Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Reality of Nursing in Public

Beautiful breastfeeding art by Kate Hansen
Most stories about mothers nursing their children in public are negative. We hear the stories of discrimination and oppression. Those against breastfeeding will claim they saw a woman fling her breast out to breastfeed her child. Breastfeeding mothers tell of snide comments they heard, demands that they leave a public place or feed their child in a restroom. I've had my share of comments. They do exist, as much as some will have you believe otherwise. Occasionally a mother may have a positive comment or smile. Personally, I try to encourage other mothers I see nursing in public, even if it's just with a cheesy smile. However, overall neither of these scenarios is the norm.

I've never once seen a woman fling a breast, which frankly sounds quite painful. If you know where I can witness this, please let me know; I've never quite understood the logistics of it. The truth if the matter is, most people don't notice a mother nursing her child. When a child shows signs of wanting to nurse, a mother matter of factly lifts or lowers her shirt enough to allow the child to latch on. They nurse and go on about their business. No fanfare precedes the event. There are no requests for cheers or hurrahs. The mother is merely attending to her child's needs, just as she would hug the child or hand the child food.

While negative experiences sadly occur, in the thousands of times I've nursed in public, the number of negative comments are comparatively small. I've nursed in a laundromat full of college guys, out hiking, in stores while pushing a cart, while helping my older children with crafts at a children's museum, next to a strange man on an airplane (who was kind enough to offer to pull my tray down for my water), at concerts, parks, libraries, and more. Most of the time, no one says a word.

So while we do need to normalize breastfeeding and nursing in public, new mothers shouldn't feel frightened to do so. Chances are, no one will even notice. If they do, it's very likely they won't say a thing. And if they do, take confidence in the fact that you are doing the best for your child and stay firm in your rights.


We are happy to feature today's guest post from Mandy. Mandy is an unschooling mom of 4 and advocate of consensual living. You can normally find her at Living Peacefully with Children.


I agree, All the times I have nursed in public not word has been said to me. I try to encourage other moms that it is perfectly normal to feed their child in public. Everybody has to eat, and we wouldn't stop another human from eating his or her bfest, snacks, lunch or dinner! why should we ask a bursing mother to hide while she nurtured her child. thank you for sharing this. B

*nursing- typing while nursing can be tricky.

The first time I ever nursed in public was when my oldest was a few weeks old. I was in a Barnes and Noble in a comfortable chair clustered with three others, all filled. Much to my horror, I was sitting next to a teenage boy. I pulled out my oversized blanket, since I was still having trouble latching, but ended up putting the thing over MY head so I could see what I was doing. After she was settled, I pulled it off of my head and put it off to the side. A moment later, she fell off and I had to do the whole thing all over again. BOY did I feel like an idiot! I got one approving smile from a woman my age, which helped, but I was so nervous about that young man.

Anyway, after she was done nursing, I put the blanket away and sat her up to burp her. The boy looked VERY startled and said "I didn't know you had a baby!". So much for worrying about discretion.

After that, I very rarely worried about people's looks or comments. At this point, I've been nursing for a total of close to 12 years without any memorably negative experiences, including nursing toddlers up to three. Perhaps nobody harassed because I was confident and made eye contact and smiled at anybody who looked at me. I'm doing the right thing & know it, so why should I look scared or guilty?

The only times I've ever really felt awkward were around a few very specific and strange people (one who I don't feel safe around, one who still sees me as a little girl and it just felt weird, somebody else that I'm blanking on) and on the subway in NYC. All of which I managed to get over by pretending I wasn't concerned and doing it anyway, since the baby didn't care if I was feeling awkward or not.

Hope that helps!

I've never had a negative issue when NIP no matter how old my nursling was. I'm one who smiles and nods when I see someone NIP. I also tell my 4 yo nursling "see Meredith that kid gets mooah like you." And she typically has some snarky comment only a 4 year old can give in public about how they have a good mama or something. People usually smile at that.

