Friday, August 20, 2010

The Joys of Nursing in Public #1

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.
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I had no interest in nursing in public.

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.

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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.

24 comments:

found the experience very similar to my own of n.i.p, however thought the title was slightly off. breastfeeding is a joy to most women, but breastfeeding in public is usually a neccessary part of being a nursing mum, i felt neither joy or unhappiness at doing it.. i n.i.p because i had a crying baby that refused a bottle til 9months old and it was neccessary to feed in public or i would have never left the house, perhaps the title for this article could have been, the positive exprience of nursing in public.. as altho it can be a positive experience- im not sure it is joyous for anyone...

I was nursing in public once and a nice elderly man came up to me and said his wife had nursed their 5 kids and how was I doing? I told him we were good and he said how glad he was that people still nursed their babies. It was really sweet. I have had a lot of positive experiences and no bad ones. I am one of the lucky ones I guess. this was a nice post to read. I think that NIP is getting a lot more normal, I see people nursing all the time all over the place and it is a great thing!
my son is 16 mo now and we still nurse but currently if we are anywhere other than a quiet dark room he doesn't have the attention span to nurse...so NIP is no longer part of our lives. But I hope that i can encourage other moms when I get the chance.

that was so heartwarming to read! my 'baby' is 27 years old now, so nursing is just a (very) fond memory for me! my husband and i used to call nursing 'num-num', and whenever we heard a baby crying in public, we'd say (quietly), 'num that baby!' we still do! :o)

Hooray! I like the stories that end with "wait, maybe this isn't so bad and I don't have to have my barbed responses ready after all!"

It's so wonderful when people surprise us in a good way, right?

@Anonymous - thank you for taking the time to comment and share your experiences. The whole point of this series is to show nursing mothers (and moms-to-be) that NIP does not have to be a negative experience - in fact, there are actually many joys associated with NIP. I've been NIP for 2.5 yrs, and I've had joyous experiences. I'm sorry you never had the opportunity to experience joy while breastfeeding your little one in public. I think a lot of the nerves and stage fright associated with NIP comes from our society's attitude toward breastfeeding. Perhaps if we share more positive experiences (like the one this author shared today), we can help normalize breastfeeding - anywhere and everywhere - so that more women can feel the amazing joy of giving her child nourishment and comfort.

I don't enjoy nursing in public at all. I almost feel guilty and very self-conscious when I am doing it. Its almost like I am just sitting there waiting for someone to come over and say something. The lawyer in me is ready to lash out and scream something about rights and laws, but the new mother of a beautiful infant daughter in me is ready to burst into tears at the first sign of someone disapproving.

I don't nurse in public to be one of those nursing nazi's as some have called them. I do it because my daughter won't take a bottle from me. I refuse to sit on a dirty toilet and nurse, and its far too hot to sit in the car and nurse. I don't do it for anyone but my daughter. I truly wish I could just give her a bottle and call it a day, but that doesn't work.

If someone said something to me, I cannot promise you what would happen. I know that I would either become crazy lawyer Rachel, or I would just burst into tears... I guess we'll see...

Rachel - big hugs! Do you have any nursing friends? I would recommend joining a LLL chapter or finding a local AP group (try "Finding Your Tribe" on Mothering.com). I would never feel as comfortable NIP as I do now, without having so many breastfeeding friends. Really - they have normalized it for me, which makes me feel better when I have to do it alone.

I have had a few NIP experiences in my 7 weeks of being a mom. And the best was when I was at resturant and had just finished nursing. As this woman got up to leave, she made a point of stopping and congratulating me on nursing. She said to keep it up. I made a point to thank her for supporting NIP. It gave me a different point of view. I have been anticipating the negative comments, but never thought that there might be people out there who do see it as a positive thing the same that I do.

Before having my first child NIP is a topic I never even thought about! I never really noticed women nursing in public so I never really thought about it. After having my first child and realizing how often he needed to be nursed I sought out the nursing rooms at the mall and always tried to nurse before we left the house. That method only got me so far and I slowly realized that it was weird to NOT see women nursing their babies in public! I learned to nurse my baby everywhere, airports, airplanes, zoos, beaches, pools, etc. I never had any comments negative or positive. I am currently nursing my second baby who, today decided she needed to be nursed in 95 degree heat with many people around...this time I didn't even consider where I was. I just plopped down on a bench and latched her on. I did get a few odd looks but no comments...I was nourishing my child and hopefully a few minds as well! I feel like it's my job as a nursing mama to show people how normal it is!

