I think we can all agree the restroom is the last place we want to eat a meal. Right? So why are we still telling nursing parents to pump and feed in restroom stalls?
Public restrooms are gross. How is this considered a reasonable option for new parents to feed babies?
Let me answer that for you: It’s not.
I remember the first, and last time, I fed my child in a public restroom.
My son was barely a month old. I was overwhelmed but eager to meet up with loved ones for brunch. Back in those days, I was naive enough to put folks’ opinions about public nursing ahead of my own and my baby’s needs. (Side note: The first rule of motherhood is screw everyone else’s opinion. Until you’ve learned and perfected that lesson, the rest of your motherhood journey will be hell and heartache.)
Things started out great. Everyone was happy to see us. My son was passed around the table and given lots of love and snuggles. But when he got hungry, the environment shifted as things tend to do when folks forget that babies cry.
“Oh no! He’s hungry and you forgot to bring his food,” someone might have exclaimed.
I explained matter of factly that his food went everywhere I went.
“Well, where are you gonna go to feed him?” Shortly after, someone suggested the restroom as the best place to go.
I felt uneasy. I hardly wanted to pee in a public restroom, let alone feed my baby in one. At the same time, it felt like the comment was more of an expectation than a suggestion. So I got up from the table, half-frustrated-half-embarrassed, and went to feed my son in the bathroom.
It was a single stall so there wasn’t anywhere to sit other than the visibly dirty toilet. It was one of many times that visiting my loved ones back home would leave me feeling ashamed of my decision to nurse my children.
If someone would have asked me back then, chances are I wouldn’t have been able to articulate why being told to nurse in the restroom was so wrong. Despite my lack of words, however, I knew something just didn’t feel right. I was that new kid, banished to the restroom.
As I stood there, not even a mom for six weeks, it got progressively more difficult to hold back the urge to cry. Eventually, I realized that my son and I were the only ones in the restroom anyway. I stopped fighting the urge and just stood there crying.
I wasn’t bold enough to have a conversation about what took place when I left the restroom. It really didn’t matter if their intention was to give me options on where to nurse or demand that I go elsewhere. The default assumption that my baby should be formula-fed paired along with the automatic suggestion that I feed elsewhere hurt me. Their comments sent a message that public breastfeeding wasn’t normal and that the act was best done in isolation.
One of the most painful aspects of the situation was that it was one of many times that folks I cared for made me feel bad for choosing to nurse my children. I didn’t understand that folks I loved — and who loved me — could leave me feeling so marginalized.
That experience has been burned into my memory, along with those feelings of discomfort. And the mere suggestion that folks need to nurse in restrooms still enrages me to this day.
Since then, I’ve become a much more unapologetic breastfeeder. Feeding in the restroom — unless I’m at home and my daughter is mid-tantrum when I need to poop — is on my shortlist of “never agains” that I’ve developed over the last few years.
I will always speak up for nursing folks, both in-person and online. But I have a few important words for strangers and loved ones of nursing moms.
Listen, nursing is hard work. Make sure your nursing loved one is eating and feels safe. These things can impact milk and baby.
If you’re uncomfortable with a nursing parent, you leave. Don’t ask them to do it. Before you speak to nursing folk about where and how we should feed, remember that in all 50 states, the law is on our side. Nursing is both a public health issue and a human right. And lastly, take the time to consider the messages that you’ve internalized that suggest something as simple as feeding seems strange to you.
And never EVER tell a nursing parent that they have to feed in a restroom, closet, or any other place unless they express a desire for isolation.
Don’t be the bully who forces a kid to eat in a restroom.