By Briana J. Jegier
In 2017, on my annual Black Friday family shopping extravaganza, I took my exclusively breastfeeding 5-month-old. As a working mom to three kids, I brought them whenever possible because pumping/expressing can be awful.
My guy was a trouper through hours of shopping. His stroller became a bag holder as he snuggled against my chest. Then, he whimpered, his tiny fidgets indicating he needed a snack. Finding a quiet place, I sat, tucked him under my shirt, and pulled the stroller in front so he could snack peacefully.
Browsing social media, I glanced up to see two older women change their course, heading right for us. As they got closer, one loudly complained it was gross that women do “that” in public.
At the time, I had four-plus years of breastfeeding experience and am a professional in the field. I still froze, feeling we were not safe. It was a few seconds and only words, but it stayed with me for weeks as breastfeeding in public felt unsafe.
I’m lucky that later I made a snarky social media post and my supporters were outraged. However, for too many, that moment might have ended their breastfeeding journey as that lack of support became the straw that broke them.
August is U.S. National Breastfeeding Month. It is fitting that the theme is “Empowered Parents & Partners” with the #supportchangeseverything hashtag.
Empowerment and support were important for me and should be the cornerstone of all policies and practices where we live, work, worship and play. Research overwhelmingly demonstrates breastfeeding, whether from the parent or a donor and received at breast/chest, in a bottle, or some other way, is one of the most influential experiences for families. We should empower and support breastfeeding, including for those not breastfeeding at all.
Increasingly we are, as adherence to best practices grows and the World Bank indicates support is one of the single best investments countries can make. We also finally have laws in all 50 states assuring it is legal to breastfeed in public and private.
However, we have work to do as 60% do not meet their own breastfeeding goal. We hear stories, like mine, of harassment for breastfeeding in public spaces, of discrimination or hostile workplaces, of grief for breastfeeding relationships that were cut short.
These experiences disproportionately impact families of color, who are less likely to receive support and more likely to be offered formula regardless of their stated intentions. I challenge everyone to start today to do their part to make stories like mine a relic of the past.
Briana J. Jegier, Ph.D., is an associate professor of health services administration at D’Youville College.