In a town notorious for flaunted breasts and beads, breastfeeding mothers often find themselves discriminated against for feeding their babies in public.
I spoke with Greater New Orleans Breastfeeding Awareness Coalition (GNOBAC) Program Manager Jennifer Macias, CLC not long after Mardi Gras 2015. I asked her to reflect on what it’s like to live in a city where the sexualization of the female breast is magnified.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” she says. “I find it interesting that we have this mindset that breastfeeding in public is just so gross, but you can go into a family restaurant or grocery store and you see women with breasts pushed up to their chins [without complaint.]”
Ever since she was a little girl, Macias “wanted to be a mommy.” She also always knew she wanted to breastfeed. Macias describes breastfeeding as “a natural thing,” but she’s endured criticism for sharing her experience.
With a neck full of beads, Macias breastfed her son as a colorful Mardi Gras parade passed by. She snapped a picture and posted it to Facebook. She was met with disapproval and found herself reprimanded by someone close to her. Macias did not take down her photo.
Fortunately this negative experience nursing in public (NIP) is an isolated one for Macias. Overall, she reports having had positive encounters while NIP.
Through her work with GNOBAC, Macias and other community members are working to create a community that values breastfeeding anytime, anywhere. Completing The Lactation Counselor Training Course has bolstered her influence on her community, Macias says.
She reflects on her training and says that the one thing that resonates most was learning about the Baby Friendly Initiative in the Philippines.
“It was really interesting to see how an area with very little resources has been able to implement the 10 steps, and how by making those changes they are able to save thousands of lives,” she says.
GNOBAC’s crib cards program was rebranded in 2013 with new information about breastfeeding. To help local maternity care centers move on with their Baby-Friendly journeys, the coalition also provided nurses with high quality tape measurers void of formula company marketing.
The 2014 “Breastfeeding NOLA. Eat Local. Anytime, Anywhere” campaign focused on the Louisiana Breastfeeding law La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 51. 2247.1 (2001), which states a mother may breastfeed her baby in any place of public accommodation, resort, or amusement. It further states that mother breastfeeding her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, shall not be deemed to be in violation of the obscenity law (R.S. 14:106) or of any other provision of law.
The coalition included images of mothers breastfeeding in local, public, iconic places to help normalize breastfeeding in New Orleans. The images were displayed around the Greater New Orleans area on 18 bus shelters, 11 exterior bus ads, 20 interior bus ads, one exterior streetcar ad, and two rotating digital billboards. [Retrieved from: http://www.gnobac.org/transit-campaign/]
“That really meant a lot,” Macias says. “[The campaign] made her think of her future.”
Macias also recalls a couple who reported they decided to breastfeed because, “the bus said to do it.”
Macias acknowledges that social change doesn’t happen overnight, but she celebrates these subtle successes.
Because breastfeeding advocates from all avenues have banded together to help support families in their early parenting journeys, more and more babies are sure to reap the benefits of healthy infant feeding practices.
GNOBAC’s membership grew by 66 percent last year.
“Everyone wants to get involved to help guide this change,” Macias says.
Stay connected with GNOBAC on Facebook.
GNOBAC’s transit campaign images were taken by AmyCherie Photography and KVR Photography and used with permission.