Nursing in Public

29 Sep

Nursing in public can be a very tricky subject for some people.  When I had my first baby, it took me FOREVER before I felt completely comfortable enough to even attempt to do it in public.  What if I got a dirty look?  What if my breast was accidentally exposed?  What if someone asked me to leave or feed my baby in the bathroom?  What if someone stared at me?  What if the nipple shield fell off?  What if I couldn’t get the baby properly latched right away?

I’d heard plenty of horror stories, some of them through the media, about women being asked to leave certain places and then large groups of women subsequently staging “nurse-ins” where hoards of women show up at the “offending” location and nurse their babies.  I was NOT looking for that kind of attention.

To make matters worse, as a first-time mom, I was feeling quite insecure about nursing in public, because for me, it was quite a production just getting it done.  With my first baby, I used a nipple shield (for the first 16 weeks), which meant I needed to see my breast to put it on, see the baby’s mouth, and it was difficult to be “discreet.”  Plus, I am a relatively modest person.  But, I am grateful that I was attending local La Leche League meetings at the time, and saw nursing mothers regularly.  Over time, I became more and more confident in my ability to feed my baby, even in public.

I’ll never forget the time I was at the Neiman Marcus downtown, visiting a dear friend of mine who worked there at the time.  She asked me to come to lunch and I wanted to bring the baby to introduce her to everyone.  Well, I was there for over an hour, so of course my daughter got hungry.  I decided to go to the bathroom, because my friend had indicated they have a really nice lounge area in the restrooms, complete with sofas and armchairs.  I withdrew to the bathroom lounge area and proceeded to nurse my daughter.

I wasn’t there for three minutes, when an older woman approached me.  I cringed, bracing myself for something negative I was certain she was about to spout out.  It turns out I was completely wrong; she was complimenting me on my choice to breastfeed.  She said she had five children and nursed each of them for over a year.

That woman had no idea, but her words that day had a profound effect on me.  I realized how important it is for women to make other women feel comfortable about nursing in public.  Nursing is the most natural and normal way to feed a baby; however, society has twisted and turned it into something less than perfect.

If I want to see more women nurse their babies in public (and I do), then I need to go out of my way to make them feel comfortable.  As a result, when I see women nursing in public, I will go out of my way now to pay them a compliment, especially if it appears they are a new mother.  I know based on experience that it’s not always easy!

I have little pink and brown cards I like to hand out that read, “Thank you for nursing your baby in public.  May future mothers never have to search for a secluded corner, dressing room, or rest room to nourish their babies.  Nursing in America is becoming the norm and the credit goes to women like you.”  On the back of the card is the Texas Law regarding breastfeeding: Chapter 165, from the Texas Health and Safety Code: “A mother is entitled to breastfeed her baby in any location in which the mother is authorized to be.”

So five years later, I’m happily nursing my third baby and proud to report that I am completely comfortable nursing anywhere and everywhere.  I’ve nursed on airplanes, at the park, in the public library, in the grocery store, at restaurants, my daughter’s school, places of worship, the doctor’s office, the mall, the State Fair, on public transportation, the zoo, and more.  And never once have I had a bad experience or been approached by someone who had anything negative to say.  I hope that like the woman at Neiman’s who touched my life, I am able to touch someone else’s in the same way, and make women feel more comfortable about nursing their babies publicly!

Over the years, I have learned some tips for nursing in public.  Some of these I used, some of these friends of mine have used or I’ve heard about through other people:

  • If you are uncomfortable, you can always put a blanket over your baby.  But, good luck if it’s hot and/or your baby is old enough to pull it off!
  • You can try a nursing cover, which are specifically made for women to nurse under.  In my opinion though, that draws more attention to the fact that a woman is nursing, because everyone knows what they look like and what they’re for.
  • You can try wearing nursing clothing, which is specifically designed to make it easier to nurse more easily.  One of my best investments after my third baby, was a $50 nursing tank.  I wished I had splurged on one much earlier!
  • You can try wearing layers, for example a tank under a t shirt.  I’ve also known people who cut holes in the tank they wear underneath so that it’s easier for them to access their breasts.
  • Some women like button-up shirts for nursing.  They can unbutton the ones needed in the middle, and shift the shirt over to one side or another.
  • Babywearing makes it easier to nurse anywhere too, you can easily nurse in a sling, wrap, or other carrier.

*Note- In no way am I trying to discourage anyone from nursing freely.  I’m simply trying to provide a list of helpful tips for those women who find it more difficult to nurse in public and who would otherwise NOT do it.

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One Response to “Nursing in Public”

  1. Pam October 1, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    Thanks for sharing! I love the little cards that you hand out that is a great idea!

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