Thursday, October 26, 2006

Boobs in Dixieland

Did you know that there is an actual medical specialty of breastfeeding? I didn't, at least not before I started going to La Leche League meetings while I was pregnant. As it happens, there's only one breastfeeding specialist in the state, who just happens to be a leader of my LLL group, and also has a local clinic.

Normally, I would be surprised that Dixieland has something like this, as it is one of those states most commonly spoken of as a joke punchline. However, we actually have really good BFing support, especially here in my town -- a small-but-active LLL group, fantastic lactation consultants and BF-friendly policies at State University Hospital (where I delivered), and our very own breastfeeding specialist.

We also recently passed a state law that's drawn word-for-word from Florida's ground-breaking law, explicitly stating that a mother has the *right* to breastfeed anywhere she is otherwise authorized to be. For perspective, there are very few "positive rights" (i.e. the right to do a specific thing, as opposed to a "negative right" where the government can't stop you from doing something). The distinction's important, because a positive right can't be overridden by a private entity's policy, whereas a negative right doesn't convey as much power. If you have a positive right to breastfeed wherever you are, a store can't ask you to go nurse in the bathroom, at least not unless they want to get their asses sued. Given that this state was a civil-rights battleground not that long ago, people tend to take you really seriously when you start talking about how state law gives you specific rights!

Not, mind you, that I have actually really exercised my right to nurse my babies anywhere I damn well please. We're still not good enough at this whole latching and nursing thing that I can avoid waving my breasts around for the whole world to see, and I am just not down with that. I'm not hugely modest myself, but Dixieland is a very conservative state, and many people are uncomfortable with the sight of boobs. I do believe in politeness, and there's a certain rudeness in forcing people to witness something you know makes them squirm. I knitted myself a poncho specifically for that purpose, but not only has it been too hot, it also gets in my way. So until I can latch them discreetly under a poncho or blanket, we either nurse in the car, or seek out stores with nice lounge areas in the restrooms. But I *could* whip it out and nurse anywhere, if I wanted to, and that's the important thing. I don't mind making efforts to accommodate, as long as I know that I can nurse in public unimpeded if I should need to.

Interestingly, the breastfeeding law is fallout from Katrina. Something else I'd never thought of, in my pre-motherhood days, is that disasters are not very formula-friendly. Since our coast took a direct hit, the southern third of the state had no access to clean water for mixing formula. I live in the central area, and while water wasn't quite such a problem here, electricity was, for two weeks or so after the storm hit (I had power sooner, but many didn't). Formula was also hard to come by for the flood of evacuees from New Orleans and the Coast, and was one of the major donation items for which charitable groups begged. After Katrina, it didn't take a lot of convincing to get state legislators to throw their weight behind breastfeeding support -- a good thing blown in on an ill wind, in a rather literal sense.

This state is pretty crappy in a lot of ways, but when it comes to breastfeeding, we've got our act together.

No comments: