Family Matters

How Beyoncé’s Public Breast-Feeding Changes the Nursing-in-Public Debate

When Beyoncé breast-fed Blue Ivy at a restaurant, was she intentionally making a statement about a woman's right to nurse in public?

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Christopher Peterson / BuzzFoto / FilmMagic

Beyoncé and her baby seen in West Village in New York City on Feb. 25, 2012

OMG! The biggest news in the world of breast-feeding over the past week: Beyoncé reportedly breast-fed baby Blue Ivy in public.

Even for an A-lister, the buzz over her breasts has got to be a bit daunting. Beyoncé was sighted apparently breast-feeding 7-week-old Blue Ivy as they both lunched with Daddy, Jay-Z, at New York City’s Sant Ambroeus restaurant during the last weekend of February. According to Us Weekly magazine:

Beyoncé nursed her little girl at the table, an observer tells Us Weekly. Two additional sources confirm to Us that the first-time mom has been breast-feeding her daughter.

Is this stop-the-presses kind of news? Is Beyoncé truly the breast-feeding crusader that lactivists are making her out to be, or is she just another mom with a hungry baby in tow? And does it really matter?

Elita Kalma, a mom of two in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who writes the breast-feeding blog Blacktating, thinks it does. “It’s a huge deal,” says Kalma. “Who is a bigger star than Beyoncé? I definitely think black moms are taking notice.”

(MORE: Beyoncé’s Baby: C-Section? Natural Childbirth? Why We Care So Much)

The simple, perhaps unwitting, decision to feed Blue Ivy at the table rather than retreat to a bathroom or other private location gave a huge boost to the cause of nursing in public, particularly for black women, who have significantly lower breast-feeding rates than white mothers. While 74% of white mothers say they start out breast-feeding their infants, just 54% of black mothers report the same, according to data released in 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The alleged breast-feeding gossip comes just as occasions of NIP — nursing in public, natch — have been increasingly hijacking headlines, with disgruntled mothers staging “nurse-ins” across the U.S. to assert their right to feed their babies wherever they happen to be.

Mothers have grown more resistant to store employees or disapproving passersby who try to intimidate them into feeding their babies in dressing rooms or bathroom stalls. On Monday, one such maternal exercise in civil disobedience is taking place in Georgia, where mothers are gathering in five locations to protest a local pastor’s contention that breast-feeding in public is lewd behavior and should be done discreetly in a private location.

To make the point that it’s wrong — not to mention gross — to banish moms to bathrooms to feed their young, the Georgia moms plan to display images of mothers nursing on toilets. Their message: If you wouldn’t eat lunch on a toilet, why should a baby?

Meanwhile, just last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its breast-feeding guidelines, recommending that women exclusively nurse their babies for six months. 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.

And yet the debate continues. Hollyscoop’s Kristin Wong commented:

Good to see Bey’s enjoying motherhood, but I don’t know about whipping it out at the table. Tweet us your thoughts on nursing in public at @hollyscoop. Is it natural, or a no-no?

Reader Mars Lord retorted: “You shouldn’t find a baby eating in public weird. I’m guessing that YOU eat in public, right?”

(MORE: Group Petitions to Bring Breast-Feeding Back to Sesame Street)

Aside from the general breast-feeding community, other celebrities are tuning in to the hubbub too. Actress Jenna Elfman, a spokeswoman for the breast-feeding advocacy group Best for Babes, commended Beyoncé’s feeding habits as a “classy example that breast-feeding is and should be a natural part of our life as a society.”

Physicians are weighing in as well, including Dr. Alison Stuebe, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who told ABC News that the superstar can help calm the chaos surrounding nursing in public: “By bringing breast-feeding into the mainstream, Beyoncé can help break down barriers so that mothers and babies can breast-feed in peace.”

Then there’s the — pardon the pun — spillover effect. Last week, the topic of nursing in public was bandied about for hours on “black Twitter,” an unofficial community of African-American tweeters. “People were saying, Is it natural? Is it nasty?” says Kalma. “It was a conversation among people who are young and aren’t even parents. How amazing is it that she allegedly nursed in public and all these people are now talking about nursing in public?”

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