Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Carnival of Breastfeeding: Nursing in Public
(Boobs) Out and Proud

Welcome Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! This month's theme is "Nursing in Public."

Please visit the other carnival participants, listed below.

(More entries will be added through the end of the day on June 22, as they are posted - check back!)

I should probably preface this by saying that I considered myself a lactivist long before I ever lactated, and that I told Shrike, well before Peeper was even conceived, that "You do know I'm probably going to get kicked out of somewhere at some point, right? And I am going to make a scene about it."

It's always been my attitude that if someone is freaked out by seeing a baby breastfeeding, or thinks it's weird or inappropriate or whatever it is that people have a problem with, it's their issue to get over, and it's not the mother's responsibility to accommodate them.

I think that the discomfort that some people have about breastfeeding in public stems primarily from the fact that it's not something you see every day - which is one of the reasons that I do it.

Of course, it's mostly because my baby is hungry and, well, here we are, but once we're in that situation, my decision to just get on with it wherever we are is very much influenced by my belief that I should nurse her in public.

I am a proud breastfeeding Mama for the same reasons that I am an out and proud lesbian Mama: Visibility, normalization and I-will-not-be-ashamed-so-screw-you-if-you-don't-like-it-edness.

We exist, we (and our babies) have (or should have) the same rights as anyone else, and the more people see of us, then the more used to us, accepting of us and supportive of us they will be.

For many years, I've been completely nonchalant about my relationship with Shrike, presenting ourselves publicly as any other couple would and, even in our very conservative little town, we've run into no problems.

Likewise, I am completely matter of fact about nursing Peeper whenever and wherever the need arises.

If she's hungry or fussy or sleepy or pretty much any other adjective besides "happy," I just nurse her and fix it.

I don't ask people if they "mind," or ask them where it's okay to nurse, and we don't hide in bathrooms or backrooms or behind blankets or shawls.

And we've never had a problem - no comments, no complaints, no hairy eyeballs, no whispers behind our backs (that we know of).

Of course, it wasn't completely comfortable in the beginning. In fact, I was pretty nervous and uncomfortable, but I was probably as uncomfortable about my discomfort as anything else.

I knew in my head that it was fine, it was right, it was important that I nurse her in public, and I wanted so badly for it to be no big deal - but I just wasn't there yet.

Practice makes perfect, though, and we are definitely "there" now.

Of course, it's much easier to breastfeed a seven-month-old than a seven-week-old under any circumstances, and much easier to do it in public without feeling like you're exposing yourself.

(Hmm, I'm actually not so sure, now that I think about that. Peeper no longer needs help latching - just show her the goods and away she goes - but on the other hand, she didn't let go and turn around to look at the waiter quite so often when she was younger!)

As importantly, though, I just kept at it, refusing to hide or cover up, despite feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable, and each time it got a little easier, felt a little less weird, was a little less awkward, until here we are.

Another key to getting to this level of comfort has been the fact that Shrike has been so supportive. If she was ever uncomfortable about it, I certainly couldn't tell.

Especially in the beginning, she often encouraged me to "just go ahead and feed her" when I thought maybe it would be best to go elsewhere (typically when we were around her family), she has put up with innumerable changes in seating arrangements, to get me in the most comfortable spot for nursing (physically or in terms of being a bit less exposed from the back or side), and can always be counted on to let me know if I am showing more skin than I intend to (albeit, usually by way of a "woo hoo!").

I don't particularly care what a waiter or a fellow diner or a passerby thinks, but I do care very much what she thinks, and I would not be nearly as comfortable with breastfeeding Peeper in public without her support and encouragement.

And if that waiter or fellow diner or passerby is surprised to see me nursing, then maybe that's a good thing.

Maybe it will make them think a bit about their assumptions about what's "acceptable" or "normal" or "expected," and maybe they won't be so surprised next time.

Or maybe that other new mom at the next table, who has a bottle of expressed breastmilk in her diaper bag, will feel comfortable enough to just nurse her baby instead of bringing it out.

Or maybe the pregnant woman down the way will think, "Hmm, that looks convenient, and nobody's bothering her about it. Maybe I should consider breastfeeding, after all."

Maybe if they see me breastfeeding Peeper - if they even notice, because it usually seems like they don't - it will make breastfeeding just a little bit less "weird" and a little more "normal" to them.

And if Shrike and I are open enough about both who we are and how we parent, then maybe, just maybe, folks in this conservative little town of ours will see our little nursling and her two moms as the most natural thing in the world.

Because we are.

