The Incident at the Pool Last Friday

Sometimes you can see trouble coming.  But sometimes you don’t recognize it when it’s walking through the gate.

I was sitting on the edge of the baby pool, trying to keep my fearless little monkey-child from drowning.

I watched her come in, pushing the expensive stroller, laden with the baby gear, the dramatic bangs, the bandeau bikini–and the cherub-like infant.

I was focused on my own children—I’m the mom to whom strangers are always cheerily saying “You certainly have your hands full!” like it’s clever or original or observant.  But I do have my hands full, especially with two young ones who can’t swim yet.  I’m  splashing my baby as he floats in his little ring, tossing a beach ball with the girls, watching my older son out of the corner of my eye.  I wasn’t watching her.

But when I noticed Expensive Stroller Mom was breastfeeding, my first thought was “good for her.”  She was sitting on the edge of the baby pool, feet in the cool water on a hot day, her chubby baby pressed to her chest.  I have nursed all my babies, exclusively and for over a year.  I’m still nursing.  But I’ve never felt comfortable breastfeeding in public—not even discreetly–and I wanted to support this stranger in sisterly solidarity.

Well.  I wanted to.

The next time I looked up, I was, uh, surprised.  Expensive Stroller Mom has pulled one side of her bikini down to nurse her baby (because how else are you going to do it?) and that worked at first.  But bandeau bikinis have to fit really tight to stay up, and when you pull one side down, the other side can’t help but to kind of roll along with it.  She was chatting away to her friend, oblivious to her bikini, which was continuing to slide down—and down—and down.  The next time I looked up, the thing was practically off.

I see Twin Mom slip out of the gate.  It’s creaky and heavy, and it’s hard to exit discreetly.  She leaves her 3-year-old twins (commonly referred to as the twins from hell) by the edge of the pool, one screaming in my ear, one in the water trying to steal my daughter’s floaty.  They can’t swim.  Twin Mom whispers something to a blonde female guard.

A minute later, the Blonde Guard creaks through the baby pool gate and timidly approaches Expensive Stroller Mom. “Would you please feed your baby somewhere else?”

This is none of my business, but I’m straining to hear every word across the width of the pool.

She is clearly annoyed. “You can’t ask me to stop breastfeeding,” she says.  “I have the right to breastfeed anywhere, and it’s illegal to ask me to stop.”

The guard protests–meekly.  They’ve had complaints.  Couldn’t she move away from the pool, wrap up in a towel?

Expensive Stroller Mom looks at her friend, rolls her eyes, and waggles her finger at the guard.  “I’m warning you–you guys could get in a lot of trouble for even asking.” And she turns her attention back to her baby.  Blonde Guard doesn’t say anything else before she leaves.

Expensive Stroller Mom mutters something to her friend, but I can’t hear.  One of the twins from hell is whining in my ear:  “It’s my ball!  My ball!  Give me my ball!”  (It’s actually my beach ball, but you probably guessed that already.)

Another minute passes, and two male guards (also teenagers) come clattering through the gate into the baby pool area.  Together, they put up one umbrella that doesn’t need to be raised, make a scuffle about straightening a bunch of already-orderly pool chairs, and walk around in circles.  Now it’s my husband’s turn to roll his eyes—is their Teenage Maleness supposed to elicit a sense of modesty?  But Expensive Stroller Mom continues to nurse, not heeding them.

I hate to walk out on this cliffhanger, but it’s time for us to leave.  I’m aware of guards buzzing about near the baby pool gate, but the drama is on hold.

As we approach the main gate, I feel a tap on my shoulder.  I turn to face a clipboard-wielding teenager, “INCIDENT REPORT” blazened in 20-point font across the top of the page.  It’s Blonde Guard.  She’s indignant.  “You were in the baby pool, right?  Would you be a witness to this mess?  Did you see her?”

I did, more of Her than I’d like.  But I’m not sure I want to discuss the ethical complexities of breastfeeding, nudity, parenting, grace and minding your own business with a bunch of teenagers.

