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Jewish World Review April 9, 2002 / 28 Nisan, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

And now, breast-feeding rights? | It's true that "breast is best" when it comes to feeding a young baby. But why has it become a political experience to be shared with the whole community? I have four children, including an infant, and I have breast-fed each of them. Occasionally I did so, very discreetly, in public, just as thousands of new mothers do every day. People rarely notice. Or if they do, they think little more of it than appreciating the mother's discretion. In other words, good manners generally prevail on both sides.

But that's not enough for the breast-feeding activists. Yes, breast-feeding is natural and even wonderful. But so are a lot of bodily functions one doesn't draw attention to in public. Nevertheless, according to a recent report in the Associated Press, the activists continue to push lawsuits in many states that would guarantee all moms the "right" to nurse anytime, anywhere. (Is there anything these days that's not a "right"?) Such legislation is unnecessary for those moms who simply want to nourish their infants as unnoticeably and without making a public statement.

These laws are for women who think the personal really is the political, who want to use such laws to flagrantly display their "rights" - and often way too much of their breasts. (Something I've witnessed too many times.) The AP reported that one woman in California, a place with a sweeping "anytime anywhere" law, was told not to breast-feed in a Borders bookstore and has since settled a lawsuit over it.

But just imagine for a minute, in the granola-crunching, Birkenstock-sandal-wearing environment of a California Borders bookstore, where people are focused on their double-lattes and relationship "how-to" books more than anything else, how offensive and flagrant a breast-feeding mom would need to be to actually be told not to do it. Another California woman, reports the AP, was breast-feeding her infant at her older child's elementary school when she was asked to use a private room instead. She and her lawyer are now seeking to "educate" the school system on her breast-feeding rights. But why was being asked to change venues so scandalous? I don't have a problem with my kids seeing other moms breast-feed if it's done decorously, but other parents might - especially if the moms are proudly or otherwise exposing a little too much flesh.

Why couldn't that mom respect the rights of those parents as she (supposedly) wants her own "rights" respected?

Because breasts have become political. And perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the workplace.

A Hooters employee is suing because she says her managers humiliated her for pumping breast-milk. (How a woman who works at Hooters could suggest she's humiliated by anything is beyond me.) She's hardly alone, according to the AP story, since there are more and more lawsuits being launched against companies for not accommodating mothers who want to pump and store breast milk during working hours.

Never mind that this is a process that can easily overrun, or not wait for, a break, and which often invites other problems. Many employers, particularly the small businesses where the vast majority of these pumping-moms work, just don't have the luxury of providing private rooms for these mothers, yet the moms complain if they feel they have to do it in the bathroom.

Well, sorry, but having myself pumped I can tell you that it is one sight I definitely want to be spared watching other women perform.

Yet, viewing workplaces as nurseries instead of business establishments is increasingly in vogue. That's one reason Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., is self-righteously demanding that breast-feeding "rights" in the workplace be included in the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Meanwhile, I see more and more information in parenting magazines about "pumping" at the office. One advertisement explained how a woman on a business trip could pump on the road and send her milk home via FedEx and lots of dry ice. That way it can stay fresh for two days.

Wow. Thanks, mom.

All of which makes me think that too often the women demanding their "rights" to pump their breast milk at work are really just trying to assuage their guilty consciences about leaving their infant in child care with strangers for 10 hours a day.

In any event, as for the mythology that there is a general problem facing moms who publicly breast-feed, but who do it discreetly and with consideration for the sensibilities of others, nice try. The truth is it's really only a problem for those women trying to feed their egos or their politics more than their babies.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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