I've nursed for a total of 8 years and have been around numerous nursing mama's during that time. I've never gotten a mean look or had a bad experience. The sense I've gotten is that people are either indifferent, supportive or uncomfortable at the privacy of my breast showing, but I just continue to nurse and act like I would if I weren't nursing - no one's ever said anything. I would hate to be the person who did, that's for sure.

This is great reminder, I think sometimes with all the press about nursing new moms get overwhelmed and assumed that something bad is going to happen every time they leave the house and try to nurse. For the most part it is uneventful just like it should be, and in those rare instances where it isn't just stand up for yourself and your child.

If it were not for the stories online, I wouldn't think twice about NIP. I have yet to hear a negative remark, but I have heard perfectly neutral/supportive ones, like, "Aww, is she drinking?" It's unfortunate that it's often the negatives that stick in our minds. Thanks for a reminder of the positive!

I have nursed in public virtually anywhere and everywhere, discreetly yet without a coverup or blanket. The only time I recall getting a negative comment is when I was nursing my then-4 month old daughter in first class on an airplane en route to NY on a business trip. The (20something female) flight attendant "suggested" several times that I might be more comfortable with a blanket over the baby or sitting in the back row of the plane. Tired of her uninvited pushiness, I snappily assured her we were very comfortable and asked her not to disturb us again. At that point the (40something) businessMAN seated next to me turned to me and said "I wonder what's her problem? She acts like she's never seen a baby eat before." Turns out he's a dad of 3, all who were nursed by his wife!

For me its not even about someone who might comment, its about the comments I hear from others about other people NIP. Especially from a young girl I know who will soon be pregnant...during a vague discussion about breastfeeding (my pumping or something) she says "well its illegal anyway to show your nipple in public" (in a very disgusted, I would never nurse-that is gross tone. First of all...why is it illegal to show nipple in public? and Second...I sure wish I could convince people that nursing is or should be the norm instead of the norm being feeding that disgusting formula to babies. and don't really show nipple during nursing! BTW I have to nurse and supplement with formula...long story but I nurse as much as possible. I'm still a nursing advocate and I just don't understand why people are so weird about it.

I've nursed in lots of public places without a problem. Once, while discreetly nursing in a doctor's waiting room, the receptionist shouted over "Are you breastfeeding?" I was caught off guard and asked if that was okay. She said it was perfectly fine and was supportive, but came out a moment later with a hospital gown to cover up me and the baby. I just had to laugh to myself. I normally use a cover for my own modesty, but had figured that my shirt and winter coat was coverage enough in the empty waiting room. That was my strangest experience, and I would not even consider it negative.

This is absolutely true. Whenever I pass a nursing mother I smile and make eye-contact to somehow let her know I've got her back (if need be).

I've never had a comment either - a few looks and whispers behind hands, but nothing that has ever made me feel like hiding under a rock.

I love this, and sandramort's story made me chuckle. Most of the comments have been along the same line, of "I didn't realize he was eating!" The negative stories are horrifying, but rare. Even though I do think the culture has a long way to go before everybody is accepting of nursing in public and the horrifying stories no longer happen at all, I think it's perfectly safe to breastfeed in public.

I was at the swiming pool with my 4 childen when my baby was only a couple of weeks old and saw another mother their nusing and she ever brought her boopy. I loved it! I wish I would have thought of bring mine. All the times I have nursed in public I have never had anyone say anything to me. I don't think people notice half the time. I never did untill I became a nursing mommy.

Post a Comment

Please read the comment policy before posting. In short, "We encourage thoughtful, mature debate on everything we post. It is our desire to host a thoughtful, encouraging community for breastfeeding parents and those who support us. If you find yourself disagreeing with most of the content here, there are many other websites/communities where you might feel more comfortable."
If your comment does not conform to the policy, it will be deleted without notice.
All comments will be held for moderation, we apologize for the delay.