Three guards gather around me.  “I did see her,” I say slowly.  “And I understand that you’re in a tough situation.  She’s right about Kentucky law, you know,” (I doubted they did) “but I still wish she weren’t topless in the baby pool.”

A male guard throws up his arms in frustration.  “Tough situation? We’ve had three complaints in ten minutes! And she can’t breastfeed in there!  She’ll get bodily fluids in the pool!  It’s not sanitary!”

(Are we still talking about the baby pool?  Because breastmilk is the last bodily fluid I’m worried about.)

I pass on signing the INCIDENT REPORT.  It’s still blank–who knows what they’ll say happened this afternoon at the baby pool?

When I catch up to my husband, he says, “What took so long?”

I tell him about the guards and their INCIDENT REPORT.  “I wanted to tell them she was right,”  I say, “and that she has every right to breastfeed her baby.  But she was topless!  Why didn’t the guards bust her on that instead of for breastfeeding?  And I’m glad she was proud of breastfeeding, but I don’t think she was helping the cause today.  No wonder breastfeeding moms have such a bad image!”

And why is it okay for other mothers to complain about Expensive Stroller Mom breastfeeding, but not okay to complain about Twin Mom leaving her kids–who can’t swim–in the water to go complain?  Or about the way-too-old-for-the-baby pool boys who beat up on each other and knock down the little kids?  There are plenty of teenagers running around the pool wearing next to nothing–is anyone pulling them aside at the pool and asking them to cover up? Would 3 women lodge complaints in the space of 10 minutes about that?”

I am a breastfeeding mother.  I have nursed 4 babies–at home, church, work, the beach, a hot car in the parking lot, the Chick-Fil-A playground, Panera, Starbucks, fancy French restaurants, mall dressing rooms–even at the pool!

That may explain why my kids were totally nonplussed about the whole thing.  A nursing mom?  They see that every day.

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  1. Sara says:

    She wasn’t doing very much for The Cause, was she? I would have been inclined to go tell her that it was the “double exposure” that was causing the problem and she should be more discreet.

    And I would have told the guards that breastmilk is antibacterial and it will actually KILL germs in the pool!

    I was shocked the other day to hear my 15 yo son say something to the effect that women shouldn’t BF in public because people could see things! He has evidently forgotten the constant BFing of his 2 younger siblings anywhere and everywhere. I had to explain to him how easy it was to be discreet—bringing the baby in close as you lift your shirt and make sure no skin is showing. I can NOT see BFing in a bandeau! I think I always wore a deep V tankini…and retired to the deep shade of an umbrella.

  2. Laura says:

    I agree, she has the right to feed her baby wherever she is. I breastfed all 4 of mine as well, two of them until they were 2 and a half! I never had anyone ask me to stop. The only time I can ever remember a negative experience was when my daughter was about a year and a half old. We were waiting to get into Medieval Times and she was really fussy and wanting to sleep. I sat down against the wall (away from everyone) and let her nurse.
    A man said to his wife.. ” Look at that woman over there feeding that toddler!! She should do that in private with a kid that age”. Maybe he was right, maybe not, I don’t know. I just did what I had to do to make my child feel better and truthfully, once my children got older, I didn’t do it in public unless necessary.

    You’re also right in that there are a lot worse things going on that actually are dangerous or annoying and those issues should be addressed.
    Of course, they won’t be.
    I wouldn’t have signed the complaint either. Even though she should be A LOT more discreet.


  3. Karianna @ Caffeinated Catholic Mama says:

    Anne, this post made so many thoughts run through my head (mostly positive!) I will have to say I don’t think that she did much for the cause either. I have EBF both of my girls in and out of public and I don’t use the cover-up thing (because to me, they tend to scream “nursing mom here!”) but I also have become adept at nursing “with discretion,” which as we have seen, is very subjective.

    Kudos to expensive stroller mom for breastfeeding and a better course of action would have been for another mom to say to her “Do you know that your top is falling off?” Boo to the lifeguards for their childish behavior (“boobs! hehehehe!”) and really, the fear of bodily fluids in a baby pool?? That’s almost as funny as people who think that swim diapers hold urine.

