Please, Breastfeed in Sacrament Meeting (or wherever you want)
You probably saw in the news last month that the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its breastfeeding guidelines – suggesting that women should be encouraged to breastfeed till their babies are two years old. But, the AAP says that there are some things society needs to do to make that happen:
“Policies that protect breastfeeding, including universal paid maternity leave; the right of a woman to breastfeed in public; insurance coverage for lactation support and breast pumps; on-site child care; universal workplace break time with a clean, private location for expressing milk; the right to feed expressed milk; and the right to breastfeed in child care centers and lactation rooms in schools are all essential to supporting families in sustaining breastfeeding.”
This is an equity issue. As the AAP put it:
“White, Hispanic or Latino and Asian families initiate breastfeeding at higher rates than the Black population in the United States, according to the 2018 National Immunization Survey (NIS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similar disparities are also seen among mothers with low income (participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children [WIC]); younger women ( younger than 20 years); and those with a high school education or less. The policy statement calls for addressing implicit bias, structural bias, and structural racism to eliminate disparities in breastfeeding and improve the health and well-being of all children and families.”
I’ve had three babies with very different breastfeeding experiences based on my work, my environment, and my church:
- Born in 2011 in Provo, UT
- Every nursing mom I knew nursed their babies under covers and in hiding
- I was working on my Master’s degree at BYU and had no maternity leave (but felt grateful baby was born in the summer). The days when I had to be at school I trekked across campus to one of the few designated breastfeeding rooms to pump – often struggling to carry/balance my school work and all my pump parts and ice and cooler and everything
- I remember a family party with my husband’s extended family where upon entering I was shown a quiet secluded room to breastfeed. This felt nice and thoughtful to me. I never considered how odd it was that I was expected to leave everyone at the party to nurse
- Baby was fully weaned by 4 months
- Born in 2014 in Eugene, OR
- Every nursing mom I knew nursed their babies wherever and whenever they wanted – except the Mormon moms. Just the Mormon moms made sure their boobs were well hidden
- I worked at an exceptionally baby-friendly work environment where my nursing baby was welcome to come to work with me and all my coworkers loved her
- I had untreated postpartum depression
- When the baby was a couple months old I was nursing her in the church mother’s room along with far too many women for the tiny closet of a room to accommodate (women were on the floor). I came home and sent my bishop a super friendly email explaining the situation and asking if there was another room that could be made into the nursing room. He said he’d talk to the stake president and figure it out. The next week I walked in and someone had pushed the 2 rocking chairs against the wall so they couldn’t rock and put out folding chairs lined up right next to each other. The chairs were so close to each other that babies would kick each others heads if anyone tried actually nursing in those chairs. My first thought was, “I was so stupid for thinking that a simple email would solve this problem.” The bishop saw me in the hallway and told me he’d been told the issue had been taken care of. I explained how awful the solution was. The guy who had put the chairs in walked by feeling proud of himself and saying he’d fixed the problem. I told him the problem wasn’t fixed. He suggested women nurse in the bathroom or their cars. I cried. And I told the bishop, “Kate Kelly was just excommunicated for saying there is inequality in the church. This is that inequality. Women aren’t allowed to make decisions about the building so we’re stuck here.”
- I decided it was ridiculous the only place I wasn’t nursing a baby in public was at our so-called “family-centered” church. I started nursing anywhere I felt like at church (which, unsurprisingly, never happened to be the bathroom or the church parking lot) and I never entered the nursing room again.
- Baby was fully weaned at 11 months
- Born in 2021 in Eugene, OR
- Every nursing mom I knew nursed wherever they felt like. Except probably some Mormon moms, but I wasn’t going to church because of the pandemic so I really didn’t care.
- When I did go back to church, I still didn’t care and nursed wherever the heck I wanted. There’s something that’s been liberating for me about having a baby in my 30s (compared to my 20s). I really just don’t care what other people think of my parenting practices
- I worked with my doctor and mental health therapist to really get my PPD under control so that it was quite unnoticeable after a couple months postpartum
- I was in a PhD program at the University of Oregon and my graduate employee job allowed me 6 full weeks of paid maternity leave plus another month of unpaid leave. Then, because of the pandemic, I was 100% working from home for the first 6 months, then still spent a lot of time at home after those six months (only going to campus for a few hours a couple days a week). I had a nanny who brought the baby to me whenever she needed to nurse. The facilities manager on campus made sure I had a private office with a mini fridge inside for the days I did need to pump
- The baby is now 17 months old and still nursing
Just as the AAP suggested, paid maternity leave and flexible work environments definitely helped me breastfeed longer. The AAP also mentioned the “right of a woman to breastfeed in public” as an important aspect of all this. I’ve always had that right, but I think additionally having that norm has helped immensely. I found Oregon to be much more friendly to breastfeeding moms than Utah was 11 years ago – except at church. At church, I realized that to make breastfeeding a norm, I couldn’t comply when that old white guy told me to nurse in a bathroom.
As the AAP suggested in their report: This is a feminist issue. This is a socioeconomic issue. This is a race equity issue. We need to be willing to make this the norm.
So, for me, I’m nursing in Sacrament Meeting – week after week after week. No matter what any old white guys say.