I recently came across a post on social media from a studio owner that I could not ignore. In this post, she explained that a mother at her studio breastfeeds her baby in the lobby of her studio. She went on to say that when this mother nurses her baby, (deep breath...prepare yourself, people) her breast is exposed.
The studio owner went on to ask in the post, "How do I HANDLE this situation? Should I ask the mother to cover up? Should I escort her to the bathroom? There are sometimes BOYS around when she does this!"
The owner repeatedly stated that she has no problem with breastfeeding—just with an exposed chest.
It's baffling to me that with all that comes with the wonderfully demanding job of being a studio owner, this is the problem she was seeking advice for.
As a breastfeeding mommy and dance professional, I couldn't help but chime in with a brief response. Here's a more full-out version of how to handle it.
Avoid Saying, "Cover up!"
Believe it or not, some babies do not love having their meals under a blanket—especially in August! From my experience with my two boys, I can tell you that every time I tried to cover up while nursing (and boy, did I try), a wrestling match would ensue. Trust me, you'd rather see a boob than have a mom try to cover up and aggravate a hungry baby to screaming. After all, I know you all have those signs hanging up: Please be quiet while class is in session!
Never Say, "Hit the John!"
Never, EVER suggest a mother go feed her baby in the bathroom! If you have another space, like a teacher's room, you can offer it to her if she would like more privacy. You should know that public breastfeeding is legal in all 50 states and breastfeeding laws concerning private businesses depend on the state you live in. This means you may actually be breaking the law by asking a mother to take it elsewhere.
How to Handle Exposure
You may think breastfeeding is like a choreographed ballet.
Mother discreetly and effortlessly places nipple in baby's mouth. Baby nurses consistently without fuss for 10 minutes. As baby unlatches, mother magically returns breast to its hiding place while baby sleeps angelically. All take a bow. Every so often this may be the case, but most of the time it is a downtown modern dance improv!
That mommy may have to squeeze, rub and poke at her baby's mouth with her nipple for 10 minutes before latching even occurs. And, babies are just like real people, you guys! When they are starving they will suck down all the milk at once, but more often, they eat leisurely and with distraction, which may (heaven forbid) expose a breast.
It is incredible that body parts that once had so much feeling can become totally devoid of sensation. As dance teachers, we tell our students that calluses are good: "They make your feet tough!" Well, sometimes, for breastfeeding moms, nipples become just like those calluses on your big toes (You're welcome for that image). I greeted someone at my front door recently only to find out (once I returned inside) that my nipple was poking up out of the top of my shirt! Was this deliberate? Of course not. It's possible that when you see a mother exposed without baby attached, she may be unaware.
A breastfeeding mother has enough going on. She doesn't (and shouldn't) need to look over the room to make sure she's not offending or embarrassing anyone while nursing. If you notice students (boys OR girls) who are uncomfortable, you can choose to approach their parents. Just say, "Hey, we sometimes have breastfeeding mothers at the studio, if this is something you'd like to talk to your child about, please do."
Pump It Up
If you're a studio owner, you should be aware that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 (29 U.S. Code 207) requires an employer to to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth each time such employee has need to express milk.
I've worked for schools that have been very understanding of my pumping needs and for one that was (let's just say) not mommy-friendly. If you have teachers that need to pump, provide a room. Adjust the schedule. Accommodate. Make it work!
Breastfeeding is a magical time that I will cherish forever. It is also sweaty, sticky, sleepless, messy, sometimes painful and a whole lot of hard work. Respect these moms. Be kind to them. They are trying so much harder than you know, and what they are doing is not about you. It is about feeding their child.
Choose your dance battles—this is not one of them.