The Enlightened Guy’s Guide to Supporting Breastfeeding
As a women-owned company that designs lactation suites, we get a lot of love, on social media, from moms. Women appreciate our efforts because celebrating and normalizing breastfeeding often is their mission too.
We also receive a fair amount of feedback from men. Some is supportive; some, totally disrespectful: “[the suites are a] great place for a smoke break.” But most falls somewhere in the middle: general support of breastfeeding, mansplained in a way that discounts the need for private pumping/nursing spaces and overlooks the complex mix of physical, emotional, and contextual elements that impact a woman’s experience with breastfeeding on any given day. We get comments like this: “Just whip it out, ladies! My wife pumped in public all the time.” And this:“If nursing mothers want to nurse in the open, it's fine with me.” And also this: “Can't they nurse in the open without making a spectacle of it?”
Guys. We get that you have our breast interests in mind (or we choose to believe that you do)—but sit with this for a minute: You are not the one trying to feed a distractible baby in a busy place. You are not the one eking milk from your boobs into bottles standing on a bathroom shelf touched by hundreds (thousands?) of hands during the height of flu season. You are not the one being asked to carry the “normalize breastfeeding” torch for all breastfeeding mamas just because you want to feed your baby the best, the breast. Breasts are, indeed, responsible for sustaining the human race—and they represent a lot of other things, too: fun and playfulness, femininity and sensuality. For all of these reasons, we invite you to retool your supportive approach, starting with these three tips:
Step into her shoes.
Breastfeeding women may not be just like you (no one is just like you) but consider that they likely enjoy doing some of the same things that you enjoy—traveling, attending sporting events, and generally moving about the world, with and without, their babies. Did you know that a breastfeeding mom needs to nurse or pump every few hours? Which means that if she’s not with her child, she needs a clean private space to plug in a breast pump so she can bring that milk back home.
Show your support with well-informed words.
If you can’t resist weighing in on a social media post about breastfeeding, encouraging a mom to nurse “wherever she wants,” at least acknowledge her right to choose where and when. Try something like this: “I understand that you might not feel comfortable breastfeeding in public and you should do what feels right for you. But I want you to know that there are many men—myself included—who support a woman’s right to breastfeed her baby anywhere she wants.” If you find yourself in a situation where someone else is bashing public breastfeeding, make like this man who set his 12-year-old daughter straight about the benefits and beauty of breastfeeding. (Bravo, Dad!)
Advocate for your colleagues.
If you work with—or especially if you supervise—women who need, or who will need, or who someday might need, lactation accommodations, look at around your workspace: is there a clean and dignified space where they can pump? It’s actually required by law. Examine your work culture: Do back-to-back meetings or long shifts leave zero minutes for “bio breaks,” let alone the 30 minutes it generally takes to pump and clean the equipment?
So, hey, man: we know you mean well and we appreciate and need your support in this revolution to normalize breastfeeding. Please keep at it. We just kindly ask that you choose your words wisely and take effective actions on your good intentions. We’re all in this together!