@Anonymous (both of you!) - please consider sharing your stories in the series - we need to hear from more mamas like you! Please take a look at our contributor guidelines and then email your post proposals (NursingFreedom (at) gmail (dot) com)

The best NIP comment ever?

I was nursing my first baby in a sling (awkwardly, basically trying to do whatever I could to get my colicky infant to please stop crying) walking around the grocery store. A woman came up to me, and I froze...

And she said....

"She has beautiful nursing cheeks. You must have good milk."

I felt so proud. :-D

I have always nursed by babies in public. And sometimes the joy I have had in doing it is that NO ONE knew what was happening. I have walked through a mall with my son in his sling nursing, I have nursed my children at restaurants (fancy and not so fancy both) all the while being discreet and I can honestly say that in all that time (2 kids and almost 4 years) I have only had one experience in which I felt people where staring (and it was a table of women at a sushi restaurant??). My best NIP experience was in Maui last year. On a whale watching tour, we came upon a whale and her calf and our guide told us that the calf was nursing and at that very moment I was also nursing my daughter on the deck of the boat (surrounded by 80 or so other people). It was WAY cool and that was a joyous NIP moment for me!!

what a good mother for meeting your baby's needs, even though at the moment it wasn't your plan. :)

I love hearing these stories! It's great to hear more positive stories about nursing in public. I'd be interested in sharing mine as well.

Amanda - email us! NursingFreedom (at) gmail (dot) come - we'll publish this series as long as we keep getting stories.

@Kelly & Natasha - omg LOVE those stories!! Please, feel free to write them up and share them in more traditional post form.

This post and the comments are making me smile.

My baby refused all bottles from the outset. He wasn't going to take him momma milk from anyplace but the tap. I was prepared to be a "NIP Nazi" but never needed to because *he* seemed to prefer to do it in private. He never cried for milk when we were out and about so I was always able to find a quiet, private spot to nurse him when I knew it was time.

But I applaud the moms who bravely whip 'em out in public places. Whenever I see a mom and baby nursing someplace conspicuous, it makes me want to tell them how wonderful they are. But I'm too shy to do that and a little afraid of embarrassing the mother. But reading these comments, now I sorta feel like I *should* be actively showing my approval in these situations.

First of all, I want to say that I'm amazed and awed that something that I wrote has been shared on Facebook almost 300 times. That is INSANE. But, you know, in a really, really great way. Still, thank you to everyone who shared this - and to the ladies at Nursing Freedom for having a site like this. :)

That said, I wanted to respond to everyone who's commented.

Anonymous #1 - My first few NIP experiences were a little scary, some were neutral, but some have been a joy. Like nursing at the park and hearing someone tell her young child, "Oh, that mommy is nursing her baby. I used to nurse you." Or nursing in the interview for a job and having the interviewer start telling me about how long she breastfed. It was wonderful. Almost a really cool conversation starter. :)

@Jamie Willow Yeah, Rhi eventually got to the point where, when she nursed, she was off more often than she was on. And since she was only doing it once or twice a day then, it just kind of fell into our morning and night routine, so I stopped having to NIP too. Until I had the second baby.

@Aileen Some of my very favorite memories of Rhi as an infant involve nursing. :) She'll forget them, but those experiences will be beautiful memories for me forever.

@cd Exactly! I was so sure people were just automatically going to be jerks that I was blown away when she was so nice. Gives you a little faith.

@Rachel It's hard without a lot of support. Even my mom, who nursed me and encouraged me bfing is always harping on, "You should get a cover! There are men here! There are teenage boys here!" Because none of them have ever seen breasts, right? lol. You might contact your local LLL, like Dionna suggested, or your local WIC. Many of them have breastfeeding peer counselors (that's what I do) and we oftentimes have get togethers, or can even just be called if you need reinforcement/support.

@Anonymous 2 - I keep wanting to get "Thank you for NIP" cards for that very reason.

@Anonymous 3 - I feel the same way, like I need to do my part to normalize nursing. Like it's my duty.

(Sorry, had to break this into 2)

@kelly - Great compliment! I would have been proud too!

