I clearly remember my first outing with Shay when I knew I would end up feeding him out of the house. As a new mother, I was a bit nervous since I had a whole “breastfeeding station” set up at home. This included a supportive pillow, water bottle, stool for my feet, right to expose myself if need be, and my Nook. Once out of the house, I felt unprepared and overwhelmed at how we would manage without my props. Luckily, with the help and support of my husband, all went well and this became the first of many “public” breastfeeding experiences.
Soon enough, breastfeeding out of the house didn’t require as much work or planning. I also stopped throwing a blanket over my shoulder in an attempt to cover the baby and breast. My main reason for this being that I liked looking at him while he nursed. I also felt like he was getting lost in the material and I couldn’t see what was going on. I tried the kind that covers the baby, but leaves an opening at the top to see the child and that wasn’t right either. I felt it was drawing even more attention to myself and again, I felt a little lost in the excess material. I opted for clothing that gave easy and discreet access to my breast. Since I was no longer fidgeting with covers and didn’t have my reading material along with me, I started noticing the people around me. Some people that saw me seemed interested, while others noticed and then suddenly turned their gaze away. Some looked shocked and a few looked disgusted.
Breastfeeding in public stirs up a lot of feelings and opinions for people. Some people, like the “bottle fed generation of the 60’s,” see breastfeeding as a private matter that should be saved for home or a private, discreet setting. Considering a newborn feeds about every two hours, poor mom would never leave home! Another reason some are opposed is because of the sexual implication of a bare breast. I believe there is more alluring breast exposure in beach-wear or scanty clothing then there is in breastfeeding. With the exception of the baby expectantly popping off, the baby’s head covers most of the breast.
Mothers are getting mixed messages. The America Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continue to nurse for a full year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 75 percent of mothers start breastfeeding immediately after birth, but less than 15 percent of those moms are breastfeeding exclusively six months later. I believe this dramatic drop could be the lack of support to continue breastfeeding. For those that are continuing to 6 months or beyond, they make breastfeeding a life style choice. They are likely not tethered to their couch, so they must learn to breastfeed on the go.
“Nurse-ins” have become a popular protesting strategy among some “lactivists” to help normalize breastfeeding and to amplify breastfeeding mothers right to feed her baby where ever she likes, and they also heighten the public’s awareness of the health benefits of breastfeeding.
To help support nursing mothers, breastfeeding laws have been passed to protect the right of public nursing. Currently, 45 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location, those excluded from the list are Idaho, West Virginia, Michigan, Virginia, and South Dakota.
I don’t pay too much attention to tabloids or the activities of celebrities, but I am grateful that so many have chosen to breastfeed their children in public. Since we are culture that treats celebrities like royalty, this can help reduce the stigma of breastfeeding in public for the rest of us. This list includes: Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Miranda Kerr, Selma Hayek, and Selma Blair.
Tips for breastfeeding in public:
Wear your baby! Certain carries allow you to easily nurse your child with little fuss to get baby to breast.
Have a distraction for baby. A lot of babies have a “roaming arm” while breastfeeding. This active arm may be pushing your shirt up to your collarbone or pulling the other side of your shirt down. You may find it helpful to hold your baby’s hand or wear a necklace that the baby can reach for instead of your clothing.
Listen to your baby’s hunger cues. An overly hungry, crying baby can be a lot harder to pacify and will draw attention to you. Try to avoid getting to that point if possible.
Be mindful of where you position yourself in the room or surroundings. I have found this helpful not just to avoid being the center of attention, but to also limit distractions for Shay. I try to find a quiet, uncrowded space if possible. If the room is bustling, I head for the corner.
Feel confident that you are doing the right the thing for you and your baby! If anyone comments to you or gives you dirty looks, know that you have the right to feed your baby where ever you see fit.
Once you have the hang of breastfeeding in public, it will become second nature to you. Happy breastfeeding!
Debra Flashenberg is the founder and Director of the Prenatal Yoga Center. She is a certified labor support doula, Lamaze Childbirth Educator, and certified prenatal yoga instructor. She is continuously in awe of the beauty and brilliance of birth and is the proud mother of her son, Shay and daughter, Sage. Visit prenatalyogacenter.com for more info!