Breastfeeding in Public and Workplace

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Abstract

Breastfeeding in public/workplace is a controversial topic because people see breastfeeding as inappropriate. Breastfeeding reminds them of what the purpose of what breasts are. This paper will discuss the importance of breastfeeding, breastfeeding in the workplace and the pros and cons of breastfeeding in the workplace. It will also discuss breastfeeding in public and the pros and cons of breastfeeding in public. Lastly, this paper will consider what to recommended practice and what professionals can do to help support the mother with breastfeeding. It will then lead into, personal stance on the topic of breastfeeding in public/workplace.

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Introduction

Mother’s have been breastfeeding their babies since the 15th century. What is wrong with feeding a baby? There is nothing wrong with feeding a baby. When a baby has breast milk, it is healthier for the baby. Breast milk is more robust for a baby because they will have fewer illnesses, fewer gastrointestinal illnesses, fewer allergies, asthma, and ear infections. Breast milk is also more natural for the baby to digest. Breast milk is more natural, and it helps protect the baby’s immune system. When a mother breastfeeds, she isn’t putting chemicals into the baby. The mother is also more aware of what she is consuming, so she can keep her baby healthy. It also creates a closer bond when the mother breastfeeds her baby. “Babies need to feed frequently; human milk is low in fat and similar in content to other mammals who feed their young at intervals. Therefore, mothers with children breastfeed as they go about their daily activities” (Lisa Amir, 2014, pg 1). This sounds simple. Instead, breasts are seen as a sexual thing, that so many people are offended by the sight of a woman feeding her child. They see it as somehow sexual and thus inappropriate to do in public.

“Many cultures consider the female breast primarily as a sexual organ, and therefore a private part of the body, which needs to be invisible in the public arena” (Amir, 2014, pg, 2). People see breastfeeding as inappropriate because it reminds some people what the purpose of what breasts are. When people see a woman showing her breast in a bikini or a low cut shirt, the reaction is wow nice or what a slut. When a baby is attached, it is used as sexualizing the act. Like the breasts are intended for foreplay and babies don’t fit into that picture. This is why some people will shame the women for their guilty misconceptions. What some people don’t realize is that breasts are meant to breastfeed babies. You see people sexualize breasts for many things on TV, posters, advertisements, and jobs. So, people assume because they’re used for all of that it’s inappropriate when feeding a child when it’s not inappropriate. Breastfeeding in the workplace vs. in public is very different. Most mothers feel more comfortable breastfeeding in the workplace than in society. Mothers are more comfortable breastfeeding in the workplace because they can breastfeed in a private area. In public, when a mother breastfeeds, she isn’t always able to breastfeed in a secluded area. When she is breastfeeding in general, there also might be individuals who are either supportive or have something negative to say about it. In the workplace when the mother is breastfeeding or pumping, she knows who her coworkers are, and she knows that her coworkers won’t judge her while she is breastfeeding. Breastfeeding in public and the workplace is a very controversial topic.

In a study done by Ingrid Johnston-Robledo, Stephanie Wares, Jessica Fricker and Leigh Pasek there were two hundred and seventy-five female undergraduates who completed a survey. In the survey the women were asked questions such as what their attitudes of breastfeeding were, and any concerns that they might have of breastfeeding. (Johnston-Robledo et al., , 2007). In the article the authors mention objectification theory. Objectification theory states “in a culture that objectifies a sexually mature women’s body, women are socialized to view and evaluate their bodies from the perspective of an outside world” (Johnston-Robledo et al., 2007, pg. 430). When some women are seen like this they might start to have anxiety or have depression. In the study that the authors did they had the participants indicate whether the women were going to breastfeed, formula feed. They were also asked how long they planned to breastfeed. The participants rated eight items using a likert scale that ranged from 1-7. An example of something that they rated was a picture of a woman breastfeeding. The results of the study found that 51% of the women planned to formula feed and breastfeed, 29% were going to breastfeed exclusively, 11% weren’t sure and 9% were going to formula feed. (Johnston-Robledo et al., , 2007).

The women who planned to breastfeed were going to breastfeed for at least 8.4 months, while those who were planning to breastfeed and bottle feed were going to for at least 5.5 months. The findings from the study were the women who had a more positive attitude toward breastfeeding weren’t as worried that breastfeeding would be embarrassing. As for the women who had a higher score, they viewed breastfeeding negatively. In another study that was done by Michele Acker, 106 students participated. Of the 106 who participated in the study, 33 were males and 72 were females. The ages ranged from 18-72 years old. “Participants were told that the purpose of the study was to investigate how dress and behavior influenced perceptions of people; however, the study actually explored reactions to a woman breastfeeding in either a public or private setting” (Acker, 2009, pg. 481). The participants who were shown a picture of a mother breastfeeding in private, the mother breastfed in her own home. Whereas the participants who were shown a picture of a woman breastfeeding in public, the woman was breastfeeding in coffee shop. (Acker, 2009). Once the participants saw each picture of the person, they were asked 6 questions. The questions were split into three different parts which were positive evaluations, negative feelings, and normalcy. The results from this study showed that older participants and males offered more support toward a breastfeeding woman. The older participants also saw breastfeeding as normal compared to the younger participants. (Acker, 2009).

