Thursday, July 8, 2010
Welcome to the July 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public
This post was written for inclusion in the NursingFreedom.org. All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public ("NIP"). See the bottom of this post for more information.
Ah, cultural differences. As my readers know, we are currently spending the spring and summer in Germany. We also traveled here a bit when Julian was 8 months old. Between those two trips, I've had a lot of opportunity to observe women feeding their babies in public and also to nurse in public myself.
Not a second thought, nary a nursing cover
Based on my own observations and the observations of some of my friends here, nursing in public just isn't an issue at all. People do not give it a second thought. Women sit down and nurse their babies whenever and wherever. Some of them attempt to hide as much skin as possible and some of them don't, but that seems to be based more on personal comfort level than on anything prescribed or expected by society. I have seen plenty of women nursing in public in Germany and I have never seen a nursing cover. I do occasionally see bottles, which could be women who are formula feeding or women who are too shy to nurse in public. But the whole trend of covering both mom and the baby with a hooter hider or similar device, just doesn't seem to have any uptake in Germany.
That said, I rarely see babies over 6 months old being nursed in public and certainly haven't seen any toddlers being nursed in public. Because I haven't been able to find any decent recent statistics on how long people nurse for in Germany, I'm not sure if this is because people only nurse young babies in public or if it is because they all wean early. There seems to be increased acceptance of the recommendation to exclusively breastfeed for six months, but it seems like a lot of people begin weaning off of the breast and onto follow-on formula at the same time that they start introducing solid foods. When I was nursing my 8 month old in Germany, a few friends with slightly younger babies just assumed that since they had already weaned, that I probably would have too. But I also have an American friend here in Berlin who is still nursing her three year old and who says no one looks at her funny when she does it in public. So while Germans may not nurse for very long periods, they generally don't seem to have a problem with the concept of nursing in public and don't have a problem doing it as long as they are nursing.
Attitudes towards nursing in public
Just because nursing in public in Germany seems to be fairly common, doesn't mean that it is universal or universally accepted. So I tried to find some data on nursing in public to back up my observations.
The first poll that I found was on eltern.de, a large mainstream parenting magazine and website. The poll asked mothers whether they nurse in public. The results were that 55% said "Yes, I have no problem with it", 13% said "No, I don't like that" and 32% said "Only if it is really necessary." This poll was answered by 2800, so should be fairly statistically representative of the mainstream parenting community in Germany.
The second poll I found was on gutefrage.net, a website where you can ask a question and get responses from other people. One nursing mother asked people what they think of nursing in public. This one was only answered by 213 people, so not as representative, but it interested me because it was asking the general public and not just other moms. In this poll, 77% said they have no problem with nursing in public (could be nursing moms or bystanders), 15% that they do not nurse in public (presumably only nursing moms), and 8% said they are bothered by nursing in public.
How Germans view Americans
As I was looking for some data on nursing in public in Germany, Google brought me to a discussion board about the United States, but in German. It appears to be a board that is used both by German expats living in the United States and by Germans who are planning to travel, work or study in the United States and are looking for advice from fellow Germans who have done it before. One German mother wrote (my rough translation again):
We want to take our kids (2 years and 4 months) to Florida. Since I'm exclusively breastfeeding the little one, I was wondering what the situation is with nursing in public in the US? Here in Germany, no one looks at me funny and I nurse everywhere (of course I try to sit in the corner so that the little one has more quiet and I also wear practical clothing so that no one sees me naked). I have never been to the States, but I have heard that they can be fairly prudish (like topless bathing not being permitted?!). I've also heard that American women only nurse for a very short time and even then not in public. Of course I prefer to nurse at home in a comfortable chair, but on vacation that won't always be possible. I don't want to be stuck at home and we will be doing a number of day trips where there won't be any option.
What is it like in USA? Can someone help me? Thank you.
There were widely varying responses from Germans living in the United States, ranging from "no one does it" to "my friends and I all do it" and from "its illegal" to "its legal". There were several suggestions to go straight to a store and buy a hooter hider. Sigh.
A story from 1905
After I wrote my post on 50 reasons to breastfeed in public, one of my readers, Karin, e-mailed me a story from a "diary of an infant" written by his German father. The story was written in 1905 about the baby's first train ride (rough translation by me):
Papa had a bottle with a rubber stopper in his bag. The bottle was peeking out of the bag and people were laughing. The people are stupid. If they had known what was in the bottle, they wouldn't have been laughing like that. I found out first hand: it was so-called sterilized milk, disgusting stuff, not drinkable. As soon as I tasted it, I energetically refused to drink this brew and I cried and screamed until Mama decided to do her duty and give me something to drink, something that belongs to me alone and that I like.
(...) In any case, thing started moving and all sorts of grey, brown and green things were going by outside the window, unfortunately so fast that I didn't have time to observe them and figure out what they were. Every once in a while, the train stopped, an "uncle" or "aunt" got out and in their place another one got on. Under these circumstances, they kept trying to use the bottle in my father's bag to get me to be quiet, but "Cheers!" it was meal time. My mother gave my father an embarrassed look and glanced at the strange aunts and uncles as if they had something to say in the matter. The strange aunts and uncles didn't say anything and just looked out the window. I did notice that every once in a while they looked over at me. They were probably hungry too, but then they should go to their own Mama.
To me, this story from Germany in 1905 could, with some modernization of the language, be a story in the United States today. Perhaps one day, American parents will be as comfortable with nursing in public as Germans are now and won't bother packing the bottle "just in case" and giving each other embarrassed looks when the baby insists on being nursed in public. Hopefully it won't take 105 years to get to that point!
Welcome to the Carnival of Nursing in Public
Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit NursingFreedom.org any time to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.
Do you support breastfeeding in public? Grab this badge for your blog or website to show your support and encourage others to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the rights of breastfeeding mothers and children.
This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following days:
July 5 - Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World
July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child
July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.
July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives
July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It