Thursday, July 14, 2011

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the Milk truck: A Mobile Breastfeeding Unit. . Forward-moving or Moving Backwards?

the Milk truck 
The Seattle Breastfeeding Examiner recently published an article titled Would You Like A Mobile Breastfeeding Vehicle On Call In Seattle? -- a write-up about a breastfeeding truck that will soon be rolling around the streets of Pittsburgh, PA. The truck's founder, Jill Miller, explains it as a "Mobile breastfeeding unit that enables women to feed their babies anywhere and anytime." It is a fancy decorated ice-cream truck, with "cozy chairs and shaded canopy" that is also complete with a giant boob on top!

How does this work, you ask? Well, let's say a nursing mother is inside of a restaurant or other establishment and has baby along and baby gets hungry. Let's say baby starts to fuss, or whatever babies do to signal they want to eat and mother says "Hey, my baby  is hungry. . . better feed it!" Then, let's say mother initiates breastfeeding in the establishment and the owner or other worker sees someone with the gall to feed a hungry baby and decides it is unacceptable and begins to harass mother, saying something along the lines of  "Hey, put that away. Shape up or ship out!" Well, then mother says something along the lines of "I don't have to take this. I'm calling the Milk truck!" So mother sends a  text message, which summons the Milk truck and a group of supporters who rush to the distressed two (or more) who reconvene feeding, bonding, and living happily ever after. Sounds like a dream; a heroic act, right? Who needs Superman. . . or, Superwoman, right? What's the problem? Well, I wouldn't necessarily call it a problem, per se. And to say this is a bad idea may be just a bit harsh. Perhaps though, maybe I am a bit concerned with exactly how forward-moving this is, and I'm going tell you why.

The most recent nurse-in in Michigan took place after a mother was harassed by a bus driver while feeding her two-week-old son. The bus driver's attitude, to say the least, was atrocious, as she demanded the woman stop breastfeeding or exit the bus. The nursing mother refused (thankfully), and informed the driver what she was doing was completely natural and that she had the laws of the state of Michigan on her side. But the bus driver decided this was still unacceptable and that hungry babies should not be fed on command, but instead go hungry and called the authorities. The rest is nurse-in history.

While I am in no way advocating  confrontation, I am advocating consciousness. I don't see how waiting. . . and waiting. . . and waiting to resume feeding a hungry infant while a truck fights traffic in a major city is a reasonable approach -- and that's just the first of my concerns among several, which also include placing favor on those who have cell phones (rare these days, not impossible). Advocating for human rights must recognize those in various circumstances. Can we really expect people to take breastfeeding seriously if don't stand for what we know is right and just? Will owners and workers really feel guilty for ousting a nursing mother who could potentially become rescued by a truck, or does it reinforce the 'Out of sight. Out of mind' idea? The Milk truck seems more sensational than practical, and appears as if instead of challenging the stigma surrounding public breastfeeding it almost encourages its intolerance.

What would have happened if the protagonist of this most recent nurse in, Afrykhan Moon (who BMBFA has recently called a modern day Rosa Parks), would have summoned a mobile breastfeeding unit instead of using the information she knows to defend infant feeding? Would we have had such a conscious-raising event where many have suggested breastfeeding education and sensitivity training of all SMART bus drivers -- something that has no doubt influenced other individuals and businesses that we don't know of? More than likely the mobile breastfeeding unit would have arrived, encouraging the nursing mother to acquiesce to the ordeal, and the attitude of the bus driver would burgeon, causing rifts and providing free passes to others to continue practicing this type of discrimination. 

The National Conference of State Legislature (NCSL), says this about breastfeeding in Pennsylvania: Pa. Cons. Stat. tit. 35 § 636.1 et seq. (2007) allows mothers to breastfeed in public without penalty. Breastfeeding may not be considered a nuisance, obscenity or indecent exposure under this law. Pennsylvania Senate Bill #34  (SB 34) states: A mother SHALL BE PERMITTED TO breastfeed her child in any location public or private, where mother or child are otherwise authorized to be present irrespective of whether or not the mother's breast is covered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.  This means breastfeeding is allowed anywhere and it does not matter if you are covered or not -- wherever you are you can nurse your baby. It is not indecent! You can find out about more breastfeeding laws by each state here

I understand that just because a law is in place it does not guarantee an outing free of harassment, since this has clearly not been the case in many instances involving breastfeeding and many other areas. Businesses refuse service to those they feel are in violation of their business code (No Shoes. No Shirt. No Service), and unfortunately breastfeeding is too often categorized as one of these. 