In an article by Emma Brown that was in the Washington post a mother who is a school teacher was returning from summer break. The school was simply two weeks into the new school “All Anna Johnson-Smith wanted was some time each afternoon to pump breast milk for her infant” (Emma Brown, 2015, pg. 1). The principal of the school denied the kindergarten teacher’s request which resulted in her having to choose between her baby or her job. She decided to quit her job. Some challenges that working mothers face are a private place to pump at work. Legally, your workplace should have a place for you to pump, that’s not a bathroom or closet, and a separate fridge for you to store your milk. This usually doesn’t happen much. “While pumping at work is a hassle for many women for teachers, it can feel nearly impossible. Privacy is scant in a school building full of children, and classroom schedules are busy and inflexible” (Emma Brown, 2015, pg. 2).

The same article also mentioned that some teachers would help out their coworkers and cover their classroom so the mother can pump or breastfeed. Sometimes teachers have to use their lunchtime so they can pump or breastfeed and hope that they don’t get disrupted. Some employers are not supportive of women breastfeeding in the workplace like the one mentioned in this article. In the article, the author also mentioned that a high school teacher in Miami pumped while students were working on some schoolwork. Sometimes if your employer won’t let you pump or breastfeed at work, you have to work around those issues. Pumping is a huge hassle if you are away from your baby. You have to arrange it with your employer to fit a schedule like a feeding schedule in, and then they have to provide you with a room for you to pump in. Most employers don’t have a space set aside for a breastfeeding mother to pump or even breastfeed, so that can become a hassle. The mother in this article wanted just 15 minutes during the day to pump at work, but instead, the principal made her choose between the job or her child. “Although breastfeeding mothers do not need a large space to pump milk, they do need a private space with a locking door and access to a sink with clean, running water. This may be a dedicated room or an office” (Mills, 2009, pg. 229).

The room that the mother pumps it should have a comfy chair that she can sit in. It should also have a power outlet so that the mother can plug in the pump. There are many pros and cons to breastfeeding in the workplace. A few cons to breastfeeding in the workplace are that mothers may not have a private place to breastfeed their baby. The environment that the mother is breastfeeding it may not be supportive. Another con is the employer may not provide a fridge for the mother for her to store the milk if she decides to pump, while she is at work. It can also be stressful because you have to make sure you get time to breastfeed or pump. Mother’s may not get the time to breastfeed, while they are at work if they do it may not be at once every day. There are many pros in breastfeeding in the workplace. One advantage is that breastfeeding promotes bonding. When a mother breastfeeds at work, it helps her maintain her milk supply. Another advantage that the mother has when she breastfeeds in the workplace is that she becomes more confidence in herself. Depending on where the mother works, her coworkers will be supportive of her breastfeeding. If a woman is working in a hospital setting, her coworkers will most likely be supportive of the mother breastfeeding. Another pro, the mother is more productive at work because she doesn’t have to worry about the baby.

Some people feel uncomfortable when women breastfeed in public. Some breastfeeding mothers even feel awkward breastfeeding in society because of reactions that they might get from the audience. In one article by Candace Mulready-Ward and Martine Hackett titled “Perception and Attitudes: Breastfeeding in Public in New York City.” In the article, some women stopped breastfeeding because they had difficulties breastfeeding or their baby was not gaining enough weight. In the same article the authors found that residents of New York City were having trouble deciding between if breastfeeding should be done in private or public (Mulready-Ward & Hackett, 2014). Many, didn’t have a problem when a mother did breastfeed around them (Mulready-Ward & Hackett, 2014). Some people are comfortable breastfeeding in public. Other people have different opinions about breastfeeding in public. Even if a mother feels comfortable breastfeeding in public, they might need a private area where they can breastfeed their baby. Some people use breastfeeding covers, but some mothers don’t like or believe that a breastfeeding cover is needed. Mothers who are breastfeeding need a more quiet and private place for the baby to nurse. The baby can get distracted easily, so which can make it difficult if the mother is breastfeeding in public. In the article titled “Breastfeeding in public: “You can do it?” by Lisa Amir discussed how some women have “anxiety about breastfeeding” (Amir, 2014, pg 2.). The anxiety that the mother has reduces the amount of time that she will breastfeed. For some women, they are worried that someone will challenge their right to feed their baby.

