Yesterday I volunteered to staff the nursing mothers' station at the Eastern States Exposition, also known as "The Big E," the largest fair in the Northeast. It was the first time I'd gone, and I found it fun and sad in the way that all fairs seem to me as an adult. I ate some fried dough.
I was there for a few hours in the evening to staff the nursing mothers' station, a curtained area in an exhibit hall which has comfy chairs and a changing table (pictured). During my shift about 6 or 7 moms came to feed their babies, and they were all very appreciative of the privacy and quiet. Several women walking by the display said things like, "I nursed my baby for 2 1/2 years and I totally support what you're doing!" On busier days there have been as many as 75 mothers who used the room during the course of the day.
Part of my motivation for doing so was to explore this idea of special places for nursing moms. They seem to be cropping up all over the place, and I have mixed feelings about them. I've seen some interesting stuff on them at Hathor the Cowgoddess' site.
But this issue isn't totally black and white, and I keep going back and forth about it. Below are my thoughts. I hope you'll share yours.
1) A lot of women like to have a private place to nurse. Some of these rooms, like the ones at the Babies R Us in our local mall, are nicely done (so I'm told - I haven't actually seen it) and are usually far better than a bathroom stall.
2) Not all women feel comfortable nursing in public, and if these places help women nurse their babies while out of the house, that's a good thing. The reality is that women sometimes do get harassed for nursing in public, and for women who live in communities where this is likely to happen it's good to have a safe place. Not all moms want to champion the issue of nursing in public, and that's okay.
3) Some older babies are so distracted while nursing that it really helps to have a quiet place to do a feeding. The rooms are also good for moms who need to pump.
1) The root of the problems our culture has with nursing in public is that it's not seen as a normal behavior. Keeping it out of the public view prevents it from becoming a normal thing to see, and the culture will never change. The rooms perpetuate the need for the rooms.
2) These rooms send a message that breastfeeding a baby is something to be embarrassed or ashamed about, when it's actually a normal human behavior.
3) Sometimes nursing mothers' rooms become the ONLY place a mother can nurse in that establishment. This is actually a step backwards. It gives business owners an easy out by segregating nursing mothers so they don't have to confront the issue head on with their customers, all under the under the guise of making mothers feel more comfortable.
So, what do you think?