I am also not writing to try and place a negative view on something many believe is filled with good intentions since the opposite is true. I understand we all need allies and people and organizations in our corner, and the few examples provided above are the reasons why I believe if we don't look at these types of situations through a more thorough lens the outcome may be one we feel is progressive, but instead may potentially be regressive -- stepping backwards, as we readily and easily give up our rights.

The Milk truck and its team's belief is that "Hungry babies should be able to eat anywhere, at anytime!" A statement I completely agree with -- so much so that I believe this should happen within the boundaries of any establishment. I believe instead of making it too easy to harass and potentially oust a nursing mother, we use our collective voices and means to work towards more cultural and critical awareness of breastfeeding, on de-stigmatizing public breastfeeding, and on utilizing our rights in this matter. In this way, not only will we be able to remain aware of  our personal authority and speak truth to power, just like Afrykhan Moon, but we will also be able to make it so that no one need fear being removed from any establishment, we won't need to hide in a bathroom, and most importantly, we can make it so that hungry babies can and will be able to eat anytime, and anywhere.

What do you think of the Milk truck's idea? What are your concerns? What are the benefits? Would the Milk truck be more effective implementing additional techniques? Please share your thoughts.

Sign the petition to ask SMART to add "Breastfeeding Welcome Here" signs to all buses.


  1. KimberlylmcmullanJuly 17, 2011

    Well, Acquanda, I think you are being far too kind. In all honesty, I think it sounds like a pretty silly idea, and is very unlikely to be of any use to anyone. Furthermore, I do think that this kind of thinking only reinforces the belief that breastfeeding is somehow a shameful act that should be conducted in private, if a mother insists on doing it at all. Rubbish. What is needed is exactly the opposite: more breastfeeding in every public place suitable for babies.

    This is not to "flaunt" it in front of confused people who are disturbed by breastfeeding for reasons that I am simply unable to fathom. This is to normalise the act of feeding babies without the use of bottles, and to reinforce in the minds of children and adults that this is a natural, healthy activity, and not something that requires privacy (unless the nursing baby is too distracted by her surroundings, of course). I am always saddened when I see a mother making a big production of covering herself and her baby when nursing in public. I recall travelling on a 10+ hour flight from London to San Francisco with my 7 month old son with another (American) woman who was traveling with her young baby and their church group. When I nursed, I simply lifted my top slightly and popped August on. I highly doubt people seated next to me were even aware that he was nursing. The other woman, on the other hand, had an older woman (her mother) actually stand in the aisle and hold up a blanket to shield her every time the baby nursed. It was sad and ridiculous, and certainly drew more attention than my method. It is also this type of rigamarole that makes breastfeeding look like a hassle, when it is in fact so much simpler and easier than bottles.

    I nursed each of my sons for 2 years. I lived in Ireland most of that time, in Germany for about the last 6 months, and visited the States three times during this period. I nursed on demand, which meant in shops, on public benches, in restaurants, pubs, libraries (it was the only way I could keep them quiet enough while I used the internet there!) - really, everywhere. Never once did anyone ever say anything negative to me about nursing, beyond a bit of embarrassment and joking on the part of a few men. One was a Hungarian man (my ex-boyfriend's father), who had lived in the States since adolescence, the others some young lads in Ireland. Nothing any of them said upset me, I just laughed with them, and told them to get over themselves. Incidents like what happened to Ms. Moon (who has the coolest name ever, yes?) are shocking. Instead of a "Milk Truck", the response should be an immediate nurse-in with as many babies and boobs as can be rounded up. Not in a truck outside the establishment (separate is NEVER equal, after all), but actually IN the place.

  2. acquanda@LactationJourneyJuly 25, 2011

    I always really appreciate your comments, Kimberly!

    I have read several other articles in favor, questioning, or against this milk truck, and as you said we need to see MORE breastfeeidng in public -- not less in order to normalize it, like you said!! I read that Jill Miller said there's a high level of intolerance where this truck is supposed to cruise around, but I don't know how much better it is expected to get by leaving the scene. That really is backwards. I agree immediate nurse-in.

    I don't know whether to laugh or cry at your story about the trip to San Francisco and the lady trying to feed her kid! And that's being serious! I'm sighing big time over here. We really need to focus more on de-sexualizing and de-stigmatizing breastfeeding, making ourselves and everyone comfortable with a baby eating, or it will only get worse!

    I'm glad you were able to nurse on-demand!!