Other Carnival of Breastfeeding Posts
(Keep checking back - more will be added through June 22)


  1. I just posted an essay from Babble to my FB page about BFing in public. I feel the same as you... I find those "Hooter Hiders" to be a ridiculous pain in the butt. I bought exactly one (very expensive) nursing shirt before I figured out that I could just wear a tank top under all my shirts and voila--instant nursing top!
    Here's the essay by the way: http://www.babble.com/breastfeeding-in-public-is-okay-anywhere-anytime-how-they-parent-in-west-africa/index.aspx

  2. I read that Babble essay yesterday, and was planning to post a comment on it linking to this post!

    I lik when she asks "I wonder what would happen if we all just unhooked our bras at the ATM, and the ...?"

    What would happen is that people would get over themselves and it would be no big deal and we could feed our babies in peace!

  3. I know exactly what you mean about hoping that the sight of you nursing in public will somehow boost another woman's confidence to do the same. Aside from all the well-documented benefits, I almost felt it was my duty to breastfeed proudly and publicly, as if I were doing my bit to smooth the way for others. But that's all assuming they notice - and I'm not sure they do ha ha! I guess there's such a thing as being too discreet!

  4. "I guess there's such a thing as being too discreet!"

    Lol - I guess so.

    I've not yet had the "Oh, let me see the bab-EEE!" experience yet, but I have had several people say things that made it clear that they had no idea she was nursing, or had just been nursing.

  5. I know what you mean about wanting to be seen. I feel my NIP is meant to raise awareness for other moms who have a little bottle of their milk. I know for a fact I have inspired some other moms to NIP, so that has been great! I am sure you have helped other moms out there realize it is natural, and a HELL of a lot more convenient than pumping!

  6. I considered myself a lactivist before lactating as well! I think breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the whole world and why should I hide it?

    And honestly? If you can see my breast or nipple while I'm nursing my baby, you are looking TOO CLOSE!

  7. I completely agree--I too nurse in public to normalize the act. Really nicely put!

  8. Nursing in public is a little revolution all its own!

  9. I'm just the sort that would made a scene. Someone told me that our local mall has "banned" breastfeeding. We've got a state law that protects public breastfeeding and they hand out little "license to breastfeed" cards when you go to the OB for the first time. I'm a crazy woman so I keep plotting on how I can "get caught" breastfeeding at the mall just for the lactivism. I wonder what they would do with a nurse-in . . .

  10. Beautiful post, as usual. Even for someone like me who thinks about and blogs about breastfeeding daily, it was tough to nurse in public in the beginning. Imagine how other moms, who aren't as sure about breastfeeding, feel? If nursing were more visible, imagine how many more moms might breastfeed, period, let alone in public?

  11. I was THRILLED when I saw another mom nurse in public. My son is 9 months old and the closest to public we get is the nursing room in the bathroom at the mall. When company comes, we get banished to the bedroom and it ticks me off. You are fortunate to have a supportive partner! Keep up the good work and maybe one of these days, I'll join you.

  12. It's important to be seen nursing babies - it proves that nursing mothers exist! It makes me feel angry that women feel so threatened and so unsafe nursing in public that they routinely bottefeed when out.
    A lot of discussion happens everytime there's a NIP scandal here - that the mom is blowing it out of proportion, etc... I know how hard just the thought of disapproval can be for many new mothers - I was one. It's important to make sure that those who might discriminate against mothers have the fear of an organized response if they can't be convinced of the inherent benefit of being respectful of women and kind to defenceless infants. :)

  13. Beautifully well written! My favorite from your post.."Visibility, normalization and I-will-not-be-ashamed-so-screw-you-if-you-don't-like-it-edness." Visibilty and normalization. Right-on!!

  14. As you pointed out, without Shrike's support and encouragement, you would not have been as comfortable nursing Peeper in public. That points out a key obstacle to public breastfeeding visibility and normalization for some women--lack of support.

  15. For a hilarious breast-feeding story about nursing in public, check out this account of my wife at http://lifewithrachael.blogspot.com/2009/08/i-used-to-hate-camping.html

  16. I'm so bummed I missed this breastfeeding carnival!
    I have so enjoyed my NIP adventures with my 6 month old.
    I loved my hooter hider for learning how to nurse in public and getting comfortable with it, but now the baby is not as into it, so I only use it if I'm say, nursing right beside a dude on an airplane, and even then, I use it more as a screen and do not cover baby's head.
    Breastfeeding is one of the coolest things I've ever done, and I refuse to give in to people who are freaked out about it- well, at least, strangers.
    I do use the hooter hider in front of my VERY old-fashioned (and older) in-laws. I adore them, and they are probably the only people in this world who I would care about making uncomfortable (because they drive to visit me, and can't "just look away" if I'm nursing, bc they are talking to me.)
    But I nurse in front of my parents, my brother in law, my friends' husbands...


What say you?