“The main goal is to make people aware of the law.” That was how Susan Berlien described her experience of organizing the Peaceful Nursing Event at a Twin Cities-area indoor playground.
A few days earlier, a nursing mother at the playground had been asked to feed her baby in a private room so as not to make others uncomfortable. This didn’t seem right to moms at the site who saw breast-feeding as natural, family-friendly and nothing to be embarrassed about.
“I was shocked because it is a ‘kids’ place,” Berlien said. “I was really upset because of all the places-that should be somewhere you could really feel comfortable to nurse in public.”
Where some moms might let it go, Berlien-who is an RN and in training to be an internationally, board-certified lactation consultant-didn’t. She saw injustice and cultural misinformation and was determined to do something about it.
After Berlien talked to the manager on duty, she used email and voice mail to ask for a more nursing-friendly environment, and eventually got a response after organizing a mom’s Facebook group.
It turned out that none of the administrators she spoke with were aware that Minnesota law allows nursing in any public location where the mother and child are otherwise allowed to be. Once informed, the management initiated staff education training, created a written policy in compliance with the law and hung the international sign for a breast-feeding-friendly site in several locations.
Berlien was happy with the resolution. In the meantime, she had organized a nurse-in for the playground that went ahead as a celebration of their success.
With her first child, Berlien said, she was too embarrassed and uncomfortable to nurse much in public. “If you can’t nurse in public you can’t really go anywhere. With a newborn especially, feeding every two hours, you are pretty much trapped at home. It is hard enough being a new mom as it is, but if you have this one more piece-being worried about what people are going to think-it adds stress.”
Berlien now has three kids; the youngest is 5 months old. Things have changed for her. “With my kids at hockey games and other places, I breast-feed in public everywhere we go. I want people to know that this is a normal thing to do.
“When I nurse in public I don’t make a big deal of it. I don’t hide it, either. I am hoping that by my doing that-and more people doing that-people will become more accepting,” Berlien said.
“In our culture, breasts are over sexualized. People see low-cut tops and they see magazines with breasts pretty much exposed wearing a tiny little bikini top. People are totally fine with that,” Berlien said. “But if you are a mother sitting on a bench at a park and you are showing the same amount of skin, if not less, people are so uncomfortable with that. There is a long way to go in understanding that breast-feeding is not a sexual thing and to view breasts as purposeful. We are mammals. That is what breasts are really for.”
Susan Berlien blogs about breast-feeding at www.warmchocolatemilk.com
FFI: The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breast Feeding: www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/breastfeeding/index.html