feldman-Winter suggests that if a person is uncomfortable being near a breastfeeding mother on a flight, that person should be given the option to move rather than move the breastfeeding mother.
Breastfeeding is nurturing, too
Don’t want to hear a screaming baby on your flight? Then let them eat!
“Not all suckling at the breast is nutritive. There’s a lot of suckling at the breast that is just for nurturing or for comforting. That is normal and very positive,” Feldman-Winter said.
She would prefer that a child is breastfeeding on a flight because she knows it will likely keep him or her calm.
Not every baby likes to be covered
Some people who are uncomfortable seeing a mom breastfeed think she should just “cover up.” But not all babies can feed with something over their head.
Angel’s daughter is one. “She hates having anything on her head,” the mom shared, adding her little girl was born in the middle of a terrible heat wave, so it felt “cruel” to cover her head.
She explained being able to see her daughter while nursing helped her make sure she was latched well. And any mom who has ever breastfed knows that a bad latch could lead to a baby not transferring milk and a lot of pain for mom’s nipples.
Bottles aren’t always an option
It shouldn’t be expected that mothers give their children formula or provide pumped milk in a bottle while in public.
Besides all of the reasons above, some babies simply refuse bottles. Plus, a breastfeeding mother could “become painfully engorged if a baby skips a feeding because they got a bottle,” Escobar said.
Also, new research is finding that pumped breast milk is not the same as milk directly received from the breast.
Mama needs out of the house
Finally, moms want to go out into the world. They don’t always want to stop what they’re doing to hunt down a private space when baby gets hungry. Plus, they may be chasing after other children.
“If I hadn’t been able to breastfeed (my daughter) in public, I would have never left my house,” Angel said.
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