Got Breast Milk?

A growing number of states and cities have a message for people who get squeamish about seeing women breast-feed their babies in public. And that ...
by | February 19, 2006

Nurse_here A growing number of states and cities have a message for people who get squeamish about seeing women breast-feed their babies in public. And that message is this: Get over it.

South Carolina is the latest to consider promoting breast-feeding by clarifying that nursing one's baby in public does not constitute indecent exposure. Last October, Chandler, Ariz. passed a local breast feeding ordinance--overturning an administrative rule that would have subjected women to criminal penalties for not covering up. According to NCSL, 38 states now have breast-feeding laws.

I'll leave aside the well-documented benefits of breast-feeding. What's more interesting, I think, is how moms across the country have derived the clout to turn all those subtle disapproving glances into a winning political issue.

My guess is that nursing moms owe a lot of their recent success to the Internet. Mom (and dad) support groups are blossoming all over the web, inspiring collective action on niche parenting issues that might not otherwise get much attention.

Here in Washington, the site everyone talks about is called DC Urban Moms. Friends of mine who regularly lurk on that site tell me that pro-breast-feeding forces use the site to organize "nurse-in" protests at businesses where public feeding is frowned upon. One such event happened a couple of years ago in the DC suburb of Silver Spring, Md. Some 30 moms simultaneously descended upon a Starbucks and breast-fed their babies, to protest the fact that a mom had previously been asked to nurse in the restroom. The protest even made MSNBC. (Pictures of the event are here.)

I'm sure there are other reasons for the growth in legal protections for breast-feeding. In South Carolina, for example, public health officials are also promoting breast-feeding as part of an effort to combat childhood obesity.

But it's hard to imagine that nursing mothers would have found so much political traction on this issue ten years ago. The ability of lots of people to band together, not only to make a point but to make the news, is a pretty powerful thing.