City mothers are becoming more comfortable breast-feeding in public
On cold days last winter, Brelyn Vandenberg would bring her newborn to the Central Park Zoo—but they didn’t go for a typical visit.
“The tropical birdhouse is always 85 degrees, so if I was out, I would just go there to breast-feed in the winter,” said Vandenberg, 32, whose 8-month-old boy is still breast-fed.
At the Met, in parks and on the subway, Vandenberg and other city mothers are becoming more comfortable nursing in public. With awareness campaigns and events throughout August—National Breastfeeding Month—advocates are hoping to make the practice even more natural citywide.
“If we normalize breast-feeding, it’s more comfortable for everyone,” said Theresa Landau, who chairs the NYC Breastfeeding Leadership Council, Inc., and runs the Morrisania Women, Infants and Children program in the Bronx.
At the Morrisania center, Landau and lactation consultants advise local nursing mothers. The facility also runs a peer-counseling program, with mothers helping each other get used to breast-feeding.
“Having a new baby makes a woman a little nervous, we do a lot of reassuring,” said Karla Lewis, breast-feeding coordinator for the program.
Breast-feeding reduces babies’ risk of a host of diseases and ailments throughout their lives and benefits mothers’ health, according to recent studies. But while the American Academy of Pediatrics, federal and city agencies have all pushed for mothers to breast-feed, advocates believe there’s still room for improvement.
A video of a nursing Texas mother went viral this week after a stranger told the woman to cover up for “decency.” In Tennessee last week, an employee of a fast food restaurant asked a mother breast-feeding her 5-month-old to stop.
Mothers in the city still have difficulties pumping milk or breast-feeding at work, advocates said.
“Some of our moms have to go back to work when the baby is 2 to 6-weeks-old,” Landau said. “It’s more challenging for them.”
Under federal laws, companies with at least 50 employees must provide mothers with time and space outside of bathrooms to breast-feed. In 45 states, including New York, mothers can breast-feed in any public or private location where they’re allowed to be.
But some mothers aren’t aware of their rights.
“They are afraid to ask for a place to pump because they’re afraid they’ll get fired for making demands,” said Kathleen Carpenter, treasurer of the breast-feeding leadership council and a breast-feeding coordinator at New York Presbyterian.
Outside of the workplace, Lewis believes the public is becoming more accepting of nursing mothers.
“There’s always gonna be the person that will say something negative,” she said.
Landau said its usually mothers who are most uncomfortable nursing in public.
“It’s moms who really think they’re the center of attention,” she said.
Isamar Lugo, who goes to the Morrisania center, said she was shy about nursing her 6-month-old in public at first, but now she can’t imagine stopping.
“I love the bond that we share when I’m breast-feeding,” said Lugo, 23.
While mothers are legally allowed to nurse any way they want in public, discretion should still be used, said Keri White, author of an upcoming book on etiquette for mothers, The Mommy Code.
“If you’re making someone else uncomfortable, there’s no harm in doing it discreetly,” said White, who sometimes breast-fed her own children in public.
While Landau gives women tips on how to modestly breast-feed at the center, she’s hoping to get rid of nursing stigma completely. Some of the center’s mothers participated in a project where pictures of them breast-feeding were made into life-sized cardboard cutouts.
“I try to push it as much as I can,” said Carmen Gonzalez, 38, who was photographed nursing her 7-month-old for the project.
Despite this and other pro-breast-feeding campaigns, Carpenter still thinks the city has a ways to go.
“Breast-feeding is becoming more common, I’m not sure it’s becoming more normalized,” she said.
Most mothers don’t care either way.
On a packed 1 Train earlier this summer, Lugo’s baby boy began crying hysterically.
“At first, I was like, oh my god, I don’t want to do this here,” Lugo said. “But then, I just decided I didn’t care who was there, and starting nursing him. He stopped crying immediately.”
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