Saturday, June 11, 2005

'Lactivists' Taking Their Cause, and Their Babies, to the Streets

New York Times
By Amy Harmon
Published: June 7, 2005

The protest, inspired by similar events organized by a growing group of unlikely activists nationwide in the last year, brought about 200 women to ABC's headquarters yesterday. They stood nursing their babies in the unmistakably public venue of Columbus Avenue and West 67th Street. They held signs reading, "Shame on View," and "Babies are born to be breastfed." Ms. Walters, who remarked a few weeks ago on the show that the sight of a woman breast-feeding on an airplane next to her had made her uncomfortable, said through a spokesman that "it was a particular circumstance and we are surprised that it warrants a protest."

But the rally at ABC is only the most visible example of a recent wave of "lactivism." Prodded by mothers who say they are tired of being asked to adjourn to the bathroom while nursing in a public space, six states have recently passed laws giving a woman the right to breast-feed wherever she "is otherwise authorized to be."

An Ohio bill saying a woman is "entitled to breast-feed her baby in any place of public accommodation" passed last month over the objection of one representative who wanted to exempt businesses from liability for accidents caused by "spillage."

"I really don't know any women who 'spill,' " said Lisa Wilson, the mother of a 4-month-old in Fairview Park, Ohio, who helped organize a nurse-in at a local deli to support the bill.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, held a nurse-in on the Capitol's Cannon Terrace last month as she reintroduced federal legislation to amend the Civil Rights Act to protect women from employment discrimination for using a breast pump or feeding their babies during breaks.

Nursing mothers are pressuring businesses, too. Burger King has declared that mothers are welcome to nurse. Starbucks - the target of a letter-writing campaign that asked "What's more natural than coffee and milk?" - has, too.

The moves come as the number of American mothers who choose to breast-feed has climbed to about 70 percent in 2003, the last year for which information was available, from about 50 percent in 1990. Many otherwise apolitical women say they found themselves unexpectedly transformed into lactivists after fielding a nasty comment or being asked to stop nursing in public.

"We're all told that breast-feeding is the best, healthiest thing you can do for your child," said Lorig Charkoudian, 32, who started the Web site www.nurseatstarbucks.com after being asked to use the bathroom to nurse at her local Starbucks. "And then we're made to feel ashamed to do it without being locked in our homes."

But Ms. Walters is not the only one who might prefer not to be confronted with breast-feeding at close quarters. Legislators, business owners and family members are debating how to reconcile the health benefits of nursing with the prevailing cultural squeamishness toward nursing in public.

In interviews and Internet discussions, hundreds of women recount being asked to stop nursing in public spots, including the Children's Museum in Huntsville, Ala.; a knitting store in the East Village; a Radisson Hotel lobby in Virginia; a public bus in Los Angeles; and a city commission meeting in Miami Beach.

"It's nothing against breast-feeding, it's about exposing yourself for people who don't want to see it," said Scotty Stroup, the owner of a restaurant in Round Rock, Tex., where a nursing mother was refused service last fall.

But the new generation of lactivists compare discomfort with seeing breast-feeding in public to discomfort with seeing interracial couples or gays holding hands.

"It's like any other prejudice. They have to get used to it," said Rebecca Odes, co-founder of "The New Mom" blog, who attended the ABC protest. "People don't want to see it because they feel uncomfortable with it, and they feel uncomfortable with it because they don't see it."

Whether to breast-feed in public, many nursing mothers say, is not simply a matter of being respectful of another person's sensibilities. They cite research by the Food and Drug Administration showing that the degree of embarrassment a mother feels about breast-feeding plays a bigger role in determining whether she is likely to do so than household income, length of maternity leave or employment status.

1 comment:

mamalife said...

I first read about this over at www.boobyjuice.com and could not believe it!!! I have always liked Barbara Walters and used to love watching "The View" back when I worked night-shift, but... what was she thinking (NOT thinking) saying this on national TV and HOW CLUELESS IS SHE saying, in response to the protest that she doesn't understand how such a comment would warrant protest?? And SPILLAGE??? HUH????!!!! Seems to me one would be much more likely to spill formula from a bottle than mama-milk from breast!