Monday, May 25, 2009

May Carnival of Breastfeeding: Nursing in Public

Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers, to the May Carnival! This month's theme was "share a story." Be sure to check out the other contributing bloggers' posts, linked at the bottom of this post.

The first time I had to nurse in public was when I took my son to the pediatrician for his first check-up. He was less than a week old and I remember how hard it seemed to get out of the house that day. I was sore and tired and looked as bad as I felt. I had squeezed into some maternity pants and a too-tight pre-pregnancy shirt. I was wearing a nursing bra, but other than that, was wholely unprepared to nurse in public.
As soon as we got into the waiting room and signed in and got settled, my son started crying. I felt that familiar pins and needles sensation in my breasts as my milk let down. I didn't want to nurse him. Couldn't he just wait a few minutes, until we were called into our own room? Some place with at least a bit of privacy?
But of course, no, he couldn't wait. I fumbled with my shirt and bra (realizing too late that my horrible choice in clothing left my tummy exposed to the world, not to mention my breasts) and latched him on. He nursed away happily while my heart palpitated and I turned red hot with embarrassment. Luckily for me, this was a safe space. I mean, if there is anywhere in the world where you shouldn't fear being harrassed for nursing in public, it's a pediatrician's office. Although the waiting room was full, no one batted an eyelash about me nursing my son. However, the experience left me feeling really uneasy about nursing in public.

I found myself avoiding having to nurse my baby in public. If we went to the store, I would nurse him in the car when we arrived, in the hopes that I would be able to hold him over until we were done shopping. If we were our and about and he needed to nurse, I would retreat to the car, rather than just feed him when he needed to be fed. I knew this was not the kind of mom I wanted to be and I had to get over it but I wasn't sure how.

Of course the day came when I was was in Target and the baby got hungry. I was wearing him in a sling, but had not yet mastered nursing him in it. I had a cart full of stuff and it was raining outside and I had no alternative. I was alone and starting to get nervous, but I knew I had to do what I had to do. So I sat down in the shoe department to nurse my baby. A couple of minutes into nursing him, a German woman came and approached me and started talking to me. She told me how great it was that I was breastfeeding and how strange it was for her that so many people in America have hang-ups about nursing and nursing in public. She talked to me about her kids, how she breastfed them all over the place in Europe and how wonderful nursing was. She totally put me at ease and we had a nice chat. I was craving some adult conversation after being home with my baby for almost 3 months. We talked about motherhood and she told me about her own daughter, who was pregnant and how excited she was to have a grandbaby. She was at Target shopping for gifts for the new baby.

I always try to remember how she made me feel that day. At that moment, when I was alone and anxious, she held the power to ruin or make my day. Afer that day, I stopped assuming that people would think my nursing in public was gross or inconsiderate, and believed they were supportive. I went on to nurse my son in public anywhere and everywhere with confidence. The one time I was asked to cover up or leave, I was able to defend myself and my baby calmly, and continue to nurse because I knew I was legally protected and was strong enough to stand my ground. I know not every mom, especially in the beginning, is capable of that strength in a scary and upsetting situation.

So when I see a mom nursing in public, I wonder if she feels the way I did that day in Target, nervous that someone might say something to her, that she will be asked to cover up, or worse, to leave. I always at least give her a little wink or smile to show my support. Sometimes I will strike up a conversation with her and tell her how wonderful I think it is that she is breastfeeding. I hope I can make the difference for one mom that that nice German woman made for me.

Check out the rest of this month's wonderful breastfeeding stories.

Strocel: The story of Hannah's weaning
Laura's blog: Weaning a toddler
Off the Spaceship: Life, Death and Nourishment
So Fawned: Sticking With It
Mommy News: How Breastfeeding Changed My Life
All that Sazz: Flying Breast Milk
Baby Carriers Down Under: Kandy's Story
Massachusetts Friends of Midwives: Ben's Story
Breastfeeding 1-2-3: The "I Told You So"
Chronicles of A Nursing Mom: Breastfeeding Is Not Easy, But Best for Baby Breastfeeding Moms Unite: Can Early Public Breastfeeding Sightings Shape One's Future Breastfeeding Practices?
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: They Said The Latch Was Fine
Breastfeeding Mums: Breastfeeding Made Me The Mum I Am
GrudgeMom: Breastfeeding Failures & Successes
Zen Mommy: Celebrating My Chest, In Honor of Breastfeeding
The Towells: Breastfeeding After Reduction

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