Why I Don’t Breastfeed in Public
As a breastfeeding mother, I was uncomfortable breastfeeding in public. I decided early on that I don’t breastfeed in public and I don’t regret it. If you’ve read my articles about my breastfeeding experience, this might surprise you. But, it’s true.
During the years I breastfed my babies I powered through my own naivety about breastfeeding, difficult newborn breastfeeding issues, working and breastfeeding, healing mastitis naturally, breastfeeding during pregnancy, tandem nursing, and a bittersweet ending to my breastfeeding experience. I even nursed my oldest until he was four, so I’m no stranger to controversial breastfeeding practices.
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 don’t share 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.
None of my kiddos would nurse under a cover, so covering up when breastfeeding wasn’t an option. I also wouldn’t breastfeed in a toilet stall. Yuck.
Why would someone who believes wholeheartedly in a woman’s right to breastfeed anywhere she wants be uncomfortable breastfeeding in public?
4 Reasons Why I Don’t Breastfeed in Public
Many Southern Americans See Breasts as Sexual Objects
Although they serve no sexual function, breasts are still deemed as naughty bits in mainstream Southern 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 culture I live in. I’m not willing to subject myself to being ogled by a less evolved human when I’m performing one of nature’s most beautiful and nurturing acts. I’m even more unwilling to see the disapproving looks or hear the rude comments from other women while trying to nurse my baby.
Sure, American culture as a whole has become more relaxed about breastfeeding in public, but anywhere there is a religious majority you’ve got to be careful how you present yourself in order to survive socially. My social IQ directly affects my children, so I’m not ashamed to care about such things.
I Care What Other People Think About Me and My Family
I have no shame in admitting 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. (At least here in the Bible Belt, y’all.)
Most of the women I know who practice their right to breastfeed in public are absolutely none of those things. It’s wrong for them to be judged as such, but that doesn’t keep the judgy judgers from their judgmental ways. I’m not willing to subject myself or my family to that judgement.
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 pass down wisdom about breastfeeding. 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 be a relaxing experience. I remember so distinctly what happened 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 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 breastfeed my child wherever I and my child are legally allowed to be. I would certainly point that out, palms sweating and blood pressure rising.
I wouldn’t 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.
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 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 website, 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 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 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.
How I’m Part of the Solution to Creating a Breastfeeding-in-Public Friendly Society
If you’re against breastfeeding in public you’re probably cheering me on right now. If you’re a strong supporter of breastfeeding public, though, you’re probably seeing red.
How can I support other moms who breastfeed in public yet refuse to do it myself. I’m part of the problem, right?
Actually, I’m not part of the problem. I actively took steps as a breastfeeding mother to be part of the solution and I continue to do so today – long past my breastfeeding years.
First, I practiced child-led weaning with my boys. I gave them a positive experience with breastfeeding. I nursed their siblings openly in front of them.
Secondly, I don’t have an issue with other moms nursing openly around me or my family. I’m a safe person to nurse around – no matter where I am.
Lastly, I’ve taught my boys about the proper function of breasts and how to someday support the mothers of their children when they breastfeed.
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. They learn that naturally when they are around mothers who breastfeed openly without a fuss.
So, for those of you who are comfortable breastfeeding in public, I say THANK YOU! We need you.
You’re 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. Or, if that’s too extreme, maybe they can take their plate to the restroom and enjoy their meal in peace.
Hey, if your personal boundaries about nursing in public are like mine, check out these pretty and affordable nursing scarves and nursing covers.
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