Women are constantly subjected to unsolicited criticism and shaming for how and where they choose to feed their babies. While the choice is entirely theirs, loved ones and strangers (even doctors!) alike seem to believe that they’re entitled to share their own (often unkind or forceful) suggestions. If a mother is unable or chooses not to breastfeed, she’s often made to feel guilty or inadequate. If she does breastfeed, she’s likely to at some point be told to cover up or go somewhere “more private.” If covering up is how she feels most comfortable, she may even receive backlash for that.
It seems that no matter how a mother chooses to feed her child, she faces societal pressures and shaming that desperately need to be eradicated. Now that Utah and Idaho have finally passed laws to protect nursing mothers, breastfeeding in public is officially legal across the United States — something that nursing mothers are forced time and again to remind judgmental strangers of, especially when they’re finding themselves breastfeeding in some unusual places.
Below, real moms share their worst confrontations with breastfeeding shamers, and how they’ve channeled those experiences into the fight to normalize breastfeeding.
In line at Disneyland
Brittni Medina was waiting in a long line with her 10-month-old son to get their picture taken with characters at Disneyland when he grew hungry. “I wasn’t going to wait in another line again. So I took off my first top and nursed,” she wrote on Facebook. “These women were making snarky comments so I moved from my spot to catch a picture with these characters. Not for attention for me but attention to the fact NO WOMEN SHOULD BE SHAMED FOR FEEDING THEIR BABY UNCOVERED,” she continued.
While the responses to her post were mostly supportive, some women encouraged her to be more discreet. “Disney policy and the law fully support me,” Medina responded. “Boobs are not sexual!” She pointed out, “Am I normally this ‘exposed’ when I feed my son? No! But not all moments as a mother are glamorous!”
“I never expected the picture to go viral,” Medina said, but she sees it as realistic and hopes that it can help to normalize breastfeeding in public. “Obviously it’s not the best one of me but I love it because again not all mom moments are [glamorous].”
At the doctor’s office
Jennifer Howard was shocked after her new doctor asked her to cover up while breastfeeding during a check up to discuss postpartum depression. Howard’s 3-month-old daughter started crying during the appointment, so “I did what any mom would do: I picked her up and attempt to nurse her,” she told KOIN News.
Her doctor immediately stopped her and asked if she had a cover, which prompted her to ask if she’d heard him correctly. “And he said, ‘Yes, to cover yourself while you’re breastfeeding.’ I said, ‘Well, no doctor has ever asked me to do that before,’ and he said, ‘Well, it’s a rule we have to prevent lawsuits from something inappropriate,'” Howard said.
After she found a cover in her bag, the doctor took it from her hands and proceeded “to hold it up and shield me while I got my baby latched, and then, he took it and covered me and my baby with it,” Howard shared.
Howard later called the clinic’s patient services only to learn there was no such policy in place. She decided to file a complaint with the clinic and asked for a new doctor, but her request was refused. She’s sharing her story in hopes of helping to normalize breastfeeding in public. “Parenting is hard enough as it is, and we don’t need this. Women don’t need this,” she said.
At Buffalo Wild Wings
As Bobee Carroll was nursing her 3-month-old daughter at a Buffalo Wild Wings, the restaurant manager approached and asked if she had a cover, as it was making their waiter uncomfortable. When Carroll informed her that she didn’t have a cover, the manager offered a fleece blanket, to which Carroll replied that it was illegal to tell her to cover up.
Louisiana state law allows women to breastfeed in public, and it is considered discrimination to stop them from doing so.
Carroll and her husband were later put in touch with a corporate representative for the chain, and Buffalo Wild Wings’ parent company, JK&T Wings, Inc. & Subsidiaries, also emailed them to apologize for the incident. “We are certainly going to take this opportunity to educate and prepare our Team Members throughout our entire system, in order to show discretion and sensitivity in these matters in the future,” Jean Lanfear, the company’s vice president of human resources, said in the email, according to KTAL.