@Natasha - What a beautiful moment! Also, since you and kelly mentioned it, I'm sort of envious of you sling nursing mamas. My babe and I can't seem to manage it in the sling.

@Family of 5 - Thank you! :D

@Amanda - I hope you share yours. :) Positive NIP stories warm my heart.

@Anonymous - My second gets freaked out by large crowds and demands nursing for comfort. Too many people while I'm grocery shopping and I have to nurse her. It was good that my first eased me into it, because with my second, the more public, the better to her, lol.

I usually just give nursing mamas a big smile, but I've had some great conversations because of saying something, too. Kinda depends on the mom's vibe, you know?

Again, thanks for reading and sharing my piece, everyone, and thanks to Nursing Freedom for posting it! :D

Beautiful story! I wish it happened like that for everyone, because like you said, it can have such a positive, "why am I so stressed about this?" impact.

I'm currently nursing my 4th baby (literally; typing is slow), and at this point, I have no qualms nursing anywhere. I'm very discreet, and once we get past the first few weeks of adjustment, everything is quick and easy. I even nursed my son last night at the hibachi table! (I just help him closer during the Big Fire part.)

I'm so happy you had a good experience, Star. And I think you're right. I think nursing in public is more mainstream and accepted than most people realize.

Hi, I found this on facebook and had to post. I am 44 year old mom to a 3 year old who is still nursing. At 3 we don't nip much anymore but when he was little we did it all the time. I was a DD cup before I was pregnant so doing it discreetly is nearly impossible ;). I stopped caring after the first time. What is really sad is that we even have to think about it. Wouldn't it be great if the odd thing to see was a bottle, not nursing. I just don't understand how something as basic as nursing your child got hijacked by corporations wanting to make some money to sell us something. I understand that there are occasions that formula might be needed. But for the rare occasions that a mom truly can't nurse, a wetnurse or goats milk or milk banks could be done. We would be doing those things if formula were not on the grocery store shelves. I get mad when I think about it. I supplemented my son when he was a newborn, he was hungry and my milk had not come in (emerg c-sect). I wish there had been a resource for donated breast milk at my hospital, a procedure in place, that wouldn't have had formula be the quick solution for my son. FORMULA SHOULD BE BY PRESCRIPTION ONLY, IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BREASTFEED, DON'T HAVE CHILDREN. Strong words I know but it is how I feel. ok I'm done ranting, sorry but really how did we come to this mess where we stuff inferior crap down our babies throats and say that's normal :(.

Michelle Plaven Thomas ;)

Yesterday I took my (very active) 18 month-old son to the river, and after exploring all over and climbing on everything he wanted to nurse. So, we plopped right down in the river, and I got to have a few moments to relax in the water while he was happily nursing and pointing out birds. I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the river in that way if I was worried about nursing in public!

I loved reading this post and the comments. My 35 1/2 month old stopped nursing last summer, but I still miss nursing him. I never had a stranger comment negatively. My brother-in-law was uncomfortable, and my MIL suggested I cover up. I did, but I wish he had been more comfortable.

I'm coming in a little late on this post but just saw it on FB. I wanted to share my best NIP moment. Even before I had my first baby, I knew I was going to breastfeed. So when she was born, naturally I took her on outings with me, but was unsure of how to go about NIP. The first few times, I actually secluded myself into a dirty bathroom stall. The big turning point, however, came during a bathroom feeding at IHOP when both stalls were occupied. I leaned against the wall and started nursing her, when an elderly woman walked in and came up to us. I started to get nervous, thinking she would criticize me for not covering up, but instead she reached her hand out and pet my dd's head, and told me what a beautiful little girl I had. She then proceeded to tell me good job for nursing as she had breastfed her children as well. That was exactly the boost I needed feel that I was doing right by my baby and I didn't have to hide.

I'm now a mother of 5 children, and have breastfed each and every one. I've only had one negative comment spoken to me (also when I was nursing #1), and had a few stares one other time, but mostly my NIP moments have been pleasant.

Kara

@giggly - I run a "joys of nursing past infancy" series at my personal blog - codenamemama.com - if you are interested in contributing something, please contact me :)

@Kara - we would love to feature your story in the series - please read the contributor guidelines and email me your story! http://www.nursingfreedom.org/p/about-us.html#contact

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