    I wouldn’t have signed the incident report either, after all, what incident happened, other than people not understanding or getting their points across effectively?

    • Anne says:

      Karianna, this cracks me up! And I appreciate your perspective, because I know you know your stuff when it comes to breastfeeding. I love what you’ve written on your blog about this!

  4. Amber @ says:

    I do breastfeed in public, but like the other comments, I tend to be very discreet. I just don’t understand why the lifeguard didn’t simply ask her to cover the breast that was not being used to feed the child? I think this is a great example of how ignorant our younger society has become, but possibly due to the (lack of) examples we have set. Many of my girlfriends who do not have children yet (in our 30’s) looked a bit shocked when they first saw me breastfeeding. I think when we were younger, formula was the thing to do. So they have never really seen women nursing in a variety of situations. Now, nursing seems to be coming back in vogue and I think it will become more acceptable (at least I hope).

    • Anne says:

      Ignorance due to the lack of examples? I think you’re right. As a fellow nursing mom, I’m grateful to other mothers who advocate breastfeeding just by thoughtfully practicing it.

      I hope you’re right, and that breastfeeding is truly on the rise!

  5. Kara says:

    I breastfeed in public all the time as well and I don’t use a “hooter hider” or a blanket however I do try to be discrete. my shirt and the baby’s face is covering everything.

    I think you were right not to sign the report but also that woman should have had something covering her other breast or at least gone to sit in an out of the way corner if she can’t.

    That’s a hard situation because breastfeeding is awesome and we should all be supportive of it but we also need to practice at least a little modesty.

  6. Kara says:

    I bought a strapless dress yesterday for a wedding this weekend and I was worried about just this thing happening. How am I going to breastfeed? I think I’m just going to go ahead and put a blanket over my shoulder even though I don’t normally do that. I’m just not comfortable having the top of my breast or even the other breast (yikes!) out for everyone to see.

    Normally I feel that blankets just draw more attention but I think in this case its warranted.

    • Anne says:

      Kara, that sounds like a good plan to me. I love dresses, but they can be really hard for breastfeeding women to wear (just because of the mechanics of getting them undone at the right time). Sometimes I can do a cardigan over a dress if it’s cut right, but I’d do a blanket too if the cardi didn’t cut it. But depending on the dress, sometimes I have to go to a private room and undress from the waist up in order to breastfeed!

  7. Lacey says:

    I BF in public all the time, but use a Hooter Hider or a blanket. I’ve never gotten so much as a sideways glance (but I live in Southern California, so maybe that’s why?).

    I can definitely see why you were torn here. When I was in high school, during one of our volleyball games, a young aunt who had come to watch the game sat down, pulled the top of her tubetop down below both breasts and then sat there for a few minutes before breastfeeding her son. It definitely seemed more like exhibitionism than anything else. It sounds like this woman was at least straddling that line.

    Although THANK YOU for pointing out that there are probably about 20 other things those moms should have been worried about instead of the BFing mom. I do wonder what the proper etiquette is in situations like that. Do you say something to the mom that walked off with her twins in the pool or the mom of the boys that are too big? HOW do you say that?

    • Anne says:

      Lacey, now that is a story!

      How have I never heard the term Hooter Hider? Cracks me up!

      I kept my eyes on the twins while their mom was gone. I could have gotten up the guts to say something to Expensive Stroller Mom if we weren’t 20 yards apart. But I was not about to shout “Cover up!!!” across the width of the pool and all those splashing kids!

  8. This is a tricky one. Congrats to expensive stroller mom for breastfeeding. Shame on the lifeguards for not recognizing that it is natural. Hopefully if I was one of the moms at the pool, I hope I would have been the one to tell expensive stroller mom that her bathing suit top was slipping. There are modest ways to nurse in public even with an older baby. I know I have nursed babies in the park, at the beach even in Wal-mart. It can been done discretely. Even without a nursing cover.