They want a peaceful, tranquil bonding experience while they feed. If someone says something rude, the mother will become stressed, and the baby will feel that tension. That not only creates stress for the mother but creates a subconscious negative experience for the baby. Some mothers’ felt more comfortable breastfeeding in a park because they can be in a group situation rather than being in a park and being alone (Amir, 2014, pg 2). The mother will use the blanket to cover up her baby while she breastfeeds. In another article that is titled “Public Beliefs about breastfeeding Policies in Various Settings,” the authors found that some mothers wanted some privacy while they breastfeed in public. The authors in this article also mentioned “Establishing lactation rooms in shopping malls or public buildings could help reduce some of the barriers to breastfeeding in public places” (Li, R., Hsia, J., Fridinger, F., Hussain, A., Benton-Davis, S., & Grummer-Strawn, L. , 2004, pg. 1163). In another article by Jessica Sillers, she mentioned that at first, a mother might be uncomfortable breastfeeding in public. She gave some advice on how to feel comfortable breastfeeding in society. Some strategies that she suggested were: practice in your own home, surround yourself with other mothers who are also nursing and go to an environment that is baby friendly. She also advised what to do if someone is unsupportive.

The advice that she gave if someone is unsupportive would be to ignore them and walk away, find someone who can support you when it comes to breastfeeding. As breastfeeding in the workplace has its pros/cons. Breastfeeding in public has pros and cons. Some drawbacks to breastfeeding in public consist of people not being supportive. They might tell the mother to move to a different area, or that person might look away when the mother is breastfeeding her baby. While the mother is breastfeeding, the baby might get distracted by other things or people around them. We can’t stop someone from being rude to the mother who is breastfeeding, but if they are unkind, then the mother can get up and walk or that person can as well. Another con to breastfeeding in public is people might stop and stare, and if they do smile and don’t say anything. A few pros to breastfeeding in public are it doesn’t cost any money. The mother can breastfeed anytime and anywhere when she is in society. The baby doesn’t have to wait to eat. Another pro is not needing to hook anything up to an outlet and not having to prepare anything.
If people are unsupportive of a mother breastfeeding in public, we should educate them on why it is essential. You can also align yourself with breastfeeding women. If someone is rude, move between them and the mother. Offer a nod or a smile. Be assertive, polite and kind to folks who are uncomfortable. The bottom line is, we have a legal right, in all 50 states to breastfeed wherever and whenever that baby needs to feed. You wouldn’t tell a mother who is bottle feeding their baby to stop, then don’t say to a breastfeeding mom to stop feeding their baby in public. In California, there are many breastfeeding laws. If a mother who is pumping or breasting and is a working mother, she should talk to her supervisor. A breastfeeding mother shouldn’t be shy to speak to their employer, because most likely they will want to meet her needs.

An employer can be clear about supporting a mother who wishes to breastfeed by clearly, including it in their employee handbook. The employer can also provide the mother with a place for her to pump during business hours. The mother who is breastfeeding can talk with other mom’s. Professionals can also give mother’s resources on where they can go to get support if they need any help or have questions to breastfeeding. If a new mother does not get the support that she requires of breastfeeding she may stop breastfeeding altogether. Professionals should also support all moms, regardless of how they feed their babies. The professional should be honest with the mother. Breastfeeding can be hard and often doesn’t come “naturally.” Fathers should be included in discussions of what breastfeeding entails, and how they can support their partner in breastfeeding. Professionals can also advocate for breastfeeding moms, including educating the community at large of the benefits to breastfeeding, and of the right that breastfeeding moms have. They can also create comfortable and supportive environments that offer moms the opportunity to connect, such as going to first 5 playgroups, child care programs which include family child care homes. Professionals can also work with caregivers in supporting the families who are in their programs. Professionals should not push mothers to use formula so quickly; they should spend more time with the mother at the hospital encouraging her to breastfeed. Professionals should also offer more at home appointments, and offer more classes that teach the mother how to breastfeed, while she is pregnant.

I believe that a mother should feel safe and be able to breastfeed her child in public without feeling offended. Babies need food too, just as much as adults. If you think about breastfeeding from a male’s perspective breasts are sexualized, so they don’t want to see them as anything else. I don’t think that a breastfeeding mother should have to go to a different area to breastfeed her child. If someone isn’t comfortable with the mother breastfeeding their child, then they can move away from the mom. A few years ago, I ran into a young woman sitting on a milk crate in a filthy room. The room was in a building, and it had a restaurant and a McDonald’s. There was a men’s and women’s bathroom in the basement. This was meant to be the bathroom for both business employees. The women’s, bathroom was located under the dishwashing room for the restaurant. I realized that she was sitting there pumping. I didn’t want to embarrass her. I wanted to encourage her to breastfeed because my mom breastfed my brother and me and I knew that it was important. I told her to hang in there, and she was doing the best thing feeding her baby with mother’s milk. She nodded but didn’t seem to want to talk. I expressed my sadness to her because she had to pump in gross surroundings. She didn’t want her coworkers to know what she was doing though. I said to her, so are you trying to hide out here? She said, since the bathroom is filthy, her women coworkers don’t use it. I told her that she shouldn’t be embarrassed. She teared up and said; she wished there was elsewhere she could go. I wanted to find somewhere for her. It made me sad to think that every day she was sitting in a filthy basement bathroom every day pumping milk for her baby. I’m sure; she was giving up her lunch to do this as well. All while making a minimum wage and treated like a robot.

