Do you NIP? I do! For those who aren’t familiar with the term (and are now picturing me biting random people on the streets of San Francisco), NIP is an Internet acronym for “nurse in public” — a topic that’s much discussed on mommy blogs and parenting forums.
Yep, I NIP. I’ve nursed while hiking, in Target and on airplanes. I even nursed — in costume! — during a jousting match at the Renaissance Faire.
When I nurse in public, I try to be discreet. This isn’t always easy. I bought one of those pretty nursing covers, but they really only work before your baby is old enough to get annoyed with having a blanket over its head. (Which for us was about 2 months.) So now I just try to be as modest as possible — cardigans are a nursing mom’s BFF.
When I decided to breastfeed, I also decided not to let it prevent me from living my life. By nursing in public, I’m not just feeding my child “liquid gold.” I’m also making it easier for other moms to feel comfortable doing it. News flash: Breasts are for babies, and it’s high time people stopped freaking out about them.
Still, there are many who don’t feel the same way. Every couple weeks, it seems, I hear another story about a mom somewhere getting kicked out of a restaurant, a school or a store for breastfeeding her child. Or someone writes an incendiary blog post about how women should go to the bathroom to nurse. (Would you eat in the bathroom? No? Then why should a baby?)
We still have a long way to go on the path to NIP acceptance. Most people don’t know that 44 states have laws allowing women to breastfeed in any public or private place.
But even if it’s legal, and even if they don’t get hassled, many women simply feel too nervous or self-conscious to NIP because of the stigmas our society has placed on it. Lots of nursing moms don’t get out much. This has led to the persistent trope that breastfeeding ties women to the couch, and far too much early weaning.
I wanted to learn more about what I could do to be a nursing advocate, and in the process, I came across a pro-NIP sentiment in a very surprising source: the Torah.
While reading a 2009 article in Tablet magazine by Marjorie Ingall about breastfeeding and guilt, I came across a remarkable story: According to a midrash, our matriarch Sarah had been beset by rumors that she wasn’t Isaac’s mother, since she was so old when he was born. To prove everyone wrong, Sarah breastfed all the children in the town.
Ingall provided a link to a source for this information, so I clicked on it — and discovered an even more incredible story. Not only was the midrash talking about Sarah breastfeeding multiple babies, it was also talking about NIP!
According to the book “Hagar, Sarah and Their Children: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives” by Phyllis Trible and Letty M. Russell, the midrash tells us that God dried up the milk of the women spreading rumors about Sarah, so that they came to her and begged her to feed their children. (It seems Enfamil had not yet made it to Canaan.)
Here’s the best part: “And Abraham said to Sarah, ‘Sarah, this is not the time for modesty. Sanctify the name of God by sitting in the market and breastfeeding their children.’ ”
Abraham didn’t say, “Sarah, go grab your nursing cover.” He specifically said, go sit in the market. Nurse in public.
Now, you could argue that this was partly necessary to prove that Sarah was the one feeding the children. But how about this? “Sanctify the name of God.” Nursing in public is described as a holy act. And our matriarch did it.
Being able to nurse a child is a godly gift. Men, I hope you support your wives and other women in making them feel comfortable with nursing — in public and in private. And women, I hope you are never made to feel ashamed for performing this unselfish, wonderful and holy act in front of others.
And if anyone gives you a hard time about it? Now you can cite the Bible. Or, well, just punch ’em.
Rachel Leibold is a copy editor at j. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.