Nurse In

October 5, 2017

In 2005, Barbara Walters spoke on The View about her discomfort with nursing in public and particularly called out an incident on an airplane where a woman nursed her baby next to Ms. Walters. A group of parents and activists gathered outside the studio in a peaceful protest. I was pregnant with my third baby and was excited to be part of this nurse-in.

Much has changed over the last decade. Breastfeeding is promoted by celebrities and is seen as a good thing generally speaking.

As an IBCLC I mentor up and coming Lactation Consultants.


I was contacted by, Perrine, one of my interns last week. She told me that her friend was asked to move and to cover up at a store in Columbus Circle. Perrine is from France and wanted to know what the rules and laws are in the US and NYC.
The laws are clear, you have a right to breastfeed where you have a right to be in NYC.

My first thought was, “we need a good old fashioned Nurse In!”
Perrine was thrilled. Thrilled to be able to stand up for her friend, to do something that could effect change and to take action.
It was easy to put together. A quick Facebook event and a bit of sharing.
Last Friday, September 29, just before 10:00am I arrived at the Shops at Columbus Circle and the first thing I noticed just outside the store were these beautiful twelve foot Adam & Eve sculptures by Botero.
They are impressive bronze statues that are nude. Of course, Adam & Eve are nude.
I find it ironic that a woman wanting to feed her child in the most normal manner is told to turn away so no one can see her while twenty feet away from these colossal nudes.

By 10:10 several moms and babies arrived at the atrium and gathered in the shadow of the Botero sculptures. A camera man from a local news station walked into the mall. I asked him if he was there for the nurse in. He was but told me he could not film inside the mall. We walked outside the mall and he began to focus his camera on me. A security guard approached us and told the camera man he could not film there. The camera man told him he had cleared it with head of security and to go ask him. As the guard swiftly went in search of his boss I spoke into the camera. I told whomever would be listening that it is important to normalize breastfeeding and that people should not be shamed for feeding their babies. I said that the breast is overly sexualized and that people in our culture cannot separate the sexual from the simply functional.

Back inside as we all gathered I was approached by a man in a suit whom I assume was the head of security for The Shops. Our exchange went something like this:

Him: Hi, what is going on here?”
Me: “Oh, my friends and I are going to do some shopping at Williams Sonoma. And, we may feed our babies if they get hungry.”
Him: “alright.” He nodded his head and smirked a knowing smirk.

We walked into the festively decorated shop, it smelled of cranberries and roasted turkey. We were offered tastes of their mulled cider. It was delicious.
A baby started to wiggle and her mom said her baby was ready to nurse. We were standing next to a beautifully appointed table and I asked an employee if my friend could sit and feed her baby. She smiled and replied, “of course.”
Then other moms pulled out the chairs and nursed their babies. It was beautiful and peaceful and ordinary. I watched the moms one by one get comfortable in their act of “defiance.” A bit sheepish at first then, one by one, easing into a setting of just a few moms sitting around talking and nursing and admiring the beautiful décor.

I asked if I could take their pictures. One of the moms was at first shy about being photographed and then as time went on she said, yeah, I can be photographed. She smiled and looked up at me and said, “I am a Lactavist!” She held her head a bit higher and she beamed at her baby and at herself.

I decided to “out” us. I asked the woman who allowed us to use the table and chairs if I could speak to a manager about an incident that had occurred earlier in the week. She seemed genuinely disturbed that there was an incident and got the manager immediately.
August is a tall man with dark hair pulled into a neat ponytail. He approached me and when I told him of the Perrine’s friend he was upset. He wanted to know which employee it was who had made this mom so uncomfortable. He assured me that the store policy is that a person can feed their baby anywhere and they do not have to hide or cover up. This was heartening and I wondered if I had made a big deal out of an isolated incident.
I approached the moms some of whom were nursing their babies and others whose babies had drifted off into milk drunkenness.
When I told them they were happy. They commented that they were happy to be a part of something.
I realized this is important for them, for the store manager, for the employees, the head of security and the channel 7 camera man.
This was not a big rally but it had an impact. The ripple effects will carry on. The social media sharing that happened continued throughout the week. Every little bit makes a difference. I cannot be quiet when it comes to social justice. I may not always have the right things to do or say but I will not sit idly by and let people be harassed for feeding their babies.

We quietly dispersed, I went home, got my gear and went to see a couple of families in their homes to help them feed their babies. Just another Friday!


