Going to go ahead and start with this… breastfeeding at the library is NOT an offense. You should NOT ask a mother to cover up or leave. Check your state’s breastfeeding laws, but if you are in Texas our Public Health Provisions, section 165.002 states that “a mother is entitled to breast-feed her baby in any location in which the mother is authorized to be.”
Breastfeeding is becoming more and more common. There are campaigns supporting and encouraging breastfeeding in public. And the health benefits to baby and mother are becoming more known and talked about with new mothers. If you are a library that supports children and families, you will run into this. You should know how you plan to respond if there is a situation. When it comes to children, we tend to have a list at the ready of what they are allowed and not allowed to do. You can go to this area. You cannot have food or drink. You must be quiet.
Families with children are some of our best patrons! Instead of being so restrictive, what if we tried to make a welcoming and nurturing environment? I took one of my children to a birthday party at a bounce house place recently. I was surprised to find in the bathroom a lounge area with soft lighting, comfy seating, and a nice diaper changing table with a basket of supplies (wipes, extra diapers) in case someone forgot. It made me think, why can’t a public library offer a similar environment to our new mothers? I can hear the complaints about someone taking all of the supplies or living in the lounge area already.
Sure, implementing something like this could create issues that would need to be addressed. If someone was abusive of the supplies, make them available upon request. But think of the goodwill you will have from some of your best, most consistent patrons? A comfortable, welcoming place to feed their children’s minds and their tummies? Yes, please!
Let us consider how we as a public institution can be supportive of breastfeeding mothers. As a breastfeeding mother, I can say that it is not as intuitive as one might think. The first three months can be very hard and discouraging. It is no wonder so many women decide to stop breastfeeding after first giving it a shot. Lactation consultant services are typically pretty expensive. It would be wonderful to provide that service to low-income families. The Pensacola Public Library in Florida offered a class on breastfeeding. The Oakland Public Library in California hosted a series of events for new mothers that included a clothing swap, an introduction to baby sign language, and a chance to ask questions to a lactation consultant. And the Lincoln County Public Library in Kentucky hosts a regular Breastfeeding Support Group.
What has been your experience with breastfeeding in the public library? Have you been approached with a complaint about someone breastfeeding? How did you handle it? Has your library provided supportive services before? How did it go? Please share with me!