In a culture where the female breast is so sexualized, for many mothers, breastfeeding in public is a big step beyond their comfort zone. For me, a necessary shopping excursion with my husband and newborn daughter was my rite of passage.
Before we left the house, I practiced in front of a mirror to make sure NOTHING showed. The baby sling was not only my baby carrier, but also my shield against the unwelcome and prying eyes of other shoppers. When we got to the mall, we shopped for awhile, and then Anna wanted to nurse. I found a secluded spot on the bench, sat down and fed her. I scrutinized the crowd looking for voyeurs or offended expressions.
Nobody noticed or cared! We alternated shopping and nursing — still no reactions! I got a bit braver, and soon I stopped scouring the crowds to see if anybody was watching me. I discovered that the rest of the world wasn’t waiting to get a peek at my breasts.
Today, after six years of nursing experience in just about any situation you can imagine, I smile when I think about that shopping trip. I’ve nursed on airplanes, at sporting events, in libraries, restaurants and in church.
The moral of my story is that when you breastfeed in public, few people are aware and even fewer care. When others have noticed (and they notice due to the positioning of the child, not the exhibition of the breast), they comment favorably. In my six year nursing career, I can recall only two very minor incidents of people not liking what they were seeing.
Why breastfeed in public?
Not every mother is willing to “just do it,” as I learned to do, and that’s OK. However, I challenge all new mothers to get over the fear that they will shock others or be harassed if they nurse modestly and discreetly outside their homes. If breastfeeding is restricted to the home, that means either moms are restricted to the home or the baby receives inferior food when they are out and about. The sad result of restricting breastfeeding is that the nursing relationship becomes too burdensome and soon ends.
Yes, we’ve all read news stories about nursing mothers incurring the wrath of some powers-that-be when the moms dare to meet their babies’ needs in public. I’ve carefully followed these incidents throughout the years. The resolution almost always involves an apology by the powers-that-be and a statement of support for breastfeeding.
Let’s face it. No business wants to be portrayed as being anti-mother and anti-baby, and face the rage of thousands of nursing mothers with buying power who are willing to stage a nurse-in on the premises.
Modesty is the Best Policy
There is nothing lewd or shameful about the act of breastfeeding; however, I always recommend that moms take reasonable steps to nurse modestly. Why? Not because the mother should have a sense of shame or feel the need to hide what she’s doing, but because mothers are often very nervous about the idea of nursing in the company of others. I want to reassure them that with comfortable clothes and a bit of practice in front of a mirror, even a brand-new nursing mother can minimize exposure.
Here’s my advice to mothers who are new at this. First, clothe yourself with a positive attitude. If you act confidently when you nurse, others tend to respond positively. If you constantly fret, worry and act ashamed of what you are doing, you WILL draw attention to yourself. Also realize that a quiet, satisfied baby draws fewer stares than a fussy, frustrated one.
For worry-free nursing, wear a nursing bra with openings that can be managed with one hand. Although blouses and dresses with special nursing slits are nice, you don’t have to buy a completely new wardrobe. Blouses and sweaters that tuck in or can be worn out work just fine. For blouses that button in the front, you can unbutton starting from the bottom or just lift up so that the baby can get to the breast. Vests are popular and very convenient for nursing.
Practice in front of a mirror — not because you should worry about what shows, but so that you’ll see how little there is to notice. A baby sling or blanket to cover the nursing baby insures that no flesh is exposed, but it can also alert passersby that you are nursing. If you don’t want the public to know what you are doing, you may wish to forgo the covering.
At meetings, workshops and conventions, I have been in rooms with literally hundreds of nursing mothers. I can honestly say that you will see more exposed breast in the chic fashion magazines displayed at the checkout counter of your grocery store than in a room full of nursing mothers.
Don’t be afraid of nursing in public. Just do it! Conscientious mothers who nourish and nurture their babies with the best food available should be proud and confident!
Mary P. Walker is a breastfeeding advocate and mother.
Expressly Yours, 615-776-5025
Breastfeeding consultants and medical breast pumps for sale or rent.
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Support and info for mothers who wish to breastfeed.
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Resources for the breastfeeding family.
Nursing Mother’s Center, 1841 Heritage Park Plaza, Ste. 1, Murfreesboro • 867-4200
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Pumps a Plenty, 4509 Nolensville Road, Nashville • 833-7802
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Reeves-Sain Drug Store, 1801 Memorial Blvd., Murfreesboro • 896-5731
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Nursing and breastfeeding supplies.
Reeves-Sain Medical, 1809 Memorial Blvd., Murfreesboro • 896-5864
Rental and sales of Medela breastfeeding supplies and accessories.