Written by Jodine Chase
Need for privacy shouldn’t derail push to claim public space for breastfeeding
Does the push for “lactation rooms” and other spaces for breastfeeding parents limit or expand notions of public breastfeeding? At a talk at the Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference, Amanda Barnes Cook addresses tensions around breastfeeding in the public and private space.
The landscape for breastfeeding women is changing for women in North America. Over the past decade, employers have rushed to create lactation rooms, convinced of the benefits of reduced absenteeism among breastfeeding mothers. Universities are moving to offer lactation rooms for faculty, staff, students, and visitors
Busy women traveling across the country are starting to push for facilities to express breastmilk or to breastfeed in airports. High-profile incidents where women have been told to cover up or breastfeed in the restroom have led to some retailers and shopping mall operators expanding their comfort facilities to include private areas for women to breastfeed.
Cook says we must ensure breastfeeding is welcome in the public space and not just in places that have stickers saying, “breastfeeding is welcome here.”
Cook says breastfeeding women are tied to their bodies and their babies, and that every person must be able to occupy the public space while embracing all significant aspects of their personhood. She says consideration of the comfort of others can’t have more weight than the needs of a breastfeeding mother and child.
Cook argues, while it is important and welcome to support women to breastfeed by providing dedicated, private spaces, we need to ensure “we are not ghettoizing breastfeeding to the point where it can only take place in those spaces.”
Jodine Chase lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is mother, stepmother, and spouse to the father of 11 offspring, ranging in age from 9 to 39. (“I only gave birth to five!” she’s been known to declare.) She works in public relations, with an emphasis on the health care and energy fields, and is the curator of Human Milk News. She uses her powers for good providing support as a volunteer to breastfeeding causes, both locally and globally. She also works in her community to support the sustainability of mature neighborhoods.