Before Eloise arrived, breastfeeding in public was one of those causes I did not fully understand. Yeah, babies need to eat and Americans are often too uptight, but I didn’t get why women would want to nurse in public areas. I just figured it was simple enough to find a discreet location to share an intimate moment between mother and child. While I did not really care if mothers nursed openly, I just figured privacy was more desirable for the mom.
Then Eloise came along and suddenly I was the only person in the world physically responsible for her nourishment 24/7. As is common in the days after birth, her weight dropped as we waited for her jaundice to improve and my milk to come in. At just four days old, she was down nearly a pound to five pounds, four ounces and we were back at the doctor’s office to determine whether we needed to return to the hospital.
In desperation, I nursed every second I could, including in the lobby of the pediatrician’s office. This baby was going to gain weight, darn it. I began in the area designated for lactating moms, which was really just a pathetic set of chairs set by a very pubic stairwell. However, once our name was called and Eloise was still eating beneath the protection of a nursing cover, I made the decision not to stop her as we walked to meet the nurse.
With each step, I kept thinking how every single ounce she consumed counted. I figured in a room full of other moms my desperation to give my baby what she needed to stay out of the hospital would be understood. I was wrong. Not only did people stare, but one mom loudly moved her tween son to the other waiting room and another commented to her teenaged daughter about what a young mom I was, (hello, I’m 30 lady!).
Suddenly it all made sense. Not only did I understand the fierce biological need to provide your child with nourishment in any setting, I also got why so many moms feel like it is worth standing up for their right to nurse in public. I just didn’t realize that modestly nursing beneath a cover would feel so taboo. I thought it was just the moms who pop their boobs out who made others feel uncomfortable. Turns out people don’t even want to know you’re nursing beneath a cover. Either way, people need to get over it.
Which makes me wonder, why have breasts become so threatening? Is it because we have over-sexualized them? Or because we don’t want older children to know how they were fed at the beginning of life? What happened to all those people with “I heart boobies” breast cancer bracelets?
A month after Eloise was born, I visited a local art museum with my mother and grandmother and realized how limited the options are for breastfeeding mothers. I could either sit in a disgusting bathroom stall, return to my broiling car, or pick a bench somewhere in the museum. I opted for the latter and searched out the most remote seating in a darkened room but still found myself uncomfortably surrounded by a tour group.
That’s just it though, even with attempts at secrecy, I feel uncomfortable nursing in public because now I expect people to respond the same way those mothers did at the doctor’s office. And, it turns out people do often respond the same way, as states like Texas still struggle to pass laws to protect nursing mothers in public.While I’m not going to stop nursing when I’m out and about, it would be nice to live in a society where lactating mothers are treated as commonplace instead of a distasteful spectacle.
This campaign by Texas college students pretty much sums it up:
And, if you’re a nursing mom, check out my new favorite mom trick ever, (might even be how I managed to write this post…):
I applaud you.My daughter uses that very sling with her and loves it. Hers is tie-dyed colors of blue and purple. I nursed my two younger of three but did not have such luxuries. In the eighties, there was a back to earth movement that gave moms a bit more personal freedom than I had with my first. I think during the fifties women returned to the sex symbols they had been prior to WWII, during the sixties it was a matter pushing feminism and women’s rights to work that pushed bottles into babies mouths, and during the seventies it was all about the drug culture and having a formula that was supposedly better than nature could provide. I nursed my children without shame feeling it was other people’s responsibility to come to terms with it or explaining it to their children and my responsibility to feed my child. My daughter eventually ended up on a protein catylase enzyme formula (does that sound like anything you would want your child to eat) d/t a lactose intolerance. keep doing what you know is right for your daughter and you 🙂
I love the tie-dyed version of the sling! So fun! I also love your decade by decade breakdown of breastfeeding, it is interesting to think of it with a longer-term perspective than where we are now. I definitely agree with you that other people should have to explain it to their children without any guilt on the part of the breastfeeding mom, just so strange to me that we’re so disconnected from nature that it is even an issue. Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed reading your comment!
Your description of your own struggles when you have been out in public and then the pictures of the women in the bathroom stalls say everything that needs to be said. There is no reason any woman should feel she needs to go into a bathroom stall to feed her child. She also should not feel embarrassed or humiliated by doing this thing that is so integral to the care, nurturing and bonding of an infant. Not to turn this into a political debate, but what I find fascinating is that it tends to be people who are more conservative politically who are opposed to women breastfeeding in public. Seems to me given their allegedly pro-family beliefs, they would be more supportive of this. But that they aren’t and are more concerned about the sexual identification of a breast says a lot about them.
You can turn it into a political debate, I think you’re onto something, (although I also know many conservative *young* women who support breastfeeding in public). I was actually laughing to myself as I wrote this that the same kids who wear the “I heart boobies” bracelets to school are the ones whose moms would probably move them to the different waiting room at the doctor’s office. Irony for you. I just don’t get how we have become so removed from nature that this is even an issue.
[…] Breastfeeding In Public, Get Over It. May 16th, 2014 — “Before Eloise arrived, breastfeeding in public was one of those causes I did not fully understand. Yeah, babies need to eat and Americans are often too uptight, but I didn’t get why women would want to nurse in public areas. I just figured it was simple enough to find a discreet location to share an […]” 4 Comments […]
Olivia it was much worse 30 years ago. I made the decision I was not going to be a shut just in case Alex became hungry while in public. I used a shawl while nursing him. When I got rude stares or remarks I would just look them in the eye an smile. Sad to say most came from women. I always figured these women never gave their children the advantage of nursing, an the bond it provided between mother an child. That smile came easy while thinking of just what they were missing out of. A important part of motherhood.
You’ve always been a tough cookie 😉 Thanks for the inspiration!