Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When the Decision to Breastfeed in Public is Made for You.

Welcome to the July 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public

This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Nursing in Public hosted by Dionna and Paige at NursingFreedom.org. All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public ("NIP"). See the bottom of this post for more information.


Being out and about with my first baby was nerve racking. He had never taken to any kind of feeding schedule so there was no way of knowing he was hungry until he started to cry. A lot. Very loudly. This evoked a physical response in me. I would begin to heat up, my breathing would get shallow, I'd sweat, then leak. I would get close to a panic attack. Nothing mattered except putting my baby to the breast straight away. Unfortunately, I hadn't discovered slings at this point and was still mostly struggling along with an empty stroller in one hand, carrying a rooting, distressed infant in the other. 

He was about three weeks old when it happened in the city. It was evening time and all the coffee shops on the street I was on were closed. It was downtown where my bus was due to leave from . I looked around. There was a pub. I could hear a soccer commentary through the door and then a loud cheer. I dismissed it.  Baby's cries rose. There was a monument with steps. I sat down on the steps. I opened my jacket and latched my baby on. Prolactin - the mothering hormone, rushed through me, panic subsided, a sense of calm came over me. Baby looked up at me lovingly. Then there was a shout, of incredulity, 'Hey look, that woman is breastfeeding her baby!' A group of young teenage boys walked past, staring, their mouths gaping. I checked myself. No part of my breast was visible to them. Baby's head was partially inside my jacket. 'What's their problem?' I thought and simply said, 'So?' They giggled and continued on their way. An old man passed me. He tipped his hat at me, smiled and said, 'Fair play to you. You're doing the best thing'. I was lucky. I had seen my mother breastfeed my sisters and my aunt breastfeed my cousins. It hadn't occurred to me to be self conscious and I really didn't know what the big deal was. I was far more self conscious of what people would think of me if my baby was screaming. 

Now, five years and another baby later, I've breastfed everywhere. On buses, trains, airplanes and boats, in museums, restaurants, at the beach, at festivals, in a church, even on top of the Empire State Building. If I've been there, I've probably breastfed there, and thankfully, I've never really had a negative experience.  I've had old ladies lament to me that their grandchildren aren't breastfed and I've had young teenagers ask  curious questions like, 'Does it hurt?' and 'How do you know how much he's getting?' My youngest son lived in a sling till he was 5 months old and helped himself whenever he felt like it. I once had a man move the sling to see the baby and jump back like he'd been burned when he realized baby was nursing away. He apologized to me immediately and then even offered to get me a chair.

I know that I would not have had satisfying breastfeeding relationships with my children had I not the freedom and confidence to breastfeed anytime, anyplace, anywhere. It made motherhood that much more easy for me to not be tied to a schedule, to take my pre-crawling babies with me to weddings, funerals and even Board of Management meetings, comfortable in the knowledge that they would be happy to sit quietly on my lap or in a sling and nurse themselves to sleep. If they caused any distraction it was usually adults cooing at them. I got stuck in an airport for ten hours once with a four month old. I am so glad I didn't have to worry about any facilities other than a changing table. When my toddler cut his knee in the playground, I could comfort  him right away. Mothering through breastfeeding made my life less stressful and breastfeeding in public was a vital part of this

In my experience, people are usually supportive of breastfeeding even if they are a little uncomfortable at first. It is not their fault that the art of breastfeeding has almost been bred out of our cultural knowledge and that it is, unfortunately, relatively unusual to see in the western world. Only breastfeeding mothers can change that.. The law and nature is on their side. Breastfeed  your child with pride. Be comfortable yourself and welcome others to sit with you. Answer questions matter-of-factly and without embarrassment. Laugh at well-meant jokes even if they are inappropriate. Chances are they are merely trying to mask their discomfort. If you encounter any  hostile stares or comments just  feel the prolactin and smile, secure in the knowledge you are contributing to the health of the next generation and setting a wonderful example for other women.You are doing much, much more than feeding your baby. There is no need to cover that up.


Art by Erika Hastings at http://mudspice.wordpress.com/

Welcome to the Carnival of Nursing in Public

Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit NursingFreedom.org any time to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.

Do you support breastfeeding in public? Grab this badge for your blog or website to show your support and encourage others to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the rights of breastfeeding mothers and children.

This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following days:

July 5 - Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World

July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child

July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.

July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives

July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It


  1. I agree - the amount of controversy we read online is extraordinary compared to what most breastfeeding mamas will actually encounter in the real world. Not only do people get the chance to get their feelings out for the world to see, but you also have many rude people online who would never say to your face the things they will type to a screen.

  2. What great advice to newly nursing mothers. I am glad you have only encountered great moments in public.

  3. What some people don't understand is that a screaming baby affects the mother FAR more than any annoyance a bystander experiences...from the crying or being forced to witness a breastfeeding.

    I was suffering from PTSD and PND and had a startle reflex every time my boy cried and could not stand to let him keep crying when I could soothe him so easily - whereever! I know some of my family wanted me just to get used to it and let him cry, but that was not ever going to happen.

    But people who compliment my children (and many do) are complimenting the wacky way I raised them, whether they know it or not.

  4. How lucky you were to grow up seeing the women in your family breastfeed!

    "You are doing much, much more than feeding your baby. There is no need to cover that up." This is beautiful. Thank you for this post!

  5. I surprised myself by being so confident in nursing in the beginning. And I think that confidence kept the negative comments away because really, I've never had one. But now that my daughter is three it is admittedly harder. I almost feel like my luck in negative comments has run out. And sadly my confidence is waning too. I love reading all these great empowering posts.

  6. What a great post! I am empowered now to breastfeed in public...even more!

  7. Thank you all for your lovely comments. I'm really thrilled you liked the post.

    @Jess I don't think that following your instincts and meeting your baby's needs is wacky at all. Its perfectly natural. Sounds like you're doing an incredible job.

    @Melodie I also have to admit to being a little hesitant to breastfeed my 3yr old in public. If he falls down or is very upset for any reason I will no question but if he just gets tired or bored I'll usually try to distract him or ask him to wait till we go home. I'm not even sure why myself. In saying that though, I'm very happy to have breastfeeding as a tool in my mothering armory to use against toddler tantrums. Works a treat and gets a lot fewer stares than the toddler in full meltdown mode.

    Thanks again,

  8. I agree with you that the amount of talk, opinion, and controversy over NIP online is way more intense than in real life. My 2nd son was like your baby with no set schedule who simply wanted to eat when he wanted to eat. I always expected that someone would care if I was nursing, but in the almost 3 years he was nursing, no one said anything to me. Nothing positive, nothing negative. People just didn't care one way or the other. That's actually a huge load off my mind with #3 coming in October.