I’m Made of Mama’s Milk” by Mary Olsen (Review) One of my favorites. We sit down and I read it to her, letting her flip back and forth through the pages until we get to the end and she grins at her reflection.
I realize then that I really don’t have many pictures of her nursing, something that has been such a normal, regular part of our daily life together. I vow to remedy this, planning a special family photo shoot and asking in advance if the photographer will take some shots of her nursing. She should have more than the very few photos I have to look back on. She will see enough photos of babies with bottles throughout her youth, simply because that is what you see on the shelf or in most books. Part of the reason, in fact, why I bought the one we are reading now, was to let her know that nursing is a normal way to feed a baby.
My hope is that growing up, Mia will know that nursing is a wonderful, natural, normal part of life. Not some rare event or private act to be hidden away. Every time we see another mother nursing in public, I tell her: “look Mia, that baby is getting milkies like you get!” and I smile. I don’t point or call attention to the pair, but I do smile to myself and internally thank them. These mothers are doing what I do when I nurse in public: caring for their children, of course, but also (perhaps unknowingly on their part) lending another degree of normalcy to nursing, giving others a chance to reaffirm breastfeeding’s role in a child’s life.
Now that Mia has gotten older, I sometimes feel shy about nursing her in public. Lactivist that I may be, I know I have every right, know Mia has the right and know that it is important I don’t go “hide” (go somewhere else in seclusion) to nurse her when we are out. I tell myself, it is society that has made me feel this pang, and I am going to give my daughter and her generation a different way to think about nursing, I’m doing our part to change the world in our own little way. It isn’t often that she asks when we are out, she's too busy looking at everything going on around us. So when she does ask to nurse or shows signs that she is sleepy or irritated and needs nursing to comfort her, I oblige.
A lot of times when I nurse, I reflect upon the emotions, the stigmas, and the joys nursing entails. Sometimes, of course, I simply think about where we need to go next or how I wish she’d stop twiddiling that beauty mark, but at times I have some profound observations about breastfeeding in general. I think:
What if there is some other woman looking at me nursing my toddler who now realizes it’s as normal of an act as feeding an infant?
What if I affect the life of that pregnant woman that just walked by, give her an image of nursing that sparks her desire to nurse, perhaps full term?
Or on a sadder note: Did that person really just give me the “stink eye”?
Sometimes I catch myself wondering as babies of various ages roll by whether they are still nursing, looking for a common bond among other moms. I admit to feeling more magnetized towards another mom that is nursing her child. Feeling a connection; feeling less alone.
How we think about nursing and teach our children invariably plays a role in whether they go on to see nursing as normal and perhaps nurse their own child one day. When we nurse in public we teach our child it is an acceptable practice, we may even by extension be teaching another person that nursing is normal. When I take my daughter to La Leche League, or I choose not to buy that doll with the orange juice bottle for her, I send her messages about breastfeeding. I may not go explaining in the middle of the store “Mia, I don’t want you to think that all babies are fed bottles, I want you to know there are other options out there and they are normal,” but maybe I am subconsciously telling her that.
I have a friend whose older daughter is entering puberty, she told me her daughter sometimes acts bashful when her friends come over and my friend nurses either of her two nurslings (she’s tandem nursing). She said that telling her "I won't have that attitude in my house" isn't helping. Having grown up seeing her other siblings nursed, I’m sure her daughter knows it to be normal, at least in their house. Yet still she is influenced by the bombardment of opinions regarding a naked female breast. At her age, I’m guessing a bit of bashfulness about the body is normal, to some degree, but my friend asked me to explore this when I write about nursing normalcy. Because here is a girl whose mom has nursed each of her siblings around her, reacting in a way that indicates she has mixed feelings about nursing. The child of a self-proclaimed lactivist, I might add.
It seems to me that no matter how often you expose your children to something natural, normal and good you still have to consciously, actively combat the attitudes that would tear it down
So what can we do to make breastfeeding (in public or otherwise) normal for our children? You don’t have to still be nursing to be a part of making changes. I know many women who recount their stories of nursing their little ones and stand up to people who would make it seem socially unacceptable. And sometimes, it’s as simple as that! You don’t have to make a big effort to make a difference.
If you are watching TV and you see a story about a nurse-in or a woman who was harassed about nursing in public, simply saying “that’s not right, nursing is normal and natural, that woman and her baby had every right to be there!” within earshot of your children conveys a strong message to them about breastfeeding in public and breastfeeding in general. Taking it further and writing a letter to an establishment or newspaper about an incident that wronged a nursing pair can have a positive impact on the community around you, possibly preventing another mother from being wronged.
Commenting on a breastfeeding mama and child while out and about in a positive subtle way (because making a big deal of it can be embarrassing to all involved) is another way to normalize breastfeeding. Books and photos in your home, of your own nursling or just some of the fantastic pieces of art I’ve seen around also help send messages that nursing is indeed normal and beautiful.
The chances are strong your child is already going to see magazine ads for formula or pictures of babies with bottles. (Let me add here that I am not anti-bottle, nor am I suggesting that breastfeeding must be exclusive of bottles or anything along those lines, merely that a bottle-centric approach to infant nutrition exists in our current society and it has been shown to undermine breastfeeding normalcy.) In order to normalize breastfeeding we either must insert our own images of what is normal or remove those that would undermine it.
I don’t think I can say enough about getting the image of a nursing mother out in the public eye and showing our children that it is normal. I myself may be guilty of not having many pictures throughout our nursing relationship for posterity, but I hope that when you consider how you want your child to view nursing, you think about maybe having a picture or two to share with them. When you nurse in public or see another mom nursing you may find yourself mentally photographing that instant and holding onto it, saying you aren’t alone, or telling your child “mommy did that too.” If we don’t see something often enough, we end up seeing it almost like a wildlife officer sees an endangered species, as a rarity.
We can’t let nursing become more of a rarity than it already appears. Images last on in our minds far longer than words. A woman nursing in public teaches the world that nursing is normal, a picture of a woman nursing her twin toddlers stays with us when we think about weaning due to societal pressure or if we can nurse two babies simultaneously. These sights lift us up, help us get through rough patches, stick around long enough that our children can also look at them and feel that same feeling.
Nursing normalcy is about being the change we want to see, and changing the way the world sees things. If our children are the future, then changing the world is in OUR hands.
We are proud to host a guest post today from Anna. Anna is an army wife, mother to a "spirited" toddler, fitness coach, future lactation consultant and advocate of natural, gentle parenting. She stays busy and occasionally blogs (or rants) about her ideas and interests at Life's A Salad Bar.