The young mother stuck it out for four months. She told me where she worked, and I told her to ask the restaurant waitresses if she could use their locker room. Still, in the basement, but maybe cleaner. The restaurant found out and nixed that idea. The young mother, unfortunately, gave up and stopped pumping. I hope she was at least able to keep breastfeeding at home. Even, if her employer didn’t provide a decent place to pump, what if there were a place she could go to? Clean, private, with a chair and outlet. It wouldn’t take much. Not everyone is privileged enough to have a private office, or personal space to pump in. Low income, mothers are least likely to breastfeed, even though it’s free. How can we encourage a mother to breastfeed in public? We can’t force a mother to breastfeed in general, but if she wants to breastfeed, we shouldn’t discourage it. I believe I believe that it is the mother’s choice. If a mother wants to breastfeed in public, we shouldn’t stop them from doing it. I don’t think the public should tell a breastfeeding mother to move into a different area. If someone doesn’t want to see a mother breastfeeding in general, then they can move to a separate area. Babies need to eat just as much as adults. More colleges and even public places should have a private place where a mother can breastfeed her baby. We need to do more so that mothers’ feel comfortable breastfeeding in public. Before new parents leave the hospital, they should be able to get any questions answered that they may have about breastfeeding. Many mothers stop breastfeeding if they don’t have the support. Sometimes a mother might not breastfeed her first child because she had difficulties with the baby latching, but after she might decide to try again and breast her second child.

Conclusion

This topic is very controversial. We can’t make a decision for a mother to breastfeed in the workplace or in public. If a mother wants to breastfeed in public, we should let her. We can’t deny baby food if they are hungry. If someone is going to be rude to the mother, that person should move away from her. Everyone is not going to be supportive when a mother breastfeeds, especially in public but all we can really do is tell them that it’s not up to them. It’s up to the mother. It is essential to take into consideration the pros and cons of breastfeeding in public and the workplace, but in the end, it’s up to the mother as to what she wants to do because it is her body.

References

  1. Li, R., Hsia, J., Fridinger, F., Hussain, A., Benton-Davis, S., & Grummer-Strawn, L. (2004). Public beliefs about breastfeeding policies in various settings. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 104(7), 1162-1168. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2004.04.028
  2. Johnston-Robledo, I., Wares, S., Fricker, J., & Pasek, L. (2007). Indecent Exposure: Self-objectification and Young Women’s Attitudes Toward Breastfeeding. Sex Roles, 56(7-8), 429-437. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9194-4
  3. Acker, M. (2009). Breast is Best…But Not Everywhere: Ambivalent Sexism and Attitudes Toward Private and Public Breastfeeding. Sex Roles, 61(7-8), 476-490. doi:10.1007/s11199-009-9655-z
  4. Mills, S. P. (2009). Workplace Lactation Programs. AAOHN Journal, 57(6), 227-231. doi:10.1177/216507990905700605
  5. Amir, L. H. (2014). Breastfeeding in public: “You can do it?”. International Breastfeeding Journal, 9(1). doi:10.1186/s13006-014-0026-1
  6. Mulready-Ward, C., & Hackett, M. (2014). Perception and Attitudes. Journal of Human Lactation, 30(2), 195-200. doi:10.1177/0890334414524988
  7. Newsletter Sign-up. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://californiabreastfeeding.org/breastfeedingrights/breastfeeding-at-work/
  8. Brown, E. (2015, August 02). Teachers learn a lesson in loopholes when it comes to pumping breast milk. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/breast-may-be-best-but-teachers-dont-have-the-right-to-pump-at-work-in-many-states/2015/08/02/9f6daa64-36d0-11e5-9d0f-7865a67390ee_story.html
  9. https://www.ameda.com/milk-101-article/breastfeeding-in-public/
  10. https://www.cnn.com/2014/08/29/living/breastfeeding-attitudes-parents/index.html
  11. https://motherhow.com/breastfeeding-in-public/
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Breastfeeding in Public and Workplace. (2021, Feb 26). Retrieved October 1, 2022 , from
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