Beyond the Nursery: Nursing with confidence

  • You may start out feeling awkward and insecure, but over time you are likely to develop confidence and become more assertive. This is what happened with Stephanie. A first-time mother in Pennsylvania, she practiced nursing discreetly in front of mirrors and her husband. I wanted to go places and do things but was so nervous that someone might get a glimpse of my bra as I opened it or, god forbid, a flash of skin, she recalls. Her attitude changed after a few weeks and she became resentful and angry. I never intended to fully disrobe in the mall but I hated the fact that I couldn't focus on my daughter's needs -- I had to focus on whether somebody might be seeing more than they should. Stephanie became increasingly defiant and after a few months would actually seek out places that might ruffle a few feathers.
  • The law is on your side! In fact over 20 states have enacted legislation to clarify that women have the right to nurse in public without being accused of indecent exposure, lewd behavior or obscenity. So...if anyone suggests you move to the bathroom to nurse, simply ask them if they'd like to eat their meal in a toilet stall and share with them this link: www.llli.org//Law/LawMain.html
  • Don't feel pressured to feed your baby expressed milk in a bottle. Not only is a pump less effective than a baby at removing milk from the breast, but lactation works on the principle of supply and demand. In some cases, pumping, instead of nursing, can diminish your milk supply. Besides, if your baby is nursing for comfort -- or any other "non-nutritional" reason, he or she doesn't want a bottle when your warm body is right there!
  • If you're nursling is past the babe-in-arms stage, he or she won't care if you're at home or in a shopping mall. You may want to nurse ahead of time and eventually you may be able to explain to your child that there are places where it's ok to nurse and places where you have to wait. But again, know that you have the legal right to breastfeed. And international health organizations recommend nursing a child for at least two years. So if someone gives you a hard time, gently inform them that nurslings suckle for reasons beyond the milk. It calms them, comforts them, and meets their emotional needs. Humor may help. You can be pretty sure that by the time your child starts college he or she will be off the breast. In short, there is no reason to feel embarrassed for meeting your child's nutritional and emotional needs.
  • Generally, the more comfortable you are, the less likely others will challenge you. Remember the words of Nina, a first-time mother in upstate New York. I love nursing in public and I don't put a ton of effort into hiding it, she admits. I'm not saying breastfeeding should be about shock value, but I feel strongly about nursing and am proud of it. I don't look down, I don't feel embarrassed, and I look people right in the eye.

Remember, be discreet, but not invisible, confident but not aggressive. Use a blanket as a cover up, if you like, but if your baby won't tolerate warm flannel over his head, who can blame him? Remember that nursing in public not only meets your baby's needs, but does a public service.

Barbara L. Behrmann, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and author of The Breastfeeding Café: Mothers Share the Joys, Secrets & Challenges of Nursing, University of Michigan Press, 2005. She is a frequent speaker around the country and is available for talks, readings, and conducting birthing and breastfeeding writing circles. The mother of two formerly breastfed children, Barbara lives in upstate New York. Visit her website at www.breastfeedingcafe.com.

Copyright © Barbara L Behrmann. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.