by Anne Smith, IBCLC
While my personal belief is that nothing in the world is more natural than breastfeeding, and therefore every nursing mother should feel comfortable pulling her shirt up or off and nursing anywhere at all, I understand that we live in a society where this just isn't possible. In this country, breasts are considered sexual objects, and while it is just fine to expose them on Baywatch or in Penthouse, many people feel that there is something disgusting about a baby at the breast.
The previous generation bottle-fed their babies, so many people have never, ever seen a woman nursing. That's why it has shock value, and is upsetting to so many people. I feel strongly that the way to change this is for women to nurse openly, comfortably, and modestly in public, so that people (especially children) can see that breastfeeding is the "normal" way to feed our babies.
With more and more mothers nursing these days, the tide is beginning to turn. We are nursing our babies whenever they need to eat, meeting their needs wherever we happen to be. We are backed by the scientific evidence that breastmilk is the superior infant food, and the knowledge in our hearts that we are providing our little ones with the best possible start in life. Breastfeeding is not an excretory function, and there is no reason to hide when you feed your baby. How would you like to eat your lunch in a public restroom?
There has been legislation passed in some states making it illegal to harass a mother who is nursing in public, as well as laws exempting baring your breast to feed a baby from indecent exposure penalties. While it is sad that we have to have such laws, it does mean that the rights of nursing mothers are being upheld.
I have always nursed my babies anywhere and everywhere – the pool, the grocery store, PTA meetings, Little League games, etc. The only problem I ever encountered was when people who didn't know what I was doing would come up and pull the blanket away to look at the baby, and get really embarrassed. I always make a point of going up to mothers who are nursing in public and telling them how wonderful I think it is that they are breastfeeding. When they see this strange woman approaching, they always look uncomfortable, because they think I'm going to criticize them, but they relax and are very appreciative when they realize that I'm actually very supportive. I think that today's mothers are sort of like pioneers, who will make it easier for the next generation (our children) to nurse comfortably in public.
Here are some tips to make it easier to nurse discreetly, no matter where you are:
• Have a positive attitude. Remember that you have every right to feed your baby when he is hungry, and you have no reason to be apologetic.
• Find a comfortable spot, whether it's on a bench or sitting down in the corner behind some racks of clothes. Create your own "privacy zone". If you are with a companion, have them position themselves to create more private space for you. Turn away from the people around you while you get situated, then turn back around. Look up from your baby once he starts nursing. If you aren't looking down at him, most people will think he's just sleeping. You may want to read a magazine or book. If someone approaches you, meet their eyes and smile. If you are with someone, just carry on your normal conversations.
• Wear two piece outfits, or clothes with nursing slits. When you pull up your top to nurse, the fabric covers the top of your breast, and the baby covers the rest. When you nurse at home, you lift your clothes away and then bring your baby in close. When you nurse in public, do the opposite. Bring him close to you first, then open your clothes.
• Carry a blanket to throw over the baby once he settles down and starts nursing.
• Pay attention to your baby's hunger signals. Nothing attracts more attention that a crying baby. Everyone in the building will stare disapprovingly at you until the crying stops. Try to find a spot to nurse when he first starts getting fussy, rather than waiting until he is screaming.