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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Breastfeeding in Public: Crappy Toilets

I can never understand why people are so casual and quick to tell a nursing mother to go into a bathroom to nurse when, like most everyone else, they'd hesitate to go pee there. Many of us will hold it - maybe until we find someplace else, or until we get home - and yet many times the first thing out of someone's mouth is, "You should go to the bathroom to nurse that baby," in disgust.

Why is it perfectly okay to reject that same bathroom because it's even unfit to pee in, but perfectly okay to feed your baby in?

Recently a nursing mom-restaurant manager made headlines when she nursed her baby as she was clearing tables in order to help out her staff. I imagine the baby must've been in a sling, otherwise she was pretty darned coordinated to hold a baby while nursing and clear tables at the same time. At any rate, the child would likely have been held comfortably against her breast, and since most babies I know of nurse with their mouths open and are secured firmly to the breast, the milk really has no opportunity to go anywhere except into the child's mouth. Even if it doesn't, it will likely drip down your stomach, onto the baby or be absorbed by clothing before it shoots across the room and hits someone.

Restaurant patrons were apparently offended by the "display," and food safety inspectors were dispatched to tell her to nurse the child in a separate area. Some claimed "food safety concerns," as if somehow her breastmilk would make it into the food. (Even the health inspector sounded dubious.) Since she said she never nurses while preparing food (presumably because she's smart enough not to want to burn her child by accidentally spilling hot food or beverage on the baby) I think the chances of that happening are slim.

Again, it occurred to me that patrons are worried about their own safety when eating around a breastfeeding woman, but couldn't give a crap about 'food safety' or anything else when they suggest that same mother breastfeed in a public toilet.

When you're in and out of a public toilet to do your business and leave, that's one thing: exposure is at a minimum, and hopefully, you wash your hands (although many admit to not washing their hands after using the bathroom - disgusting!). It's not uncommon to see used toilet paper and paper towels on the floor, urine on the seat, or much worse - and that's just the stuff you can see. What about what you can't see?

Pretty much every surface in a public bathroom is covered in germs, among them including streptococcus, staph, e. coli, as well as many others. While the toilet seat itself is usually the cleanest part (unless someone "missed") other surface areas are generally pretty gross. They're on surfaces, even in the air every time someone flushes (multiplied by X number of stalls)  - and yet, your baby is supposed to eat in there?

Combine that with the pressure to nurse in secret when you have other children in tow: how are you supposed to feed the baby and prevent other children, who touch everything with reckless abandon and quickly insert fingers into their mouths, while you're hovering over the toilet?

Several years ago, I happened across a sight in a public bathroom I will likely never forget. Thankfully my children were not with me, and I didn't have a hungry baby to hide while nursing - because you know the restroom would have been full to the brim except for that one, lonely, extremely disgusting stall.

I casually walked in and stopped in my tracks. Some poor soul obviously didn't make it in time, because there was fecal matter, to put it delicately, on the toilet seat. On the handle. On the wall. Horrified, I backed up and quickly left to go find an employee, and ran into one that I knew.

I hesitated, not exactly sure how to tell her that she was in for a monumental job. "I'm really sorry, but the restroom...." My voice trailed off, while she just looked at me with a sad expression.

"Let me guess," she said, turning around to open a supply cabinet and extract a super-duty pair of rubber gloves. "The stall's a mess. It happens all the time." I so did not envy her at that moment. I think I was so horrified and distracted by the whole thing I actually forgot that I had to pee. Whatever - it could definitely wait because I was not going back in there.

As much as people hate to use public toilets, it seems like they suspend all disbelief when they decide that while it's unfit to urinate in, it's okay to breastfeed in.

More reading:
Public bathrooms are filled with various types of bacteria - LA Times