In the four months that T has been breastfed, I’ve discovered that many establishments offer “nursing rooms” for mothers who need to feed their babies… I’ve used quite a few of them, and I have developed some thoughts/ideas about them that I’d like to share.
The nicest nursing room I’ve ever used was at my parents’ church on Easter Sunday. They had a room off of their nursery that had two gliders set up (with rocking ottomans, too! Scooooore!) and a side table between them (which was perfect for the giant glass of water I had John fetch me). There was a bathroom available in the room, and a changing table in the nursery area that was easily accessible. It was extraordinarily clean. There was also plenty of room for any older siblings to play. It was lovely to nurse T there. There was only one other mother in the room while we were there. She wasn’t nursing, but her 6-day-old baby was upset so she left the service to comfort her.
I think these rooms can be so great for a woman who is not comfortable nursing in front of others or who has a very easily distracted baby who may need to be in a quiet, boring place in order to actually eat his meal.
I also think these rooms can be an annoyance/frustration to women who are comfortable nursing in public, but feel (or are told) that they must isolate themselves in a nursing room since it’s available… After all, public nursing should be avoided at all costs.
Personally, I fall into the second category. T is a champion nurser, and I’m comfortable discreetly nursing in front of others. I’m a social person by nature, and I’d likely be more of a mental case than I already am if I had to leave public areas every 2-3 hours to feed my son. The isolation would get to me very quickly.
There is also another reason I generally choose not to use a nursing room. It’s a far less popular reason, but I feel very strongly about it: Normalization. Breastfeeding will never be a socially accepted norm unless people see it more often. Growing up, I saw a woman breastfeeding exactly once. I was at the home of a childhood friend, and his mother was babysitting my sister and me for the afternoon. She was sitting on the couch nursing her youngest son while the rest of us played. I was confused by what she was doing, as I had never seen it before. She explained that babies are breastfed by their mothers, and that satisfied my curiosity for the moment.
After that experience, I was 18 before I ever saw another woman nursing her baby. I was the nanny for two wonderful little boys, who at the time were tee-tiny infants. About T’s age, actually. They were breastfed. I remember thinking it was weird and uncomfortable, and I felt awkward about it. Of course, after a month or so, it seemed like the norm to me. I’m quite certain that if I hadn’t seen those beautiful mothers nursing their babies on a regular basis, my own breastfeeding experience would be sorely different.
I know I’ve stated before that 75% of mothers in the US start out breastfeeding. By the time a baby is three months old, the number of breastfed babies has dropped to 33%. Anyone who has ever attempted to breastfeed can tell you: it doesn’t come naturally. Sure, it’s the most natural thing in the world, but because we don’t see it every day, it doesn’t come naturally. We don’t know how to position the baby, what a “good latch” looks like, how often or how long newborns feed, or how breastfeeding is supposed to feel. We don’t know these things because we don’t see them or talk about them. Breastfeeding mothers are sent to the “back room” to nurse, so we rarely have the opportunity to witness a nursing baby.
In other cultures, where breastfeeding rates are much higher, nursing in public is not taboo, breasts are not over-sexualized, and nursing mothers and babies are celebrated, there are very few women who “can’t” breastfeed. I’m convinced that this is because they don’t have to learn how to nourish their babies. It comes naturally because their entire community was breastfed. Seeing mothers nurse is a daily occurrence. They have an entire female population to go to with questions about the mechanics of breastfeeding. They don’t need Lactation Consultants. Breastfeeding is the norm.
Now, I’m not on a one-woman crusade to normalize breastfeeding in the US (okay, that’s a lie. I am on a one-woman crusade to normalize breastfeeding in the US), but I think there is something to be said when you look at those statistics. When the majority of women who want to breastfeed but feel they can’t because of cultural obstacles and medical misinformation give up within three months, it should be a wake-up call to successful nursing moms that we need to help each other out.
We have to teach each other and encourage one another through the ridiculous obstacles nursing mothers (and all mothers, really) face. We have to work together to help our society see that breastfeeding is the normal, natural way to feed babies. It may be cliched, but it’s true that we have to, “be the change we wish to see in the world,” so to speak. And that, my fair readers, is why I generally choose not to use a nursing room.