Breastfeeding

Being in health care, I hear a lot of talk about breastfeeding. Recently there was an issue at school with a mother who was attending a class with her baby in tow. Apparently (I was not in the class so I do not have a first-hand account) the other students in that same class complained to their prof about the presence of the baby in the class. Some students and I were discussing it while waiting for our own class (we were in the same room right after them) and this is what went down.

I sided with the students in the class, in that the classroom was not an appropriate place to take and breastfeed a baby. Of course this immediately got me a huge lecture on breastfeeding in public. This was a logical fallacy on the part of the person to whom I was speaking. I was not arguing the absurd position that any breastfeeding in public was “gross” and inappropriate. I was arguing the position that breastfeeding and the presence of a baby in the classroom, specifically, was inappropriate.

These are some of the comments that my opponent said (well, yelled) to me at the time:

1) Breastfeeding is a natural process and mother’s shouldn’t feel ashamed to do it or be forced to do it elsewhere. Agreed. However, a classroom is a special environment in which students are concentrating and trying to learn. Babies make noises (cooing, shuffling, playing with a toy to keep them quiet, crying, screaming, squirming, etc.) and breastfeeding makes noises (sucking sounds, macaroni noises, etc). This is distracting and not appropriate in a learning environment. The other students in the class are paying a lot of money to be there to learn and they have the right to a quiet learning environment.

2) The mother has the right to breastfeed her kid. Agreed. However, the mother does not have the right to disrupt a classroom and affect the learning of her classmates. We’re not talking about a mother out in public having dinner, or in the mall, or at work. We’re talking about a mother IN A CLASSROOM while the teacher is doing their thing, in a lecture hall, with other students. What if she wanted/needed to bring her baby to a test? Should that be allowed as well, because of her rights? What about the rights of rest of the class?

3) It’s people like you who make mothers feel ashamed of breastfeeding. I don’t agree. In my opinion, a mother feeding their kid is a necessary part of the kids life. It’s pretty simple – they don’t get fed, they die. Whether by bottle or by breast, kids need to be fed and that is often on a schedule. I wholeheartedly agree that mothers have the right to feed their babies, whether in public or not. Yes, I find the general treatment of breastfeeding mothers in our society rather appalling, BUT I do not extend that to a classroom, for reasons already discussed above.

4) Breastfeeding is hard, especially for a student. You’re just making life even harder for her. I don’t agree. MY opinion on breastfeeding in a classroom is having no effect on the “hardness” of her life. The policy of our school, particularly our department (health sciences) which is largely women, is making life hard for these women. By policy I mean the fact that there is no student daycare program established at our school for children under 4 months of age (and space is very limited for children under three – mothers have to apply for space, and it is not guaranteed, neither is a government subsidy). I do not feel that our school provides adequate support for new mothers trying to get an education. If there were more daycares (or at least guaranteed space in the established daycares), particularly for babies who require breastfeeding, that mothers could access quickly during their breaks and lunch hours, I think that would drastically improve the situation for mothers attending school.

Education is very important and I am not at all suggesting that new mothers should stay home because of the inconveniences associated with childcare and school. I am also not suggesting that student mothers be forced to pay for daycare because they can’t bring their babies to class or because there is no room in the school-run daycares. I am DEFINITELY NOT suggesting that all breastfeeding in any situation is “gross” and should be banned. I am suggesting that mothers need resources (such as free daycare, nursing stations, etc.) when they are pursuing an education to ensure that they are not forced to drop out or forced into a sticky financial situation. There must be a way that schools can appreciate the importance of childcare while preserving the integrity of the classroom.

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