How to Breastfeed in Public
Picture a new mom, freshly launched into the chaos of adapting to motherhood. She is exhausted, emotional, and still healing in one capacity or another. Getting up the courage to go out and about for the first time, she awkwardly juggles her infant carrier, diaper bag, and other baby necessities... feeling more like a pack mule than a human woman. Her pants start sliding down as she is now between the sizes of her maternity pants and those she wore before growing an entire human. She's a bit frazzled already, and then the familiar hungry whimpers turn to a cry, and then to a scream. Baby needs milk NOW, not when they get home or back to the car.
I remember this feeling all too well, the stress of navigating learning how to breastfeed while still recovering from a traumatic emergency cesarean. Nipples sore, boobs engorged and heavy, the combo of this weight and cradling a newborn creating a permanent ache in my upper back and neck. Then needing to nurse but feeling sooo self-concious about doing so.
The very parts of our body we were told to cover up, to keep hidden and respectably modest were now to be just whipped out in public? What a massive shift! I recalled being a blossoming teenager, perky breasts filling out my shirt as my mom told me to hike up the camisole underneath. As a mother of a young girl myself now, I understand her intention... to try her best to protect me from the seemingly inevitable within our society, being objectified.
"How come boys can have their nipples out and be nakey on the top?"
This question posed by our observant four year old was a good one. Obviously, she was far from the growth of breasts and her chest could not be differentiated from her male peers, yet it was acceptable for them to run around shirtless in the same July heat? I had no good answer.
I began tracing back this objectification and mental programming. Everywhere we turned as young women, we learned that these tissues on our chest were not fully our own... but existed for male pleasure and sexual satisfaction. We watched as Victoria's Secret models confidently displayed their perfect bodies and entire segments of pageants were dedicated to how good a young woman looked in her bikini. (Side note, if you haven't heard the new song "Victoria's Secret" by Jax, PLEASE have yourself a listen.) We saw movies and shows that featured busty women getting preferential treatment, or using their bodacious curves to earn them special perks with male counterparts.
As breastfeeding mothers, it's time to reclaim our bodies. While it may often feel they belong to our men or our littles, these miraculous body parts are OURS. We have the power and choice to use them to sustain life beyond pregnancy. We can embrace with awe the fact that with just our body, we can keep another human (or multiple) alive and healthy. That is downright amazing!
But how do we enjoy the experience of breastfeeding without feeling shame, fear or worry? Tune into the connection of yourself and your babe, as that is all that matters. Remember that this is YOUR body and YOU have the choice to feed YOUR baby as you see fit. A few helpful tips:
Cover up for comfort with a blanket or nursing scarf... or proudly nurse out in the open.
Find a quiet and secluded place... or enjoy the outdoor concert or ballgame you don't want to miss.
Avoid eye contact with those around you... or enjoy the humor of those who don't know whether to look, look away, or an entertaining rapid-fire combination of both.
The point is, you are more than an object of lust and more than a couple of milk jugs. You are a mother, a powerful woman whose beautiful choices in providing your baby with sustenance deserve respect and honor.