Today we are happy to host a guest post by Star. Star spends her days chasing her preschooler, nursing her baby, and working as a breastfeeding peer counselor in Missouri. When she's not doing those things, she can be found blogging at Car StarRod. Here is her nursing in public guest post.
I decided to breastfeed for the health benefits. The closeness and joy I experienced while breastfeeding my daughter were a surprising bonus. But take her out in public, pull up my shirt, and latch her on? Pfft. Not. Gonna. Happen. No way.
For my first public outing with my daughter, Rhi, I prepared. I packed a diaper bag with a bottle of pumped milk. I nursed her as much as she wanted. When she finished I packed her up into her car seat, and we were off . . . to the store. (I admit that the store isn't a particularly special first public outing, but since I was a new stay at home mom, it seemed as awesome as if we were attending the Oscars. With only slightly less time spent getting ready.)
We got to the store, I got her out of the car, and we went inside. Shortly after that, all of my plans went straight to hell.
While walking through the aisles, my baby signaled her hunger by shoving her hands in her mouth and squawking at me. I did not expect her to be hungry again so soon, but I was ready. I parked my cart, took her into the bathroom, and heated up her bottle under the hot water. This took more time then I imagined it would, and by the time it was warm, my baby was furious that I had not yet met her needs. She was very vocal about it.
Finally I deemed the bottle warm enough, and we sat on the bench outside of the bathroom. Except – what's this? Why won't she take the bottle? Her crying got louder (how was that possible?!).
And people were starting to stare.
And my breasts were leaking.
And I was near tears.
Stretched to my breaking point, I yanked up my shirt, pulled down my bra, and latched my daughter on to my breast. Discretion? I was too stressed and upset to care.
My daughter instantly calmed down, grabbed onto me, and let out a contented little sigh. Even as we both relaxed, I couldn't help but feel self-conscious.
Just then, an elderly woman looked over at us, stopped, and walked over.
Please please please don't say anything to me lady, I silently plead with her. I really didn't want to do this, but I just couldn't help it and I'm trying my best and . . .
“Pretty baby,” the woman said, breaking into my inner monologue.
“Huh?” I asked, stupidly.
“You have a very pretty baby there,” she repeated, smiling down at Rhi.
“Th-thank you,” I stuttered.
That old woman was the catalyst for a change in the way I viewed nursing in public. Sure, maybe she had no clue what I was doing, although I find that hard to believe, since I was not trying for discretion. But her kindness to us made me really realize that what I was doing was fine, and natural, and good. No one would have cared if I had bottle fed my kid anywhere or everywhere, and most people are mature enough to understand that using your breasts to feed a baby is not the same thing as using them in a sexual manner.
That incident changed my perspective. It enabled me to nurse my first daughter all over the place, and I'm doing the same with my second (and I do mean everywhere, including in a job interview, in front of clients, at a park full of people, and once while pumping gas). I have, in my nursing experience, had one run in with someone: a woman at the mall who said I should be using the nursing room (that had three women already in line). I never even responded, because four other people – including her own daughter – told her she was out of line. She even (begrudgingly) apologized.
So while there are certainly bad nursing in public experiences, we must remember as nursing mothers that those are the ones that get the coverage. They are, quite simply, more newsworthy. There are a million stories of good experiences, and even more of neutral ones where no action is taken at all, but those aren't controversial enough to place headlines or whip up a storm of controversy. In fact, I daresay most of us will never have to deal with a particularly dreadful response from anyone. Maybe the normalization of breastfeeding isn't quite as far off as we think.
Despite the fact that negative nursing in public experiences get the publicity, more women receive the kindness and thanks from strangers for making breastfeeding a normal sight.
We want to share your positive stories so that other breastfeeding mothers and mothers-to-be will be inspired and encouraged to N.I.P. If you have a positive N.I.P. story, please contact us. We will include them in the series and credit you, your site, or post it anonymously if you so desire.