What a teenage barista at Starbucks can teach us about lactivism

I was thrilled to come across this story the other day. (It’s almost as good as this one about the American student getting stuck inside a vagina sculpture in Germany.) To sum it up, a mother was nursing her 5-month-old baby at a Starbucks in Ottowa, when a fifty-year-old woman walked up to the counter to complain, referring to the action as “disgusting.” The barista, reportedly a teenage male, reassured the complainer that he’d handle it. He then proceeded to offer the nursing mom a free drink along with one of those sweet Starbucks vouchers for another free drink upon her next visit. To top it off, he apologized for the complainer’s poor behavior.

Win, win, win!

There is a lot to learn here, but I’ve got a couple of takeaways:

1. Supporting breastfeeding moms is good PR. I’m serious. You know that international breastfeeding symbol, the one that businesses can put in their window to let women know that it’s a breastfeeding-safe zone ?

When I was a first-time mom toting a newborn around, navigating a brand new world and unsure of  what reactions I’d get to my discreet but public nursing, these stickers reassured me that someone had my back. Of course these stickers might not have prevented anyone from harassing me as I ate breakfast with my right hand and cradled my baby’s head with my left, but they at least reassured me that the employees wouldn’t kick me out or demand that I cover up.* Stump is old enough now that I rarely nurse in public, but for the rest of my life I imagine I’ll see these stickers as a kind of endorsement, a sign that this business respects women and shares some of my fundamental values.

In the end, Starbucks got some decent press around this incident. The original Facebook post that featured this story has already collected 27,508 likes and 1,759 shares. Lactivists are loyal customers. Trust me, you want them with you, not against you.

2. Don’t hate the asshole; love the underdog. Who is this awesome teen barista, and how did he get so wise? If I had stood behind the complainer in line, I would have turned red in the face and called her out. In our North American culture, I see breasts featured everywhere all the time to sell things like beer and shoes and video games, but somehow when they’re used to feed an infant they’re suddenly “disgusting”?

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

But our barista, in a flash, knew that there was nothing to be gained from engaging with this woman directly. He focused his energy on giving a mom and her baby the compassion they needed. And that, I’m learning, is what nursing advocacy should be all about.

*As a first-time mom, I did buy a hooter hider and used it occasionally for the first month or two, but in the end, there are some reasons why covering up doesn’t work for me and many of the other moms I know.

a. My nipple is bare for less than a second. I’ve never caught anyone looking at it. Apparently, the vast majority of people have the discretion to look away.

b. It’s a nipple. So what?

c. I actually kind of need to see what’s going on down there.

d. It seems kind of weird to hide your baby under a piece of fabric.

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16 comments

  1. Quick-thinking (and smart!) kid. I’ve never seen that breastfeeding symbol before (my kids are teens now, so maybe it didn’t exist back when I breastfed them). It’s just smart to make the moms feel welcome at your business. They are a huge market!

  2. I hope that teen’s parents are as proud of him as I vicariously am. I agree that he is wise. He had a presence of mind I wouldn’t have had. I would have done what you described yourself most likely doing; challenging a woman who clearly has a white knuckled grip on her opinion of public breast feeding. (She certainly is not going to have a hostility induced change of heart at the Starbucks counter.) My rant would have allowed me to vent my spleen, succeeding only in making the nursing mother more uncomfortable. Meanwhile, I’d leave Starbucks feeling like a brave, progressive inquisitor.
    The teen’s actions were entirely focused on supporting the mother and making her day better. I’m glad to know this story.

  3. Oh, how do I love that beautiful picture? And I don’t just mean the breastfeeding logo, which I’ve never seen (and I would breastfeed five feet from rte. 1 in Maine by Red’s Eats where cars drive about 5 mph. By number 4 child I was rudely fearless.) I love the selfie because that breastfeeding time is so fleeting and so precious and those sleepy lashes on that porcelain cheek nestled against Mama skin sent me right back.

  4. I read that story too and loved what the barista did. And great points about the double standard for how it’s okay for boobs to be seen when sexualized but not when breast feeding? Why is the latter the x-rated, unacceptable sight?

  5. I couldn’t breastfeed solely. I tried for about 7 months. My boobs just didn’t work. However, I think it was partially between the stress of not producing, the paralyzing paranoia of doing it in public and “offending” people. I regret the way I handled it now and won’t do it again but it was a life lesson and a half. It sparked me to start my business and I will DEFINITELY have those stickers all over the place.

    1. I know–it seems like as moms in today’s culture we get shamed for nursing or shamed if for whatever reason we bottle-feed (or supplement). Kind of a shit sandwich. What is your business, April?

      1. It really is. I cried an almost obscene amount when even the lactation consultant told me I would need to supplement.

        Family-geared “catering”. I say catering in quotes because we do parties and such but we focus on busy families who want healthy meals but are too busy like when a new baby arrives or just both parents are working. And I made lactation treats and include babies and toddlers (at whatever stage) in the meals.

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