Just today I read this blog post about nursing in public. The author referenced a thread on babycenter.com where a mom responded to numerous arguments against nursing in public. Please go check it out!
Let me start out by saying that the choice to breastfeed is a personal one. Some moms may not be able to, or choose not to for other reasons. That is OK, and the purpose of what I am writing today is not to shame any mothers who do not breastfeed, but to encourage those who do to not be ashamed and to do so with confidence. If we do not normalize breastfeeding by doing it publicly, then it will remain taboo for many people, and nursing moms will continue to be oppressed.
I am a breastfeeding mom and I have no problem doing so in public. I wasn’t always so comfortable with it, though. When my first child was born, we had a really tough time with breastfeeding. I had no idea what I was doing, my baby preferred bottles, and I was terrified of offending people. I used to hide in the car to nurse him, or I would fumble awkwardly with a nursing cover. Many times, I would just try giving him pumped milk or formula in a bottle to avoid making other people around me uncomfortable. But this was a major part of his “nipple confusion”. Even though I was able to successfully feed him in public with a bottle, it ultimately aided in sabotaging our breastfeeding relationship.
Alas, it didn’t work out, and I quit nursing him at the very young age of 4 months. I felt major guilt over quitting when he was so young, not because I felt pressured by the so-called “breastfeeding Nazis” as many critics like to call them, but because nursing my baby offered a closeness and bonding experience that I simply could not replicate when giving him a bottle. I lost that wonderful feeling of knowing that I was providing nourishment from my own body for him. We still bonded of course, and maybe I was more affected than he was by this loss, but it still sucked. I got pregnant again very quickly as a result as well.
When my daughter was born 9 months later, I was really determined NOT to “fail” again. I didn’t give her a single bottle because I was terrified of once again facing that dreaded “nipple confusion”. I trudged through the perfectly normal soreness most moms experience for the first three weeks and never gave in to the temptation to give her a bottle. I reasoned with myself that the more I nursed her, the sooner I would achieve the “nips of steel” as my friends and I like to call it. Three weeks in, and we were a smooth-sailing, professional breastfeeding pair!
BUT, there was still the issue of being afraid to offend other people, so I continued hiding in my car or using cumbersome nursing covers. As any new parent knows, breastfed babies eat OFTEN…too often, in fact, to resign yourself to hiding away just to feed them. Hiding means missing out on a lot of social things like dinner at restaurants with family or friends, for example. New mothers should NOT spend so much time in hiding because it’s almost a guarantee for developing postpartum depression.
I remember the exact moment I became empowered to nurse in public. It was when my aunt was visiting. My sister was also there with my nephew and we were both breastfeeding under nursing covers. It was a pain in the butt. Then my aunt declared that my sister and I were “too polite” and went on to tell us how she used to nurse our cousins uncovered back when they were babies. So why should we worry about whether or not other people are offended? Breastfeeding is not about THEM! It’s about us and our babies. If other people are offended by it, that is their problem, because it is a perfectly natural thing to do. Other people do plenty of REAL offensive things in public. Breastfeeding should be the least of the public’s worries. So from that day forward, my sister and I nursed our babies uncovered. We nursed them at the park, at the mall, at restaurants, at the gym. Wherever they got hungry, we fed them. And now, with my third baby, I still nurse uncovered in public.
Not once have I ever received any dirty looks or negative comments. In fact, most people don’t even seem to notice. I feel much less obvious now than when I used that big nursing cover that actually drew more attention to what I was doing. I show less skin nursing my baby than you’ll see on most clothing ads and fashion posters in the mall.
So please, breastfeed in public! The more we make it visible, the more normal it becomes. The more normal it becomes, the more successful other new mothers will be at breastfeeding as well. If I didn’t have to worry about how “normal” or acceptable it was when my son was a baby, I probably would have succeeded at breastfeeding him much much longer than I did.
And for good measure I’ll throw in a couple of pictures that my friends and I have volunteered to share on this blog of ourselves nursing our babies. I’ll be adding a couple more later.
Here is my friend Shannon nursing her baby on a couch in Ikea:
Here I am now with baby Viola:
Rebecca and her little guy!
Theresa and her baby girl!