Tell Starbucks to Enact and Publicly Announce a National Corporate Policy that Mothers will Not be asked to Leave, Cover, Move, or Hide when Breastfeeding their Babies
Nursing in Public in the News
Mothers who breast-feed in public should be applauded, experts say
By CAMILLE WHEELER
Cox News Service
AUSTIN, Texas ~ Don’t cover up.
That’s the message some nursing experts are sending to women who breast-feed their babies.
There is no direct medical evidence that covering a baby’s face during breast-feeding increases health risks, including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,said Dr. Susan Landers, a fellow of the New Jersey-based Academy of Breast-Feeding Medicine, and Dr. James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at Notre Dame.
But mothers who feel ashamed might abandon breast-feeding and choose to bottle-feed, Landers and McKenna said, decreasing health benefits to themselves and their babies. A groundbreaking study published earlier this year indicates that nursing can reduce the risk of death, including by SIDS, for babies younger than a year old.
The two experts spoke out in the days after a recent incident at a Round Rock, Texas, restaurant, where a breast-feeding mother was refused service because she wouldn’t cover herself with a blanket or towel.
“We need to create a culture within which all kinds of moms feel comfortable breast-feeding,” McKenna said.
Breast-feeding numbers are growing nationwide, but America still has one of the lowest breast-feeding rates among developed countries, even though at least 28 states, including Texas, generally protect a mother’s right to breast-feed in public.
But experts say the cleavage clashes with a culture that worships sex, such as the breast buffet at Hooter’s or TV characters who flash with maximum exposure. That’s a deviation from the strait-laced Victorian age, when it wasn’t unusual to see a photo of a breast-feeding mother showcased above the fireplace.
“It’s just our current confusion about what the breast is for,” said Dr. Ruth Lawrence, a University of Rochester professor and nationally recognized researcher. “Stylewise it’s being exposed more and more. But somehow, if you associate it with breast-feeding, people are getting more and more concerned.”
In November, Round Rock resident Mandy Harrell was refused service at the 620 Cafe & Bakery for nursing her 10-month-old son at a table. Owners Jeri and Scotty Stroup said customers shouldn’t have to look at exposed breasts.
Harrell, who defended her right to breast-feed in public, said much of the feedback she received was negative.
She said one anonymous letter read, “Keep your breasts in the bedroom.”
Harrell said some embarrassed women might opt for bottle-feeding.
“Most women (after childbirth) feel fat, they feel unattractive, and they worry about doing everything right. And when someone asks them to cover up, it can be devastating,” she said.
That’s why mothers shouldn’t be booted from public places for breast-feeding, Landers said.
“You wouldn’t ask a mother who’s bottle-feeding to go into the bathroom or put a blanket or sheet over them,” she said.
The Mother Friendly Worksite Program, a division of the Texas Department of Health, encourages mothers to breast-feed. But they should remember that society doesn’t always back them, perinatal coordinator Chan McDermott said.
“There always is that possibility that she’s going to offend somebody,” McDermott said.
Only 29 percent of U.S. mothers breast-feed their babies longer than 6 months, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health.
When you add in the number of mothers who breast-feed for 6 months or less, that figure grows to 70 percent, said Dr. Walter Rogan, co-author of a 2004 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences study showing that all breast-fed babies could be at lower risk of dying during their first year.
According to research cited last year in the American Journal of Public Health, babies who are breast-fed for less than four weeks are five times more likely to die of SIDS than those who are nursed for more than 16 weeks.
Exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months and prolonged nursing afterward benefits children by reducing the occurrence of diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia and meningitis and decreasing the risk of obesity, leukemia, asthma and lowered IQs, according to the Journal of Public Health. Mothers who breast-feed longer also see lower breast cancer rates, the Journal said.
Scotty Stroup, the 620 Cafe & Bakery owner, said Harrell simply took it too far.
“This whole thing was not about breast-feeding,” he said. “This is about showing your (breasts) in public in a family restaurant. She had on a real tight shirt. She peeled that thing up to her neck and exposed her breast so everybody could see, and then put the child on it and left herself exposed.”
Harrell disputes Stroup’s claim, saying she was discreet and wore a loose-fitting blouse.
Stroup said he’s received his own share of negative feedback about the incident, including a letter from a woman in Atlanta who called him “ignorant and stupid.”
“We’ve been in this market since 1982, and we’ve had thousands and thousands of breast-feeding mothers as our customers,” he said. “Don’t drop your pants in here, and don’t pull your top up and show us what you’ve got.”
A breast-feeding promotional campaign launched by the Health and Human Services Department and the Ad Council mirrors other efforts nationwide.
Lawrence breast-fed all nine of her children, beginning in 1951. Those were modest times, she said, but it wasn’t always possible to be discreet.
“There were times I had to chase the 2-year-old into the front yard, and you just press the baby to your front,” she said.
Camille Wheeler writes for the Austin American-Statesman.
For more information on breastfeeding go to:
www.lalecheleague.org or www.breastfeeding.com
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