Public breastfeeding remains a contentious topic — even when Beyonce does it. The iconic singer was spotted in a New York City restaurant last week, breastfeeding her 7-week-old daughter, Blue Ivy, while eating lunch with her husband Jay-Z. The incident immediately made headlines. After all, mothers are increasingly resistant to pressure from store owners, employees, or even passersby, who want them to contain their breastfeeding to private spaces like dressing rooms or bathroom stalls. This is despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women exclusively nurse their babies for six months.
As health blogger Bonnie Rochman points out, “Assuming that these women have to leave the house during that period of time, it’s inevitable that they’ll have to contend with how to feed a hungry baby outside the privacy of their home.”
By nonchalantly nursing her baby over lunch, Beyonce is undoubtedly helping to bring breastfeeding into the mainstream. Her obvious support for breastfeeding could also encourage more black women to nurse; the numbers show that only just over half (54%) of black mothers say they breastfeed their infants, compared to nearly three-quarters (74%) of white mothers.
Women are routinely humiliated for breastfeeding in public. Last December, a nursing mother was harassed by Target employees for breastfeeding in the store. A few weeks later, the woman, Michelle Hickman, helped organize a “nurse-in” at more than 100 Target stores across the country. Meanwhile, pro-nursing activists (or “lactivists”) are engaged in a dispute with Facebook over whether photos of breastfeeding should be permitted on the social media website.
According to Emma Kwasnica, a childbirth and breastfeeding educator who helped spearhead the Facebook nurse-in, “I think Beyonce has a huge impact on being able to re-normalize breastfeeding and give women confidence to do the same. Images of pop stars and celebrities giving their babies nourishment will never harm our cause.”
If Beyonce can help reduce the stigma around breastfeeding, good for her. It’s also heartening to see a pop culture icon embracing her right to nurse publicly. After all, if it’s acceptable to wear this on an album cover, why should public breastfeeding be considered unacceptable?