by Anna Williams August 28, 2015
Nip it in the Bud
You may have taken the prenatal course on breastfeeding offered by your local hospital or you may have read a number of books on how to breastfeed, what to expect when nursing, scoured internet forums, what-have-you. In my experience, there is a major obstacle to breastfeeding that very few of these resources address — Nursing in public and breastfeeding stigma.
The fact is, if you are nursing on-demand or, even if you have established scheduled feedings, you are going to be ‘caught’ in public with an infant who wants only one thing. If you have any experience with nursing, you will know that delay of a desired feed can result in the following:
- A Situation Extremely Distressing for the Infant
- A Situation Progressively More Uncomfortable for You
- The Literal Worst
A common baby shower gift is the infamous ‘nursing cover.’ These are usually slightly incomplete aprons with soft floral or Venetian designs and a helpful metal reinforced hood that allows you to look at your child – which does not look at all like you are trying to give yourself surgery. My friends and I have all found these to be not only immeasurably frustrating to use, but uncomfortable for the infant as well as counterproductive. Nothing says “Hey, look – I’m Nursing!” like an awkward blanket tied around your neck being waved around by a frustrated baby.
Yet many of us, myself included, will feel at least a little bashful at the idea of ‘whipping it out’ in the middle of Target, in the lobby of a doctor’s office, at a restaurant, at a playgroup, etc. You may be anxious that someone will make a fuss over you for doing it. You may feel like it is wrong to pull your breast out in a public space and impose the sight of your nipple on the unsuspecting strangers around you.
There are many reasons why mothers think this. They are almost all wrong. Repeat after me:
- Breasts are not sexual organs.
- Breastmilk is not human waste.
- Breastfeeding is not indecent exposure.
It is your federally protected right to feed your child anywhere where you and your child are legally allowed to be.
Nope. They are not. There are several other blog articles on this subject, and I don’t need to repeat them. Suffice it to say the period in history during which it has been considered inappropriate to nurse your child in public is very, very short. So short that, if you were able to speak to your great grandmother about it, she might think everyone had gone completely cheese and crackers.
Here are my tips for coping with nursing in public:
You do not have to if you do not want to. If nursing in public makes you truly uncomfortable, it is not your duty to normalize breastfeeding. It is your duty to care for your child in the manner that is best for you.
If you use a cover (Translation: If your child allows you to use a cover), do it for you, not for the strangers.
Do it with confidence and poise and no one will want to talk to you about it. And if they do. Just think back on our ‘Repeat After Me’ thoughts and use them to educate the concerned citizen who approached you. After all, you have every right to be there, doing what you are doing.
Babies grow. They turn into toddlers. They start asking for things. They start asking to nurse. The average age of weaning worldwide is four. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should expect to lean over the shopping cart and nurse your 3-year-old while you shop for organic cereal to send to school. But it might mean that your 20-month-old shouts ‘Milkies!’ or ‘Boo Boos!’ or if you are lucky, ‘NUSS!’ in the middle of the bread aisle. Whether or not you oblige is up to you. Personally, I am occasionally that woman walking through Target with her toddler strapped on and nursing. Don’t know who I’m talking about? That’s because most people don’t notice.
No matter where you are nursing, no matter how you are nursing, no matter the age of the child or children you are nursing – Never Apologize. You are not in the wrong.
Sorry is not in your vocabulary
I hope these things can help you if you struggle to nurse in public. But I recognize there are many other barriers to confident nursing. First of all, nursing in public is one thing, but sometimes we are more uncomfortable nursing in front of family. If your family is not supportive of your breastfeeding around them, it can be very difficult to participate in family gatherings. It may not always seem worth it to advocate for yourself at the expense of family friction. Personally, I don’t let my family kick me out of the living room. I nurse at Christmas, I nurse at Mother’s Day, I have nursed every time I have been around extended family for nearly two years. Some people seem put out, but I ignore them, and they don’t seem terribly traumatized. But I am lucky. My husband and mother are very supportive. My mother put her old nursing chair right there in the living room, and it is there every time I come to visit. I am very grateful for that.
This week is very important. As low as national breastfeeding rates are in general, they are even lower in the black community. Black women experience a whole extra set of breastfeeding barriers that the rest of us do not. So, I want to take this moment to direct you to the resources linked above. Even if you don’t understand it, if you support breastfeeding, you should support black breastfeeding.
The following articles are specifically focused on building confidence for nursing in public:
If you are struggling with public nursing confidence or need general nursing support, seek out your local chapter of La Leche League or visit a Lactation Consultant in your area.
North Florida runs a postpartum luncheon for mothers who delivered at North Florida Regional Medical Center, as do other community facilities. These are great places to meet other mothers and share your experiences. The meetings are a safe place for public nursing and a great place to build confidence.
I’ve enjoyed thinking about all of this and writing these articles this month — so much so, I’ve decided to continue beyond the month of August. I’m going to write another article on a topic really close to my heart. Who knows? I may just write more. More later – until then, take care!