Employee #1: Supportive but Uncertain
A friend (who completely supports public breastfeeding) brought up a really interesting thought on my Facebook wall the other day. She explained that sometimes, even though she supports breastfeeding in public, she is uncomfortable. Given the vast amount of militant breastfeeding mothers on my friends’ list, I was impressed with her candor. She went on to explain, she’s not really sure what the etiquette is if a mother is breastfeeding and she happens to notice. Does she look away? If she looks away, she doesn’t want the woman to think she is against her feeding choice. If she glances as the child, she also doesn’t want the woman to feel uncomfortable if she accidentally sees what has been taught to us is a private body part. What is the etiquette? Is the etiquette different if you are an employee working with the public?
I wonder how many people who are uncomfortable with breastfeeding in public share her sentiments. Perhaps they support the woman, but just don’t know what is proper.
I can’t speak for all breastfeeding women, but I do have an opinion on the matter.
If a woman feels comfortable enough to breastfeed in public, she most likely doesn’t share the same privacy issues about her breasts as the women who will only breastfeed while alone with her child.
I think the easiest way for an employee to handle this situation is just to leap right in. If you support a woman breastfeeding, just casually say so. I used to work at a restaurant as a server and this happened regularly. I was supposed to take this woman’s order, and even though I could see no actual boob skin, I knew she was nursing her child. If I were to focus only at her face, it might seem like I was just trying to “get through” the encounter. In reality, I was happy that she felt comfortable enough to feed her child like that. What I did when it was her turn to order is just smile at her, say something to the effect of, “I’m glad you feel comfortable nursing.” or “What a lucky baby.” Then, I would simply move on to the task at hand and ask what she wanted to drink.
Two things happened here:
• The woman was given public support in front of her family who might have had their own reservations about her choice.
• I felt at ease because I didn’t feel like she was wondering how I felt right off the bat.
Employee #2: Grossed-out or Offended
Sometimes, employees just think breastfeeding is gross or private. Unfortunately for them, most state laws say that the woman can breastfeed in any public place where she is legally allowed to be. When “grossed out” employees see nursing in public, the burden lies on the employee to simply suck it up. Even the most conservative state laws protect public breastfeeding from being considered “indecent exposure.”
As an employee working with the public, I have seen a lot of things that I find disgusting. I don’t think breastfeeding is disgusting, but I know some people do. As an employee working with the public, I have seen skirts too short, and shirts too low. I’ve see revolting racist tattoos. Once, I saw a swastika tattooed on a dude’s forehead. I’ve seen offensive derogatory t-shirts. Since I was an employee for someone else, I didn’t have the luxury of telling these people how I felt. I didn’t have the luxury of telling these people to take their whore outfits to the changing room, nor did I have the luxury of asking a bigoted customer to “please cover up” his obscene arm tattoo. In these cases, I just looked away… right into their eyes and I did my job.