Afterwards, Bobee organized a sit-in at the restaurant in order to raise awareness, rather than protest the location. “We’re just going to be a bunch of moms enjoying our dinner and taking care of our babies,” she said. “We want breastfeeding to be normalized. It shouldn’t be sexualized. We want women to know their rights and we want the companies to know they can’t interfere with that.”
At the gym
While participating in a “parent and tot” gym class with her almost-2-year-old daughter, Monica Makey took a break to breastfeed. She was quickly stopped by an employee who told her her “breast milk could stain the mats,” and that she couldn’t nurse in that area because of the gym’s food and drink policy. Makey then asked if she could breastfeed in the area where the kids keep their water bottles, but was again turned down.
While the gym’s co-owner later apologized to her in person and the facility issued an apology on their Facebook page, Makey’s frustration over how the incident was handled remains. “Many people believe they are supportive of breastfeeding but most do not understand that it is our legal human right to breastfeed WHEREVER and WHENEVER — no exceptions. Especially not because of a ridiculous ‘food and drink policy,'” she wrote on Facebook. “I ask that you please SHARE this post in hopes of educating everyone on this very important matter. Clearly, work still needs to be done in supporting and normalizing breastfeeding.”
Stephanie Hicks filed and won a discrimination case against the Alabama state police department after they demoted her and refused to provide proper breastfeeding accommodations when she returned from maternity leave. She had been forced to pump in the station’s locker room, which she said “was awful.” She continued, “Sitting there by the shower stall, where the dispatchers and the public could walk in. Somebody was always asking what I was doing.”
Her coworkers often called her radio while she was pumping, telling her to “wrap those boobs up” and get back to work. “I felt defeated,” Hicks said. “Breastfeeding is hard enough in itself, especially your first time. You finally get the hang of it and then you face all these obstacles. And to have zero support, you feel almost embarrassed — like why am I even doing this?”
She explained that she decided to sue in order to help other working moms. “So many people have reached out to me and said they were treated similarly, whether they were paramedics or teachers or bank tellers,” she said. “They all say the same thing: I was afraid, I couldn’t afford to quit my job, I didn’t want to be retaliated against. Fighting the system is very hard.”
In a wedding invitation
A nursing mom shared in the Breastfeeding Mama Talk Facebook group that she was planning to attend the wedding of her husband’s best friend — until she received the invitation, which included a special note to those breastfeeding. “To all our mommies who are breastfeeding, we are thinking of you; we are sensitive to the fact that you may need to breastfeed during our event, therefore we have designated an appropriate place for you to feed your baby so that you do not have to do so in public in front of our Family and Friends,” part of the notice read.
The mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, felt confident that she was the only one to receive the note, as the bride had previously “voiced that I need to go elsewhere to do that in ‘private!'” She mused in her post, “I still can’t see why a nursing mom is ‘banished’ to bathrooms or other areas unless she chooses to go there for HER and BABY [sic] comfort.” The post garnered almost 800 shares, with fellow mothers voicing their support and outrage over the incident.
Ashley McCall organized a nurse-in at a Walmart in Idaho after she was kicked out for breastfeeding her infant son. “I sat down on a bench, in a fairly secluded area, and started trying to nurse him,” McCall wrote on Facebook. “After about five minutes a clerk came up to me and asked me to leave. I asked if I could take him to the bench in the bathroom and was told that it would be better if I just took him home.”
Idaho, at the time, was the only state without laws in place to protect nursing mothers — but Wal-Mart’s policy permits breastfeeding in stores. McCall ended up nursing in her car, where neither she nor her baby were comfortable, she said.
“Babies should be able to nurse whenever they’re hungry, wherever they’re hungry, and however they and their mom are most comfortable,” McCall told PEOPLE. “Nursing parents in Idaho need laws that protect them,” she continued, which was why she organized the nurse-in. “That’s what I’m fighting for,” she added, “Babies need to eat. Plain and simple.” Her efforts were not in vain — Idaho officially passed laws in line with the rest of the country to support public breastfeeding in February 2018.