2016-08-17 / Front Page

Op-Ed:

In Support Of Rights To Breastfeed In Public
By Fernea Moyo, MSN, FNP-BC, RN-BC

Why does society shame women for public breastfeeding? As a mother, and a midwife who once breastfed, nothing is more phenomenal than a woman bringing forth a life and nurturing that life through the most natural way, breastfeeding. Babies are the most vulnerable and defenseless of our population, and depend on mothers for sustenance.  I have been a nurse for 32 years, 25 of them as a midwife overseas and a labor/delivery room nurse in New York City. The last four years I have been working as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) in a medical/surgical unit, but that has not diminished my passion and dedication to the welfare of women and children.

Various organizations, including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Nurse Midwives, support breastfeeding as an unparalleled way to provide nutrition to infants, ensuring their survival. These organizations recommend exclusive, on-demand breastfeeding for at least six months, and for as long as a mother needs thereafter. Health benefits include less incidences of diarrhea, ear and respiratory infections and sudden infant death. Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Mother-baby bonding is the psychosocial benefit of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is cost effective as it is free; families can save $1,500 annually that would otherwise be spent on formula. It is eco-friendly, since there are no packages to discard after feedings. The Surgeon General made a call to action to support breastfeeding in 2011, urging society to promote and support breastfeeding mothers.

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, promotes this healthy practice by stipulating provision of time by employers to breastfeeding mothers. The Department of Health and Human Services initiative, Healthy People 2020 objectives also identify breastfeeding as a public health-promoting and disease-preventing initiative.

In 1994 New York State signed the Civil Rights Law section 79-e, permitting mothers to breastfeed in public/private locations. In 2004, this law was amended by bill S245.01 to include breastfeeding, even with the nipple showing, not to be considered indecent exposure.

Implementing this law has been hampered by hostility from society. Women continue to be shamed for breastfeeding and I was one of those women. In 2001, we went to a restaurant with my two-month-old daughter. Not wanting to offend anyone, I requested a corner, secluded table for privacy, but was denied. When my daughter started fussing and demanding a feed, I complied, and immediately a waiter was by my side telling me “you cannot do that here.” When I asked her where to “do that,” she directed me to the bathroom. When I calmly asked her if she ever takes any of her meals in the bathroom, she indignantly replied, “of course not.” My answer to her was, “then why should my daughter eat in there, when you do not?”  Fortunately for me, I knew the breastfeeding law, and told the waitress, and her manager who had come to stand over me to support his employee. I proceeded to feed my daughter. At this time, we were offered the secluded table, which I graciously declined.

Society is offended by public breastfeeding, when women’s breasts’ primary biological function is breastfeeding. I think society inappropriately places sexual connotations on breastfeeding. People eat in public without being shamed, but a baby is denied the same right. NY law 2505-A passed in 2009 is about a Breastfeeding Mother’s Bill of Rights being posted publicly in maternity centers, public and private places. Breastfeeding ensures healthy babies, yet there is no enforcement provision for these laws. It is disappointing that society remains uncomfortable with a baby feeding, to the extent that we need laws to protect breastfeeding. When a baby is healthy, families save money that would otherwise be spent on formula and medical costs. Breastfed babies have fewer healthcare visits, medication costs and hospitalizations. Baby formula makers will oppose this promotion, since they do not want to lose revenue, but breastmilk is the best food for human babies. Restaurants and shopping malls might oppose public breastfeeding, but if they look at the longterm benefits, they will realize that being “breastfeeding friendly” can boost their revenue. A breastfeeding mother welcomed in a restaurant is likely to return, and bring family and friends. As a society, let us not deny a baby’s right to eat. Let us get more people educated on the advantages of breastfeeding. We cannot afford to fail.

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