Breastfeeding In Public

Get ready for a new Wheaties box: My one-month old is a champion eater. Breastfeeding is going really, really well. This little girl started gaining weight before we left the hospital, and during our stay we waved the lactation consultants away.

This is not without amazement on my part. I was scared of breastfeeding, and upon some reflection, I realize that every message I heard about breastfeeding prior to having my baby had at least a twinge of negativity: Breastfeeding is hard, but stick with it. Don’t be ashamed if breastfeeding doesn’t work and you need to use formula. Once I had the baby, people tended to cringe when asking how it was going. I believe other women when they say that breastfeeding caused problems for them, and honor their experiences, but I also have to wonder why we are so down on breastfeeding by default. The frame of protecting women from believing breastfeeding will work well is alienating to moms like me, who have babies who just go for it (I don’t think it’s anything special about me, I took one class prior to childbirth and, listening to the questions others had already prepared, felt like I should have left with a “Least Likely to Succeed” award). Is there something wrong with us because it works?

Now that Baby Wonder is nursing successfully, I am sorting through my feelings along with the mainstream messages about breastfeeding in public. When you have a little one eating every two hours, sometimes with just 40 or 50 minutes between the end of one session and the start of another, through a part of your body that some consider SEXUAL and DIRRRRTY, plans to go out in public become these weird little strategy games that almost always end with staying home. I am really struggling with this junction between privacy and isolation because I want to be someone who is shamelessly comfortable breastfeeding in public and the truth is that I’m not.

For too much of my life, my breasts have been a topic of other people’s conversations. Growing up, I was a late bloomer and therefore “flat” during the school years when kids are most cruel to one other. Somehow I wound up developing fairly sizable breasts for my frame, and have discovered many times they have, in my absence, served as a topic of conversation among masculine classmates and, later, colleagues. Add these personal experiences into a culture where women who breastfeed in public are often given dirty looks or, as a baby book I read suggested, sent to public bathrooms to nurse in toilet stalls, and you may understand why, even though I identify strongly as feminist, I am in this instance (as every other) a human being with my own experiences and emotions. While I’ve nursed in the car more than a few times by now, I’m a little nervous to throw open my shirt and feed my baby in the flea market, or in front of friends and family. What if people dare to sexualize or cast shame on me taking care of my baby?

My delightful baby girl has none of these hang ups, and it’s my goal to start following her lead. Last weekend a friend called and gave me this gift: “Well, Erin,” she said, “You’ve been on the forefront of a lot of things. Don’t stop now.” She told me that she was, years ago, asked by a waitress to breastfeed in the restroom instead of a restaurant dining room and responded: “Do you go into the bathroom to eat?”

I sure don’t, and neither does my little girl. For now we haven’t been straying too far from home.

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Comments

  1. Into the fray once again, perhaps something to identify when the breasts are working and when they are playing. A special little nappie reading…”These breasts are reserved for Winnie” to sling over your shoulder when it’s time to eat. Hell, everyone else has all these food trucks, vending machines, fast food outlets. You my dear are organic.

  2. You won the lottery, mama! You have a hungry, determined little girl and the mammaries to keep up with her. My pro tip? Get a bunch of regular old button down shirts/blouses, so you have the option of whipping out a meal anytime with the ability to adjust the buttons to your liking. I found nursing tops too complicated (not to mention expensive & unflattering). T-shirts kinda let a little too much hang out, and I didn’t want to have to pack a giant tent everywhere I traveled.

  3. M. E. G. says:

    ♥ Beautifully written as always, Erin. Great that things are going so well.

  4. It’s really hard that so many people start breastfeeding without ever having heard an ‘it was easy and nice’ sort of breastfeeding story. For me, it’s been easy and nice … for the entire time my first nursed and self-weaned, and now with my second (currently 15 months). I wonder how we can walk the line between honoring people’s past and potential struggles, and acknowledging that it is indeed, for many people, utterly unproblematic.

    As far as the public/exposure stuff goes … this sounds simplistic, but I really really like the nursing camisoles that Undercover Mama (not a big fan of the name) makes. They snap onto nursing bra straps and pull down with the cup, and they sit nicely under clothes, no weird lines. And the other thing is just … you’re in early days. If you want to get used to it, you’ll probably get used to it. I know others have had radically different experiences, but I’ve really only ever gotten positive feedback from people in the public spaces where I breastfeed … and that’s, like, everywhere I go. Every once in a while I still cringe about what might be said/thought in a particular context where breastfeeding seems especially out of place, and then I think oh well everybody can cope, and then it goes fine anyway. Looking like you know what you’re doing and are absolutely confident of your right to do it seems to help, but that can only come with time, I think.

  5. My mom had 5 children and she breastfed the last three. I remember her feeding my younger sibs in public all the time, though under a blanket. She did it everywhere she went running around her other kids to basketball practice, swimming lessons, even in church. I encourage you to feed wherever you are with no hesitation! It’s obviously the most natural thing in the world. Best of luck!

  6. Great article Erin, I could relate to much of what you so eloquently said. Breastfeeding was a breeze for me too and although it was quite tiring at first, it was a very bonding experience that my daughter and I both enjoyed. I also struggled with my emotions regarding breast feeding in public. Unlike you that part of me is usually unremarkable so to suddenly be treated with almost horror “OMG I can see your boob” while I was struggling with a fussy baby on a much needed night out with the girls was at first shameful but as time was on, ignited angry feelings. And for the record, I was trying to be discreet, but during the latching on it can be tricky. It has become pretty well publicized by now how beneficial breast milk is for our babies, and it is kind of sad how little support we get. I admit I do feel slightly uncomfortable when someone openly breast feeds in front of me with no covering but I would never dream of complaining. Breast feeding is quite a commitment and I don’t blame any moms who are unable to do it. But certainly the ones who do deserve a lot more respect than they get from the general public. My argument was always that it befuddled me that people pay money to see strippers but shame women who use their breasts as nature intended. People probably got sick of my line “But this is what they are FOR.”

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