As a nursing mother, I was uncomfortable breastfeeding in public. There. I said it. If you know my breastfeeding story, this might surprise you. But, it’s true.
It’s been 6 years since I last nursed a child. That’s longer than my 5 year, 9 month non-stop breastfeeding stint. During my nursing years I breastfed through a miscarriage and two subsequent pregnancies. I tandem nursed two of my children. My oldest was four when he weaned.
Yes, I’m a breastfeeding champion and I fully support the right of mothers to nurse, and babies to be nursed, whenever and wherever. If you think that breastfeeding mothers need to cover up while in public, then I do not support your opinion. If you don’t want to see a woman’s breast as she feeds her child the way nature intended, then put a blanket over your head!
I sound all confident and liberated, don’t I? I am confident. And I am definitely liberated, but still I was uncomfortable breastfeeding in public. When nursing my children away from home, I would do my best to find a quiet place, alone or with only supportive people around me, to nurse my child. (But never would I nurse in a restroom!)
Why would someone who believes wholeheartedly in a woman’s right to breastfeed anywhere she wants be uncomfortable breastfeeding in public?
1. Simply because (in America) breasts are viewed as sexual objects.
Although they serve no sexual function (in other words, intercourse can happen with or without them) breasts are still deemed as naughty bits in mainstream American culture. The idea of a man having sexual thoughts prompted by the sight of my breasts performing their sole function makes me nauseated. The idea of making a man uncomfortable by nursing openly in front of him makes me sad for him.
That seems unfair, though. Why should I keep covered just because Billy Bob Dumbo can’t handle an unexpected boob sighting?
Because, that’s the world we live in. I’m not willing to subject myself to being ogled by a less evolved human being when I’m performing one of nature’s most beautiful and nurturing acts.
Instead of allowing myself to be a spectacle to strangers, I will teach my three sons about the proper function of breasts and how to someday support the mothers of their children when they breastfeed.
2. Breastfeeding shouldn’t be stressful.
Okay, especially at first, breastfeeding can be quite stressful. That’s because most of us were never shown how to breastfeed! We don’t have our mothers, aunts, sisters and friends to mimic when it comes to learning how to latch and feel confident in our ability to feed our babies with only our bodies. That’s because, generation after puritanical generation has covered up or hidden themselves away while nursing. It’s important that we nurse openly around our daughters so that future generations have an example to follow!
Once the initial learning curve is conquered, though, breastfeeding should actually be a relaxing experience. I remember so distinctly what would happen in the early months of breastfeeding if I was frustrated when I sat down to nurse. Within a minute I’d feel a flood of peace and bliss come over me. Whatever negative emotions I was feeling would vanish and all was right with the world. I even apologized to my husband a few times when just minutes earlier I was convinced that I was right and he was wrong. (Oxytocin is some powerful stuff, folks!)
If all the world’s leaders were breastfeeding mothers, there’d be no war.
The thought of being confronted about breastfeeding in public stresses me. Yes. Just the thought. I would be livid if someone approached me to tell me that I couldn’t breastfeed in that particular place. My heart would race and I would not want to back down. According to the law in my state, I have a right to breastfed my child where ever I and my child are legally allowed to be. I would certainly point that out, palms sweating and blood pressure rising. I would not be the calm one who whispers, “Actually, it’s perfectly legal for me to nurse here and perfectly illegal for you to tell me that I can’t.”
Instead of risking emotional and anxiety-ridden behavior, I made the choice to nurse discreetly or nurse in a more private place. I don’t need to subject myself to that kind of stress when my primary job is to nurture a child.
3. I care what other people think about me and my family.
I have no shame in admitting that I do care what others think. I’m not trying to change that about myself and I’m raising my boys to consider how others view them, as well. The impression we leave on others about who we are can impact our lives in many ways. Unfortunately, there is a stigma about mothers who openly breastfeed in public. They are considered to be exhibitionists, attention-seekers or even dirty hippies. Most of the women I know who practice their right to breastfeed in public are absolutely none of those things. It is wrong for them to be judged as such, but that doesn’t keep the judgmental wrong-doers from their judgmental ways. I’m not willing to subject myself or my family to that judgement.
4. If you’re uncomfortable, I’m uncomfortable
Some people are truly uncomfortable seeing a mother nurse her baby. This usually stems from beliefs that were set for them long ago in childhood. I tend to live a pretty unconventional life. Often times people don’t know how to take me. They can’t wrap their heads around what it is that I’m aiming for by living a lifestyle that looks quite alternative. They can’t understand how my family seems so normal, so conventional until they dig a little deeper. (Frankly, I think most families seem pretty normal until you dig a bit. If I learned nothing else during my time spent working with families, I learned that we’ve all got our things. I promise.)
I’ve learned not to let my freak flag fly (except on my blog, of course!) because it scares people. It makes them uncomfortable. I don’t force any of my convictions or values on anyone. I am, however, always available for those who are interested in learning more. I’ve found in the past that the moms who needed help with breastfeeding would ask questions of those women who they think are most like them. It is important not to scare them off by being too brash about breastfeeding. Sometimes the willingness to, ahem, bare all, can make a mother seem rock-star awesome and make other moms feel intimidated. They don’t want to get advice from someone who might tell them that they have to nurse in public in order to nurse well. Of course, most mothers who are comfortable nursing in public would never think that, much less hand it out as advice! But, since nursing in public can make a mother unapproachable to someone who is uncomfortable with it, a chance to help another mom could be lost.
If you feel like I do about nursing in public, check out these pretty and affordable nursing scarves and nursing covers.
I know we need mothers who are willing to nursing openly in public. We need people to get used to seeing this beautiful part of life without batting an eye. We need to teach our children that nursing is natural and that breasts aren’t anymore sexual than an elbow or an ankle. So, for those of you who are comfortable breastfeeding in public, I say THANK YOU! We need you. We are proud of you. You are setting an amazing example so keep up the good work! I’m sorry I lacked the confidence to join you, but you have my full support. As for those who do not support you, I think I’ll start a blanket fund. Everyone who admonishes a mother for nursing in public deserves to eat a meal, in public, on a hot summer day, with their head covered by a blanket.
Get support for parenting and connect with other moms – join us in our private Facebook group for Positive Parenting Support.