The April issue of Philadelphia Magazine has a note "Bottle Report: Why Philly Doesn't Suck" by Victor Fiorillo, on p. 28, that says Philadelphia is one the country's worst cities for breastfeeding. "It finished 48th out of 50 and earned an F." Later we find this:
According to the Fit Pregnancy report, only half of local mothers attempt breastfeeding, with less than a tenth continuing for the six months recommended by the AAP [American Academic of Pediatrics]. Meanwhile, in places like Portland, Boston and Minneapolist, as many as 88 percent try, and up to a quarter stick with it.
The article suggests that hospitals are not encouraging new mothers to breastfeed. I have some qualms with this conclusion. The hospital where I had my children offered a suite of prenatal classes, included one on breastfeeding, and a lactation consultant visited postpartum moms to see how they were doing. This may not be common throughout the region, but I think there are other factors at play.
The public reaction to breastfeeding mothers may be one of those. Whenever I read in the paper (or on blogs) about nursing moms, there is almost invariably a strong "ick" overtone. As someone who has actually been involved in this activity from both perspectives (though my memory of being the recipient is very fuzzy, and I stopped providing years ago), I thought I’d add my two cents.
First off, regardless of the health benefits and opportunities for emotional bonding the activity provides, there is definitely an “ick” factor involved, but not the way most people think. It’s just messy, and most of the women I know who gave their infants an organic diet felt a little bovine in the process. The attire required for nursing isn’t the most appealing, and leakage is a definite worry.
Second, on the public aspect of feeding a baby, this is often less by choice than by necessity. Let me expound on that. Very young babies need to feed often and even older babies feed regularly. Trying to plan a life around this is tricky. It took considerable planning for me to attend a friend’s funeral between feedings and even then I had to dart out early. Breastfeeding seems to be an acceptable reason to get out of jury duty because when I filled it out on the form no one got in touch to say it wasn’t. If you want to go on an outing that will take more than a couple of hours and you have primary care of the baby (as most nursing mothers do), you have to take the baby with you and, chances are, you will have to feed the child while out.
Pump a bottle or two, you say? That might take care of the baby but it doesn’t help mom much. Remember the law of supply and demand? If the supply line is used to making a delivery every two or three hours then, let me absolutely assure you, it can get very uncomfortable, and sometimes more than a little embarrassing, if you can’t make a scheduled delivery.
But why does that mean women are draping a blanket over their shoulder and putting junior on the feed in public? Primarily because there aren’t any other options. When I was home with each of the little Janes and wanted to get out of the house the local mall seemed a good place to go. It is climate controlled, relatively safe, has places to sit and eat, and provides opportunities to walk around and stretch the legs. Unfortunately it did not provide a quiet place to feed the baby so my trips were few and short. There was a designated breastfeeding stall in the ladies room. You could sit on a hard bench and feed the baby while listening to people evacuate their bowels and empty their bladders in the nearby stalls. Who wouldn’t rather find a seat near some greenery, turn sideways away from traffic, and give the kid a snack?
Where does the King of Prussia Mall (KOPM) come in? When the youngest little Jane was an infant we decided to drive over to the KOPM because we’d never been there and it seemed a baby-friendly outing. However, it was a trek and trying to get there and back between feedings was out of the question. So, there we were, in Restoration Hardware (or something like it) when the baby got the urge and maternal instinct responded. We needed to find a place and fast. I asked at the information booth if there was a mother’s room or something like it. Some months earlier I’d spent the day with a friend who had just had a baby and the mall near her had a designated room, with comfy chair, side table and privacy screen, as well as bathroom facilities. I though KOPM might have something similar. The woman at the information booth sent me to the family restroom. It had a toilet, a sink, and a changing table. I could sit on the toilet and feed the baby or sit on the floor and feed the baby. Neither was appealing. So I put the baby on the changing table and did the deed in a sort of crouch. To get a sense of this, get a 10 pound bag of flour and put it on your kitchen counter, lean over so your chest is near the flour. Put both hands under the flour and bring it up to your chest. Now hold that position for at least 15 minutes. How comfy is that? Wouldn’t it be easier to find a wooden bench near a corner and try to sit so that no one could really see what you were doing? You could have a bottle of water or a fruit drink there to sip and everyone could take their time.
In both malls I wanted to storm the management offices and say “Hey, I’m a woman with a steady stream of disposable income and you’ve just chased me away!!!!” Had I been able to comfortably and modestly take care of my child in either retail arena, I would have visited often and probably continued the habit after the baby was weaned. As it was, I haven’t been back to the KOPM and seldom go to the mall near my house.
My experience was some years ago and both places might have changed their facilities. Maybe there is an area designated as an informal nursing mothers area, at least during daytime hours when you see more moms with babies around. Since I haven't really been back it's hard to say for sure. All I know is, when it was my time things were not very inviting and that’s what I think of every time I see one of those diatribes against women nursing in public. The only other option is just to stay home; in that case those retail areas just completely lose an audience that they otherwise might want to cultivate.