  9. Jamie says:

    I, unfortunately, have to take the side of the pool guards here. Having been a manager in customer service for years I fully appreciate the pressure they were under – three people complaining in ten minutes without any response from staff is a good way to get oneself fired.

    There is no training on breast-feeding or public indecency, but there is training on bodily fluids. I’d lay money that no one ever taught or demo’d for those kids what to do in sticky situations like that. I was out of college and in the workforce before I saw role models discretely handling tough calls and I was a hospitality major!

    So although all the comments on breastfeeding are appropriate, I think it behooves us to recognize that good examples and appropriate instruction were missing in other aspects of this situation as well. If we practiced (and raised our children to understand) discretion and tactful intervention, we’d be more capable of diffusing situations like this and avoiding uncomfortable, unfavorable messes.

    • Anne says:

      Jamie, I appreciate your thoughtful perspective on a complicated situation! (I am so interested in what hospitality majors learn!)

      Amen to good examples and appropriate instruction.

  10. Sarah beals says:

    The reason for etiquette in the first place is for the comfort of others. It is an other-mindednes. There are many natural and normal things that we would never do in front of others, so the argument about it being normal/naturL seems to me to be a non issue.
    The preciousness of others should make us pause and think about how our actions would effect them.

    • Ginger says:

      Oh, bless you (I realize I’m a couple years late in discovering this post) for this perfectly put explanation. I always feel slightly guilty in being uncomfortable with public breastfeeding. I do think it’s immodest, but all these smart and neat women insist it is “natural” and I’m not sure Yes… there are plenty of natural things (hello, going to the bathroom, and I won’t even mention another amorous activity) that I do not do in public.

  11. Sarah beals says:

    BTW, I discreetly breast fed all five of my children. I wonder though if this is really about the right to breastfeed or the right to be in your face with breastfeeding. My observation has been that those who are trying to make a point about a social agenda are the ignorant/rude ones when it comes to discretion. I live in Boston and we see it all!

  12. Oh my. I completely get this one. I breastfed all 3 of mine, but I did it discreetly. But I have an acquaintance who has made it her mission to change the way America views breastfeeding but in all honesty she just gets labeled a kook. You wrote this story so well, btw. You had my attention to entire time. Bravo!

  13. Felicia says:

    OK, so first of all you have a gift for writing! I got such a clear picture of this and parts of it were pretty funny. However, I do agree with you. The question shouldn’t be “is breast feeding in public wrong” but is NUDITY in public wrong. I have nothing wrong of momma’s breast feeding, but please…cover up! I don’t want to see any bare breasts, and I certainly don’t want my husband viewing other women’s breasts either. The guards shouldn’t have made a deal about breast feeding, but to have just polity asked her to cover up her NAKEDNESS.

  14. Kelly says:

    I have nothing against bfing in public… but I do have a problem with nudity in public. It wouldn’t have killed her to cover the other breast.

  15. Kasey says:

    I accidently flashed someone once while bfing in public and I will never let it happen again! I’d imagine if this woman knew what was occuring with the “other” side she would have been a little more discreet.

    It’s funny I’ve never had anyone ask me to stop bfing even in retaurants, I think most people don’t even notice.

  16. jfred says:

    wow. I BF both kiddos in public (and I was in public alot)–never went to hide–but discretion is key! In fact, rarely did anyone in public realize I was BFing. I had teen boys walk by–never a sign of embarrassment–they didn’t have a clue, women come over and coo–thinking the kids were asleep, and all sorts of things. I worried about flashing others–as I would not want my own husband to be flashed–so I was careful. I didn’t do the blanket over either kiddo–as I live in the deep south and it’s HOT 9ish months a yr.

    I know I read and was terrified about people having something said to them and them standing on their rights to feed their child in public–but I never got that while in public. I think my discretion helped. The only time anything was said was in private–by male friends of ours–I think they were worried I’d flash them, and I appreciated their needing to avert their eyes and their modesty at seeing a woman other than their wife. But one had had a family friend who basically undressed in front of them to nurse, and another set of friends was used to women hiding to BF their kids.

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