Gina Kaysen Fernandes: Breastfeeding may be a beautiful thing in the eyes of the beholder. It's an intimate act between a mother and child that allows them to emotionally and physically bond. While few would dispute the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby, not everyone wants to witness this lactating lovefest.
"I am all for breastfeeding. It is the most natural thing a mother can do. But I also believe in some sort of decorum," says Monica, who is childless by choice. Monica recalls feeling very uncomfortable in a grocery store when a mother of twins promptly latched on her little ones by lifting up her T-shirt and letting it all hang out. "I know it is food for your baby. But it's completely unnecessary to whip out your big boobs while standing next to me in the grocery checkout line. It is also unnecessary for you to glare at me when I cast you a dirty look. Hello? Ever heard of a blanket?!," said Monica.
Should standards of decency exist when it comes to feeding mama's milk?
"People aren't doing this to be exhibitionists," says Andi Silverman, author of the book "Mama Knows Breast" and the blog, mamaknowsbreast.com. "Nobody wants to expose themselves. They want to feed their baby and do it in a way that's comfortable for them and is respectful of the general public." Andi believes there are some places where breastfeeding is not appropriate, but in general, "given the choice, most people would rather not hear a hungry baby crying. Feed the baby and the crying stops," said Andi.
A whole cottage industry has cropped up in the business of covering up. There are designers devoted to selling nursing shirts, tank tops, and dresses. The loudly colored nursing smocks go by names like Hooter Hiders, Bebe Au Lait, and Lila Bean. The covers are a great solution for the mom who may feel too modest to nurse in public or would otherwise choose not to breastfeed because of issues involving her breasts. The accessories are a simple way to take care of your baby's business without making it anyone else's business.
Is breastfeeding toddlers healthy -- or wrong?
Nursing toddlers raises the debate to a whole other level. There's more public acceptance of nursing infants who rely on their mother's milk for all nutritional needs. But once they've got teeth and are eating solid food, nursing becomes more of a comfort food than a staple. Witnessing children who can "help themselves" and actually request it by name can make strangers a bit squeamish. "If a kid can ask for the boob -- it's time to wean. I'm sorry but breastfeeding is for infants, not your 2-year-old," says Monica.
While that may be the public's perspective, "nursing toddlers is very common," said Andi, who adds, "This is about mothers doing what they think is best for their baby's growth and development. It's not a choice about the mom, it's a choice about their baby." The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. At six months, other foods should complement breastfeeding for up to two years or more.
"Lactivists" and the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009
"Yes, breastfeeding activists, called lactivists, say this is a human right and appropriate everywhere because it's natural. Well, so is masturbating, but I generally don't do that at Applebee's ... Look, there's no principle at work here other than being too lazy to either plan ahead or cover up. It's not fighting for a right, it's fighting for the spotlight you will surely get when you go all Janet Jackson on everyone and get to drink in the 'oohs' and 'ahhs' from the other customers because you made a baby, something a dog can do."
While Maher's rant borders on the absurd, it appears that "lactivists" are indeed a force to be reckoned with. Congress is considering a bill called the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the bill earlier this month that would protect breastfeeding mothers under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If passed into law, it would require employers with 50 employees or more to provide private spaces and time off during the workday for moms to pump milk.