Much of the controversy surrounding nursing in public is about standards of decency, which are actually quite flexible, changing with both time and place. Not all humans, as Toler claims, "freak out" when they see a mother nursing. All over the world, women breastfeed in public and the people around them don't freak out and suggest they find a toilet. People here in the US freak out not because they are human, but because they have been taught that there's something indecent, even disgusting about breast exposure and babies suckling. We live in a hypersexualized culture in which even non-sexual acts have become sexualized and live a Puritanical legacy that makes some of us so squeamish about sexuality that we blame perfectly decent mothers of doing something nasty when feeding their children. Just a hundred years ago, a decent woman wouldn't have exposed her ankle in public. Today, the idea seems absolutely ludicrous. Standards of decency can change and it is long past time for the idea that there's something indecent about breasts exposed in the act of nourishing children to change.
While I couldn't agree more with Toler that breastfeeding can be a special moment with one's baby, it's also just the act of feeding a baby. I do it a dozen or more times a day. Just because I don't find a closet or restroom to nurse doesn't mean that I haven't adjusted my life to accommodate the needs of my children. In so many respects, my life revolves around my children, and indeed much of the time we are out in public, it is in service of their needs for socialization, exercise, food, clothing, medical care, and so forth. Since I breastfeed my son on demand, as all the experts say is best for him, there are many times during the week that he enjoys his meals in public. Because I have learned that he's easily distracted, I do find quiet places for him to nurse when I can, but I certainly don't feed him while sitting on a toilet or hiding in a closet. I honestly feel sorry for Toler and her children that she felt she needed to hide when breastfeeding. How very sad for them all.
I'm completely confused about this statement in Toler's column: "These folks are also entitled to certain rights when they visit the mall and seeing an exposed breast isn’t one of them." Okay, the sentence itself doesn't make any sense, but ignoring the lack of editorial oversight at the Daily News, what right is she talking about exactly and where is it described in the US or any state Constitution, other statute, or court ruling? Because if we're talking about this issue in terms of rights, the fact is that most states in the Union have statutes that specifically protect the rights of mothers to nurse in public, exempting them from whatever indecency laws might otherwise apply to public breast exposure. I believe the 5th circuit court in California said it best:
Nourishment is necessary to maintain the child's life, and the parent may choose to believe that breastfeeding will enhance the child's psychological as well as physical health. In light of the spectrum of interests that the Supreme Court has held specially protected we conclude that the Constitution protects from excessive state interference a woman's decision respecting breastfeeding her child. (650 F.2d at 787)
States shouldn't interfere with mothers decisions about breastfeeding and neither should folks like Timmi Toler. Breastfeeding is such an important public health issue, it is appalling to me that people continue to say on the one hand that they support breastfeeding, but on the other shame mothers and suggest they hide themselves in closets when they feed their babies. So many babies in the United States spend critical developmental periods being sick thanks to formula that they cannot easily digest. So many of them never reach their full potential as adults because their IQs are lower than they would have been had they been breastfed. So many health dollars are spent on people with pneumonia, botulism, bronchitis, staphylococcal infections, influenza, ear infections, German measles, Crohn's disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Hodgkins disease, leukemia, osteoporosis, allergies, and asthma, who may never have become ill if they'd been breastfed. So many babies die of SIDS who may have lived had they been kept close to mom at night and breastfed. So many families whose budgets are already stretched would have a $100 or more a month to spend on food, clothing, and rent if they didn't feed their babies formula. So many of our world's finite natural resources would not be wasted on making and washing bottles and artifical nipples if more mothers breastfed. So many hardworking mothers and fathers could spend more quality time with their children, rather than mixing formula and sterilizing bottles, if their babies were breastfed. We need to do so much more to encourage mothers to breastfeed. Telling them to stay in the closet, literally, can be nothing but discouraging.
Shame on you Timmi Toler. You're the one who desecrates breastfeeding by continuing to espouse the notion that there is something indecent about it, not those of us who feed our babies when they're hungry, wherever we happen to be. We who nurse in public are are not making an "in your face" point, we're just taking care of our children. Stop trying to shame us and leave us in peace.