Ban The Breast Burka

February 23, 2011

Katherine, a new mom, called me to discuss her milk supply. She was concerned with keeping up the demand of her baby. Then she asked me other breastfeeding questions. She was not sure how to nurse Sadie outside of her house. She thought it was because she needed her “special pillow.” The truth is she doesn’t know how because few women really breastfeed in public anymore.

There was an orangutan at a zoo in Boston. The zookeepers mated her and she became pregnant. Ms. Orangutan had been raised in captivity. She had not lived among sister orangutans so she did not know what to do with her baby when he was born – the baby orangutan died.

The second time around the zookeepers asked volunteers from the local chapter of La Leche League to nurse their babies in front of the primate.  When the second baby was born the primate placed her baby in her arms backwards but with some guidance from the staff quickly learned to feed and care for her baby.

This is how we learn. We observe the behavior of others. When I was a pregnant with my first baby I had met a few breastfeeding mothers along the way including my sister-in-law. I took a breastfeeding class to learn as much as I could before my baby arrived.

When Phoebe was born she was placed in my arms and we nursed for the first time for about twenty minutes. And then we nursed  – a lot. I felt awkward. I fumbled to unlatch my nursing bras, some of which were too big, some of which were too tight and one that broke. I bought dowdy nursing clothes. I wore button shirts. I still felt awkward. Phoebe was born on a hot summer day.  I am a gregarious person. I am best chatting with a group. As a new mother I felt isolated. I hungered for company

That summer we had a few social events – a wedding, an engagement party – “showing off our baby” weekends. I noticed that wherever I went the host always had a “nice air conditioned room with a comfy chair” for me to go and nurse Phoebe. And Phoebe nursed all the time. I was even isolated in my socialization.

Sandra, my brother’s wife had recommended attending a La Leche League meeting. The meetings had been a great resource for her as a new mom. I found the meetings helpful but even more important were the lunch dates after the meetings. Phoebe and I joined other nursing moms monthly at the Thruway Diner. We always sat at the big round table in the center of the bustling eatery. Six to ten moms and their babies smack in the middle of business suits, ties, skirts and silk blouses.

This is where I learned to nurse out and about with confidence. I watched the moms with older babies. I saw unspoken communication between them. I saw how a baby might start to wiggle a bit and like Houdini the mom had unhooked her bra, lifted her shirt and latched the baby in seconds flat. It looked effortless and it also looked like there was a baby in her arms – no breasts hanging out, no cover ups – simply a babe in arms. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to feel that assured. I wanted to look that smooth and at ease. As I expressed my envy at their mastery they all assured me that they too had been awkward. They encouraged me to nurse Phoebe in front of a mirror and I did. I grew confident in my ability to nurse Phoebe whenever she needed.  At the next social gathering Phoebe started rooting and I said to Rob, “I am going to nurse her here.” He put his arm around me and kept talking. From there I declined offers for the “air conditioned room with a comfy chair.”

I eventually became a La Leche League leader and then lactation consultant. I gave birth to two more children. I nursed them all over the place: the bus, the subway, Saks, Barnes & Noble, fancy restaurants, diners.  Usually no one except other mother’s knew I was nursing. I was not hiding behind anything just nursing my babies.

When my youngest child, Finn, was about 6 months old I was at the pediatrician’s office for a well check up. In the waiting area were two new moms discussing a new product they had just discovered – “The Hooter Hider” one of them said in an embarrassed giggle. Then I started seeing breastfeeding covers everywhere. This was the antithesis of the Thruway Diner experience. A baby begins to fuss, the mother searches her bag for the cover, the baby fusses more, the mother opens the cover, ties it around her, by now the baby is wailing, the mom fumbles with the cover and the baby, the baby kicks about, perhaps not wishing to be under a tent. Now everyone knows what is going on under the fabric.

How challenging this makes everything. Breastfeeding by its very nature is designed to be simple. We have complicated it. We have made it shameful and difficult.  Like the orangutan new moms today have no real life positive breastfeeding images.

Courtney, another new mom, asked me a question about nursing in public. I asked her,

“ Do you have any friends who are breastfeeding?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“So go hang out with them, learn from them,” I offered.

“They use a cover or expressed milk in a bottle.” she answered.

“Go to the thruway diner!!!” I want to scream. But that was another time, another place.

I walk down the street and look into the windows of Victoria’s Secret, American Apparel and Abercrombie + Fitch – this is our provocative world yet we must put a tent around us to feed our babies? We flaunt our breasts to sell products. Breasts are sexy – until they become functional. Then we hide them.

A few years ago I could spot a breastfeeding mom because I had a keen eye and I had been there. Nowadays anyone can tell a breastfeeding mom – she is the one hiding behind the overpriced piece of calico.