Want to make a very public statement about public breast-feeding? Than mark a date on the calendar for this summer on the National Mall.

A D.C. mother of two is organizing what she hopes will rival some of the largest gatherings on the Mall and send a strong message about the need for all of us to embrace the natural and healthy act of nursing.

A nurse-in at the Hirshhorn Museum last year. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

The organizer is Rachel Papantonakis, a mother who is currently nursing her infant son. She also has an older daughter whom she nursed for a year. Though she, herself, hasn’t experienced pressure not to nurse in public she said she’s been outraged by stories from friends who have and a recent spate of news events.

Last month, another D.C. mother was told (incorrectly) that nursing in a public building was illegal. A few weeks later, women across the country gathered to protest an incident at a Houston Target when employees harassed a mother for breast-feeding. At almost the same time, NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne tweeted that he’d just witnessed a mother nursing her child in public and it was “nasty.” Kahne later publicly apologized.

Papantonakis was especially incensed by an incident last year at the Hirshhorn Museum when a guard told a mother she could only nurse her child in the restroom — which would have meant feeding the baby on a toilet seat. Smithsonian officials later apologized for the guard’s actions and said they welcomed the nurse-in it prompted.

“It got me thinking,” Papantonakis wrote me after I contacted her when I saw her note about the “Million Boob March” on a local listserv.

“Wouldn’t it be cool to have a nurse-in on the National Mall?  Just a bunch of nursing women, their babies, and supporters spending an afternoon on the Mall and nursing when they needed to in order to raise awareness about the law. 

The focus would be on awareness of public nursing laws rather than in response to a negative event...  We’ve all been told that breast-feeding is the ideal way to feed a child, but still many people regard the breast as something purely sexual (and therefore indecent.)  No one would take a second look if I pulled out a bottle to feed my crying baby, and I’d love for breast-feeding to be just as commonplace.”

One other point that Papantonakis wants to be clear about.

“My focus is on choice, not ‘breast-feeding is the only way.’  It certainly is option #1 for me and for my children, but it doesn’t work for every woman/child/family for a variety of reasons. 

I’m glad there is so much information available now and that many more people are doing their best to breast-feed, but everyone needs to make their own choice. 

However, for those of us that do choose to (and are able to) breast-feed (covered/uncovered, in pubic/in private), we should be able to do so with as few barriers as possible. My mantra for breast-feeding is ‘just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it comes naturally.’  It’s hard in fact, and worrying about public scrutiny is not something we should have to worry about on top of a squirmy, crying baby.”

The one thing she is not entirely sure about is the event name. Papantonakis started with “Million-Boob March” but fielded some feedback that “The Great Nurse-In” might be better. To that end, she’s set up two Facebook pages (links are here and here ).

Let her know if you’ll join the campaign, and which name you’d rather call it.

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