Breastfeeding in the city

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For something that's supposed to come "naturally", breast feeding sure can be difficult. Mechanics aside (and getting a perfect latch is anything but easy in a culture where women seldom have opportunities to really LOOK at a baby nursing properly), there's the whole social question of boobs.

Because breasts make people uncomfortable.

I fully admit to feeling this way myself before I gave birth. I obsessed for hours about how I would feel about nursing my newborn in front of my Dad or out at a cafe. If you don't see it very much, it's hard to feel okay about something, even if it IS natural and encouraged (at least on paper) by the mainstream medical establishment.

I won't even get into the medical, physiological and psychological benefits to both mother and child from breast feeding. Google it. There's a list as long as my leg.

I will say this though-- breast feeding success rates (both in terms of whether moms try to breast feed at all and also how long they continue to do it) are highly dependent on the support they get. From partners, family members, friends and yes, from their cities and society in general.

Which is why I adore Montreal. Thank you Montreal for legally protecting my right to breast feed wherever I desire.

No one can tell me to cover up or leave or force me to nurse my baby in a toilet stall.

Do you realize what a huge gift this is?

I have nursed my son on park benches, in cafes, in a sports garment store, in a sling while walking our dog. On public transit, at the Jazz Festival, during lectures and at the library. And while I am certainly no exhibitionist and make every attempt at discretion, I have never used a nursing cover or gone to great lengths to cover my breast while my child drinks milk.

I have never ONCE been asked to cover up. In fact, I have had women of all ages come up to me clap me on the back, share their own nursing stories, and reminisce about their babies (now all grown up). On one memorable occasion, a total stranger, seeing me crouched along her hedge trying to nurse my fussy baby, invited me in to her house (with my dog attached to my waist!), sat me in an armchair and brought me water and snacks. A total stranger!

By nurturing a new mother, you allow her to better nurture her child. And perhaps even help other mothers who may be less confident than she is.

By protecting my right to breastfeed and creating a culture of friendliness instead of hostility or shame around the act, Montreal has led me not only to continue to breastfeed my son past the age of two years (as mandated by the World Health Organization), but to indulge in my own form of activism.

Call it lactivism.

I am now deliberate in my choice to not use a cover while nursing. Because if enough people see enough women out nursing nonchalantly, it will become... normal. Like ankles. Or shoulders in tank tops. It's cultural. And I want to do everything I can to shift our culture to be more inclusive of nursing mothers and babies. Oh and toddlers too!

That way, women will get to see what nursing actually looks like. Hopefully, fewer will struggle when it’s their own turn to breastfeed because it’s not some crazy foreign thing that, while it may feel instinctual, is at least 50% learned skill!

Breastfeeding is also cheap (counting the minimal expense of feeding the mother extra or hiring a lactation consultant), demonstrably healthier (which leads to savings in our healthcare system) and convenient (nothing to buy, heat up, sterilize or wash).

The money saved certainly adds up and I can tell you that breastfeeding (instead of spending on formula) allowed me the privilege of staying home with my son till he was 19 months old instead of returning to work at 12 months. Saving money and putting less stress on the breadwinning partner in a family is not an inconsiderable benefit.

I’ll conclude by saying that new motherhood is hard. It was physically, mentally and emotionally the toughest thing I  had to endure in my life. It is filled with joy and love and wonder, sure, but a lot of that is dependent on a new mother’s support system.

If we shame women and force them to stay home to breastfeed, we'll be isolating them when they are at their most vulnerable. Which means they'll have far fewer resources to nurture their even more vulnerable babies. And we’ll be increasing a new mother’s risk of postpartum depression, which takes a toll not just on the family itself, but on our healthcare system and society as a whole.

So thank you, Montreal, for having my back. For being the sort of city where the foolish security clerk who dares to call out a nursing mother is likely to be lampooned on local television. For taking a sizable step towards normalizing a culturally taboo act and making the world a safer, more caring place for  mothers and their little ones.

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