BREASTFEEDING IN PUBLIC: MORE THAN JUST EXPOSED NIPPLES
Jul 5, 2001 (Updated Jan 18, 2003)
Popular Products in Baby CareThe Bottom Line If you choose to nurse your baby in public just as I did, stand firm behind your right to do so as you educate and prepare the next generation.
Because I breastfed my oldest son for the first 4 months of his life, and then continued on to breastfeed his younger brother for 9 months, I feel that I've learned a few things along the way about nursing in public and breastfeeding in general. My philosophy is simple. If my baby is hungry, then I am going to feed him, no matter where I happen to be. PERIOD. After all, nursing a baby is what breasts are first and foremost designed for, whether be it in a public place or in the privacy of my own home. If you prefer not to see a nursing baby doing one of the most natural things in the world, then I suggest you look elsewhere. Feeding my hungry baby comes first and I could care less about prudish, old-fashioned views many people continue to have regarding my right to nurse my little one in a public place if I choose to do so.
That's not to say that ALL women should nurse in public if they aren't comfortable with this potentially embarrassing practice. Even though nursing in public comes naturally to some, others wouldn't dream of pulling out a breast and allowing their hungry baby to latch on without some privacy first. But that's ok. NOT nursing in public is a mother's right just as much as being "allowed" to breastfeed a hungry baby without negative comments and looks of distaste despite one's surroundings is as well. It all boils down to a matter of choice and what each individual woman is most comfortable with.
Now I'm not saying that a woman should just pop out her boob for the whole world to see and place it in her baby's mouth. That's not what nursing in public is all about. There are many discreet ways that women can satisfy a hungry baby in public without any displays of obvious nudity. With practice, nursing in public can be almost as simple as bottle feeding. And more often than not, most people do not even realize what you are doing unless they look very closely or you allow them to notice.
Yes, it takes a lot of courage for some to nurse in public when there are people out there that look down at this practice and feel that it's vulgar and disgusting, especially the first time a new mother does so. But I can tell you this: for every negative comment or look of distaste a breastfeeding mother may encounter why nursing her baby in a public place, she'll also see just as many, if not more, knowing grins and proud nods of support from fellow past and present breastfeeding moms and even her male partners. The only way to make nursing in public a natural and positive thing is to continually expose the next generation to discreet displays of women casually breastfeeding their babies in a variety of settings and I guarantee the stigma will slowly fade away. Maybe not without a fight from those that will not let go of their conservative views, however. But as more and more women defiantly decide that they are NOT going to miss out on the events of every day life cooped away in some bathroom, nursing stall, or at home just to keep from offending some perfect stranger, only THEN will the act of nursing in public become commonplace and more socially accepted.
Ok...so you are a new nursing mom or are contemplating breastfeeding your new bundle of joy when he or she finally arrives and don't have the first clue as to HOW to nurse your little one in public discreetly? With a bit of practice and preparation and a lot of courage, it's very simple. Shyness and a lack of self-confidence just don't fit very well with the act nursing in public. You must get over any such hang-ups or predisposed ideas about breastfeeding and be confident in your decision to rightfully nurse in public to successfully be able to do so, IF that is indeed your choice.
First of all, practice breastfeeding your baby in a sitting position in front of a mirror so that you can see just how little of your skin has to be exposed during the process. I know this sounds corny, but it works! Once you get used to seeing yourself nurse your little one this way, it eventually becomes not that big of deal anymore. Then practice your public nursing skills in front of close supportive family members to see how they react. It didn't take me long to get the attitude that: so what, my baby is hungry, get over it. I'll be discreet as long as others keep their stares and negative comments to themselves.
Secondly, invest in some good nursing bras and clothing that allows quick yet discreet access to your breasts for easy to nurse in public situations. Button down tops and big, roomy t-shirts are helpful in this area too. Some good, but admittedly expensive, nursing clothes can be purchased at online websites such as www.motherwear.com, if desired. They have a variety of stylish outfits to choose from, depending on your lifestyle and how much cash you are willing to spend on top quality nursing wear.
Third, it always helps to have extra receiving blankets on hand to help cover yourself up in the beginning as you gain confidence in your public nursing skills if you feel the need to do so. But a word of advice and warning here: a colorful baby blanket thrown across your shoulder and chest announces to the world: LOOK AT ME! I'm breastfeeding! Not to mention that obviously covering up in this manner is not very practical on hot and sweaty days. I guarantee your little one will begin protesting very loudly if he or she becomes too hot and can't breathe very well under there. The blanket may be useful for getting your little one latched on to the breast initially, but once he or she begins to feed, lose it for your comfort and your baby's as well and continue on with the conversation at hand or whatever else you may happen to be doing at the time.
Fourth, some prefer nursing their baby in a sling while in public for easy access and extra coverage. I, personally, have never owned one, so my experience in this area is very limited. All of my babies were close to 9 pounds or greater at birth and grew very rapidly, so slings always seemed a bit impractical for me and my heavyweights. Still, this is an viable option you may consider as you gain confidence in your ability to nurse in public when the need happens to arise. Just like the receiving blankets, however, slings can be hot and also announce to the world what you are doing.
One word of helpful advice here: don't wait until your baby is screaming with hunger to allow him or her to latch on if you want your quest to nurse discreetly in public to be a successful one. Nothing attracts more public attention than trying to soothe a screaming newborn when you KNOW nothing but offering him or her your breast will do. At those first few signs of hunger, take a deep breath and casually place your baby discreetly onto your breast. If you act as if it's no big deal, then chances are, most others around you will feel the same way, too.
So hopefully, these helpful hints will help new nursing mothers gain confidence in their ability to discreetly nurse their little ones in public if that is their choice to rightfully do so. I can't even begin to list all the numerous places I've allowed my babies to breastfeed outside the privacy of my own home. Some of the many public places I've nursed include, but aren't limited to: restaurants, the mall, the beach, inside movie theaters, amusement parks, during a crowded game of miniature golf, family gatherings, (even during my brother's church wedding!) and so on. I'll be the first to admit that it DOES take practice in the beginning to nurse with confidence around others, but after the first few times, it really does become almost like second nature and you will most likely rarely think twice about it.
Good luck and enjoy this special bond only you can share with your baby as those breastfeeding days pass by SO quickly and before you know it, your little one has weaned him or herself, just like mine did. Don't feel pressured by social stigmas dictating that you should hide yourself away in some nasty bathroom or other deserted area at feeding time when out in public with your baby. Just as people don't think twice about mothers bottlefeeding their hungry babies in public, the same consideration should apply to nursing mothers as well.
As always, HAPPY BREASTFEEDING!!
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