If you’re a mama, you’ve likely already heard about the Target breastfeeding scandal. To sum up, a mama attempted to breastfeed her 5-month-old son while seated on the floor of the women’s clothing department at Target and it didn’t go well. The mother, Michelle Hickman, of the Houston-area, reports that even though she was feeding her baby under a blanket cover-up, several Target employees told her to relocate to a fitting room and one employee even said that she could be cited for indecent exposure if she didn’t stop. After complaining to Target’s corporate headquarters, Time magazine reports that Hickman was told by guest relations, “Just because it’s a woman’s legal right to nurse a baby in public doesn’t mean she should walk around the store flaunting it.” Hickman, who was rightfully outraged, told some friends, one of which launched a Facebook group about the Target events. Last Wednesday, breastfeeding mamas staged “nurse-ins” at Target stores across the country in order to raise awareness about public breastfeeding rights. This is far from the first time a breastfeeding mama has been attacked in public. It’s also not the first time nurse-ins have been staged, but a Time magazine piece about the nurse-ins raises an important question – do nurse-ins help change public perspective about breastfeeding in public, or not?
It’s hard to say whether or not nurse-ins raise breastfeeding awareness in an effective way or not. I’m a huge breastfeeding advocate, and breastfed my own son for over a year, without running into too much criticism. I did run into some people who told me I shouldn’t breastfeed in public and it sucked. That said, I’m not sure that nurse-ins alone are all that effective at dealing with breastfeeding stigmas. For one thing, while in my opinion, breastfeeding anywhere is perfectly normal and natural behavior, I’m hard-pressed to honestly say that nurse-ins create a feeling of normalcy. Not once when I was breastfeeding did I see a group of 100+ women gathered in an area breastfeeding. In fact, in public places, in most cases, I was lucky if I ran into one other nursing mama, let alone more than a few.
While I applaud nurse-in efforts, they don’t come off as useful when you’re all alone in public and need to feed your baby. What nurse-ins say to me is that women have to breastfeed in large numbers to be accepted. Seeing as how only 43% of babies are still being breastfed at six months, and 22% of babies are breastfed at 12 months, obviously, large crowds of breastfeeding women are not the norm. Nurse-ins may create a feeling of support among mothers as they happen, but eventually, you won’t have 50 other breastfeeding women standing by your side, and then what? Mothers need the tools to breastfeed successfully alone when they need to. Additionally, I doubt that staged nurse-ins can change the minds of those who are already anti-breastfeeding in public.