For the moms who came down to Shore Road Park to participate in “Public Display of Breastfeeding Day,” the calculation was a simple one – since their babies were born, between two and eight months ago, they had simply spent too much time sequestered in bathrooms and other out-of-the-way locations doing something that they believe they should be able to do comfortably, if discreetly, in public: feed their babies.
So, on the sunny morning of Thursday, August 15, there they were, on blankets on the grass adjacent to the playground at 79th Street, feeding their babies the way nature intended, some with cover-ups draped across them, others discreetly slipping their blouses aside so their infants could feed while they laughed and chatted and shared snacks among themselves.
“Breasts are so sexualized in our culture then suddenly you become a mom and they become functional,” noted Heather Tomoyasu, the founder of Bay Ridge Baby Mamas, who recalled, when her son was first born, feeling awkward about nursing. “You don’t want people to judge you. Then there’s modesty. You’re so paranoid someone is going to see something.”
Brianna Hatcher concurred. She too has headed to the bathroom to feed her son, a situation she said she finds frustrating. “It’s quiet, but at the same time, I don’t want him to eat in the bathroom.
“I want nursing to be normalized,” she went on, “so I don’t want to be private, but I want to be comfortable, and it’s hard to find the balance between the two.”
Georgia Johnson said that, having grown up in the United Kingdom, she was completely used to public nursing. There, she said, “People breastfeed in buses. It’s completely normal to me, so I thought it was odd when I found out it was a kind of stigma here. We wouldn’t eat in a bathroom, so why would we expect a child to?” Nevertheless, she said, when she nurses in public, “I try to be respectful, so I put a cover on.”
The good news is that Bay Ridge – where at least one eatery, Chiquitita on Fifth Avenue, has a sign in its window indicating that it is “nursing friendly” — has been a bit of a haven for the nursing moms.
One mom made a point of saying that she hasn’t felt awkward nursing publicly in the neighborhood. “I haven’t had a problem,” she said. “Bay Ridge is very accommodating. Nobody gets freaked out. I normally use a cover but it’s nice not to have to worry about it. A lot of time, people don’t even realize what you’re doing.”
While the Bay Ridge moms were in the park, locations nationwide were also hosting events around the theme of public display of breastfeeding sponsored by Boppy, a manufacturer of breastfeeding pillows, and The Bump magazine as part of National Breastfeeding Month.
In cities around the country, stores scheduled events for the day with giveaways and other incentives for breastfeeding moms to attend. But, said Tomoyasu, while there was one in Manhattan, that wasn’t convenient for her so she decided to start an event, right in her neighborhood.
The facts are on the moms’ side. Breastfeeding is natural – as natural as childbirth – and salutary, as demonstrated by the numerous health benefits, short and long-term, that it conveys.
Noted the federal Centers for Disease Control in 2010, breastfeeding provides, “the most complete form of nutrition for infants, with a range of benefits for infants’ health, growth, immunity and development.”