The Seattle Breastfeeding Examiner recently published an article titled Would You Like A Mobile Breastfeeding Vehicle On Call In Seattle? — a write-up about a breastfeeding truck that will soon be rolling around the streets of Pittsburgh, PA. The truck’s founder, Jill Miller, explains it as a “Mobile breastfeeding unit that enables women to feed their babies anywhere and anytime.” It is a fancy decorated ice-cream truck, with “cozy chairs and shaded canopy” that is also complete with a giant boob on top!
How does this work, you ask? Well, let’s say a nursing mother is inside of a restaurant or other establishment and has baby along and baby gets hungry. Let’s say baby starts to fuss, or whatever babies do to signal they want to eat and mother says “Hey, my baby is hungry. . . better feed it!” Then, let’s say mother initiates breastfeeding in the establishment and the owner or other worker sees someone with the gall to feed a hungry baby and decides it is unacceptable and begins to harass mother, saying something along the lines of “Hey, put that away. Shape up or ship out!” Well, then mother says something along the lines of “I don’t have to take this. I’m calling the Milk truck!” So mother sends a text message, which summons the Milk truck and a group of supporters who rush to the distressed two (or more) who reconvene feeding, bonding, and living happily ever after. Sounds like a dream; a heroic act, right? Who needs Superman. . . or, Superwoman, right? What’s the problem? Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a problem, per se. And to say this is a bad idea may be just a bit harsh. Perhaps though, maybe I am a bit concerned with exactly how forward-moving this is, and I’m going tell you why.
The most recent nurse-in in Michigan took place after a mother was harassed by a bus driver while feeding her two-week-old son. The bus driver’s attitude, to say the least, was atrocious, as she demanded the woman stop breastfeeding or exit the bus. The nursing mother refused (thankfully), and informed the driver what she was doing was completely natural and that she had the laws of the state of Michigan on her side. But the bus driver decided this was still unacceptable and that hungry babies should not be fed on command, but instead go hungry and called the authorities. The rest is nurse-in history.
While I am in no way advocating confrontation, I am advocating consciousness. I don’t see how waiting. . . and waiting. . . and waiting to resume feeding a hungry infant while a truck fights traffic in a major city is a reasonable approach — and that’s just the first of my concerns among several, which also include placing favor on those who have cell phones (rare these days, not impossible). Advocating for human rights must recognize those in various circumstances. Can we really expect people to take breastfeeding seriously if don’t stand for what we know is right and just? Will owners and workers really feel guilty for ousting a nursing mother who could potentially become rescued by a truck, or does it reinforce the ‘Out of sight. Out of mind’ idea? The Milk truck seems more sensational than practical, and appears as if instead of challenging the stigma surrounding public breastfeeding it almost encourages its intolerance.
What would have happened if the protagonist of this most recent nurse in, Afrykhan Moon (who BMBFA has recently called a modern day Rosa Parks), would have summoned a mobile breastfeeding unit instead of using the information she knows to defend infant feeding? Would we have had such a conscious-raising event where many have suggested breastfeeding education and sensitivity training of all SMART bus drivers — something that has no doubt influenced other individuals and businesses that we don’t know of? More than likely the mobile breastfeeding unit would have arrived, encouraging the nursing mother to acquiesce to the ordeal, and the attitude of the bus driver would burgeon, causing rifts and providing free passes to others to continue practicing this type of discrimination.
The National Conference of State Legislature (NCSL), says this about breastfeeding in Pennsylvania: Pa. Cons. Stat. tit. 35 § 636.1 et seq. (2007) allows mothers to breastfeed in public without penalty. Breastfeeding may not be considered a nuisance, obscenity or indecent exposure under this law. Pennsylvania Senate Bill #34 (SB 34) states: A mother SHALL BE PERMITTED TO breastfeed her child in any location public or private, where mother or child are otherwise authorized to be present irrespective of whether or not the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breastfeeding. This means breastfeeding is allowed anywhere and it does not matter if you are covered or not — wherever you are you can nurse your baby. It is not indecent! You can find out about more breastfeeding laws by each state here.
I understand that just because a law is in place it does not guarantee an outing free of harassment, since this has clearly not been the case in many instances involving breastfeeding and many other areas. Businesses refuse service to those they feel are in violation of their business code (No Shoes. No Shirt. No Service), and unfortunately breastfeeding is too often categorized as one of these.
I am also not writing to try and place a negative view on something many believe is filled with good intentions since the opposite is true. I understand we all need allies and people and organizations in our corner, and the few examples provided above are the reasons why I believe if we don’t look at these types of situations through a more thorough lens the outcome may be one we feel is progressive, but instead may potentially be regressive — stepping backwards, as we readily and easily give up our rights.
The Milk truck and its team’s belief is that “Hungry babies should be able to eat anywhere, at anytime!” A statement I completely agree with — so much so that I believe this should happen within the boundaries of any establishment. I believe instead of making it too easy to harass and potentially oust a nursing mother, we use our collective voices and means to work towards more cultural and critical awareness of breastfeeding, on de-stigmatizing public breastfeeding, and on utilizing our rights in this matter. In this way, not only will we be able to remain aware of our personal authority and speak truth to power, just like Afrykhan Moon, but we will also be able to make it so that no one need fear being removed from any establishment, we won’t need to hide in a bathroom, and most importantly, we can make it so that hungry babies can and will be able to eat anytime, and anywhere.
What do you think of the Milk truck’s idea? What are your concerns? What are the benefits? Would the Milk truck be more effective implementing additional techniques? Please share your thoughts.