As Fashion Embraces Maternity, Breastfeeding in Public More Accepted

Efforts to make breastfeeding more socially acceptable are catching on in the fashion world. Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock.com

Eight out of 10 women will not breastfeed outside the privacy of their homes due to social stigma, according to research carried out by Slater and Gordon, a law firm that specializes in maternity discrimination. Despite (or perhaps because of) a strange obsession with breasts in our modern culture, one in five women who do breastfeed in public are told to stop.  Yet, at least when it comes mothers to feeding infants, attitudes are changing.

While, typically, activists are at the forefront of the pursuit to diversify social norms, embracing breastfeeding and persuading fashion influencers to get on board and disseminate positive reinforcement, elements of the fashion sphere are evidently spearheading the change.

A pro-breastfeeding policy from Target, for example, has circulated on Facebook and went viral last month.

A representative from Target confirmed to The Huffington Post that this is, in fact, the company’s official policy. “At Target, we want all of our guests to feel comfortable shopping with us,” she wrote in an email, adding, “Our breastfeeding policy, which applies to all stores, is just one of the ways in which we support our guests.”

The policy reads, “Guests may openly breastfeed in our stores or ask where they can go to breastfeed their child. When this happens, remember these points: Target’s policy supports breastfeeding in any area of our stores, including our fitting rooms, even if others are waiting. If you see a guest breastfeeding in our stores, do not approach her. If she approaches and asks you for a location to breastfeed, offer the fitting room (do not offer the restroom as an option.)”

In many cases at other stores or public locations, the restroom is offered to women. But it’s not always a viable option.

“A few years ago, [I] visited a prominent landmark in London just days after it opened and I requested access to their breastfeeding room,” recounts breastmilk jewelry designer Vickie Krevatin.

“Staff directed me to the disabled toilet (with no seat on the toilet). I was horrified and, after insisting on seeing a manager, I was escorted to the staff locker rooms and I was closely watched for the duration my son was feeding. It wasn’t very pleasant. I don’t think there are many breastfeeding mothers willing to voice their concerns or distaste at such poor facilities.”

Although mothers are protected by law, 40 percent of UK-based women polled by Slater and Gordon did not know they were able to breastfeed in places such as airplanes, trains, churches and restaurants.

“Coffee shops are now displaying ‘breastfeeding welcome’ signs, which is a step in the right direction,” says Krevatin of the changing situation in the UK.

“I also felt a little more welcome when I saw that sticker on the door,” says filmmaker Sahra Bhimji, who used to be based in the UK and recently produced the short documentary, “Leaky Boobs,” which will be featured on BabyCenter.com.

But in the US, breastfeeding laws vary state-by-state. In New York the law states, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.” Mothers are allowed to breastfeed even in the workplace.

However, many women aren’t aware of their rights. Aside from pro- versus anti-breastfeeding press, there’s not much in the media that simply lets them know about the complexities, legalities and day-to-day know-how for new mothers.

“I felt like the media tells us a lot about pregnancy and childbirth, and during my first pregnancy I certainly had my mind totally focused on childbirth,” Bhimji says of what inspired her film.

“Breastfeeding is sort of washed over and I was surprised that, as a 30-something woman, I really wasn’t prepared for it at all. So I wanted to provide a ‘things I learned about breastfeeding after I tried it’ video, too…The first thing I learned, which I really wasn’t expecting, perhaps naively, is that breastfeeding is hard. Like really hard. Emotionally and physically exhausting. The second lesson I learned is that for many people, with the right help, it can get easier and then become super convenient and even wonderful.”

Bhimji says she breastfed in public every day and in every place imaginable: parks, pubs, libraries, buses, planes, cafes, changing rooms, doctors offices and shops.

“I never had an issue with it. The key was having the right breastfeeding tops and bras, so it was just quick and easy.”

Bras and tops built for breastfeeding moms are more easily accessible and more widely sold. Loving Moments by Leading Lady just donated $18,000 in breastfeeding essentials to 50 chapters of Women, Infant and Children offices for the celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, which took place during the first week of August. Loving Moments offered assistance to WIC peer counselors and aides to give women nursing bras and other essentials to better assist them.

Nonetheless, Kervatin argues, “Breastfeeding is not a fashion statement and a baby is not an accessory. But breastfeeding can be made more ‘fashionable’ with more exposure in the right way.”

So, she crafts jewelry using women’s breast milk and sells through her online business, Mom’s Own Milk.

The website has the tagline “The Must Have Mommy Momento” and allows new mothers to purchase pendants and baubles created with beads made from their breast milk at a cost of between £7.50 and more than £160 (about $12 to $250).

“I started Mom’s Own Milk in 2013 as a way to have a tangible reminder of the breastfeeding relationship I have with my son,” Kervatin says. “He was conceived by IVF and as he grew older I became fearful of not having a keepsake as a reminder of our special bond.”

To create the jewelry, a breast milk sample is petrified and then encased in a resin coating. The beads are pastel-colored glass or pearls.

Each milk inclusion varies in color depending on the breast milk samples. Some milk that’s high in fat (known as hindmilk) appears creamy yellow while other milk is thinner and clearer in appearance, because it is low in fat (called foremilk). Any milk can be used; fresh or previously frozen.

“Breastmilk is posted to me in the mail from all over the world. I use a secret formula I developed myself to turn the breastmilk into a plasticized form, which allows me to manipulate and shape it in any way that I choose. I then set the plasticized breastmilk in resin or glass to protect it,” Keratin says.

Krevatin speaks of her own breastfeeding experience, which was so positive that it inspired her to make memories for other women. She says she never received negative attention for breastfeeding in public.

Perhaps women are becoming more inclined to breastfeed outside of their homes as support is also becoming more accessible, and mothers do not feel as alone as they once did. Lactation consultants and educators, who have to recertify every 10 years, are now available to new mothers who experience pain or lack of supply, among other issues.

“It’s becoming more widespread. And when something becomes more widespread, you see it more and more and you experience it more and more. It becomes the norm, whether you like it or not, it becomes the normal thing,” says Denise Altman, a registered nurse with the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE).

In 2002, Altman launched her private practice, All The Best, which focuses on offering medical grade pump rentals, breastfeeding Skype, FaceTime, phone and home visits for mothers having lactation issues, and prenatal classes.

She says that in the 15 years that she’s been practicing there’s been a huge improvement in social stigmas surrounding breastfeeding, which she attributes largely to social media. When she registered with IBLCE, the organization had just about 1,000 members. It has since grown to about 6,000 internationally.

“When I think back to when I was preparing for my first boards…there was no such thing as social media. There were message boards on AOL channels. AOL had a bunch of channels, and that’s what everybody did. Everyone had an account, and I sent out a message to an AOL board called ‘Parent Soup.’ So I put a message up on ‘Parent Soup’ saying I’m from South Carolina and I was desperate to meet other new mothers. I got 13 comments in 24 hours,” she says.

“This was 1997. That was social media,” she says. “It’s mind-blowing to me how fast things have changed and evolved, and truly improved. Breastfeeding rates are definitely up since I started and the duration—the length of time for mothers breastfeeding—is definitely longer…I think they have a lot more tools and resources and support systems than any of the previous generations.”