Friday, July 22, 2011

Why I feel the need to nurse in public!

Welcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of The Breastfeeding Cafe's Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today's post is about the importance of breastfeeding. Please read the other blogs in today's carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th through the 31st!

Me nursing Gigi in the Ergo as we waited to march in the Draper Days Parade
I'll admit it.  I'm not shy about "whipping it out," when necessary.  But if you would have asked me 5 years ago how I felt about nursing a baby in public (uncovered if necessary), I (like most Americans) would have told you it was weird and totally inappropriate.

I remember the first time I actually saw a mother nursing in public, uncovered.  It was about 5 years ago.  I was working at IKEA and the mother was waiting in line at the bistro.  I was shocked.  I remember saying to a co-worker, "Can you believe that mom is just standing there nursing?!"

Oh how the tables have turned!  I guess the first time I nursed "in public" was in the hospital.  Our friends Ian, Erin, and their daughter Ava visited us in the hospital the night Gigi was born, and since the hospital hadn't sent a lactation consultant my way (despite my numerous requests) and I was a clueless first time mom, I asked Erin to help me figure out this whole nursing thing. I tried to think of a way to cover myself so that Erin could see my baby and the goods, but Ian couldn't, but since all I had was the sheet on the bed and the hospital gown I was wearing, I just whipped it out.  I was desperate to feed my baby, so I figured Ian could either see the goods or look away.

I remember the first time I tried to nurse in public while covered.  I was in Albertsons, going on a super coupon shopping spree.  I was wearing Gigi in my Sleepy Wrap, my cart was full to the brim, and I was trying to find some granola bars that were free after coupon.  Suddenly I felt my  baby start rubbing her head back and forth between my breasts, searching for something to latch on to.  I knew she wouldn't be able to hold out till I finished shopping and checked out... till I could hide in a bathroom stall or in the car to nurse.  Luckily my sister-in-law had sent me a lovely nursing cover, so I pulled it out, then pulled out the goods and fed my baby. 

I still couldn't find the granola bars so I found a store employee to ask for assistance.  The employee I found looked like he was in his mid-forties (old enough to have kids) and was really tall.  Tall enough that he could surely see down the nursing cover.  When I asked where I could find the granola bars, he looked annoyed and said they didn't have any.  Truthfully, I'm not sure if the guy was annoyed that I was nursing in public, or annoyed that I was another crazy coupon lady looking for those free granola bars!

I'd say the nursing in public experience that really turned me into a lactivist though was an experience I had with just me and my co-worker.  My sweet co-worker, who ended up replacing me when I decided to stay home full time, was a mid-twenties single girl who was the youngest in her family.  One evening after everyone in the office had gone home for the day, we met to finish training her on the duties she would be taking over.  Little Gigi got hungry, so I put on my nursing cover and started nursing, while continuing to train my co-worker. 

Suddenly Gigi started sucking really loudly.  I'm not sure if it was really any louder than she normally was when she nursed, or if it just felt that way because it was so quiet in the office, but I could tell my co-worker was getting a little uncomfortable.  I appologized for what a noisy eater Gigi was, and she laughed and said "Yeah, AWKWARD!"

I felt bad for making my co-worker uncomfortable (I really do feel bad when I make people feel uncomfortable!) but as I drove home I got to thinking... Why does it make someone feel awkward to hear a baby suck loudly on a breast, yet people seem to think it's cute to hear those sounds when a bottle or pacifier is on the other end?  Why is it that what is natural doesn't seem normal?  Why is it that using a breast for its god-given purpose is seen as indecent?

It seems to me that the best way to normalize breastfeeding is not to hide it!  It's not "normal" because it's not something people normally see. 

True, it's possible to leave your cart full of groceries to go hide in the bathroom to nurse your baby, but do you like eating in the bathroom?  Why should a baby be forced to do so??  Some babies will allow you to cover them with a nursing cover, but many won't.  Should they not be allowed to eat?  I would bet that most people would be more disturbed and annoyed by the sound of a screaming, starving baby than a mother nursing uncovered.

I remember reading an article in Mothering Magazine about a woman who lived in Mongolia, a country where 93% of women are breastfeeding exclusively at 4 months and 82% continued for 12 - 15 months. She told of how breastfeeding women were highly revered... how taxi drivers would give her the thumbs up sign as she nursed her son, and vendors would clear a space for her in their stalls so her son could "drink up." (You can read the entire article here.)

How would it be to live in a country where women were embraced for breastfeeding their children whenever and wherever they were?  Unfortunately, women in our society are often harrassed instead. 

I was shocked when I learned that a local momma was recently harrassed in Whole Foods (of all places) for nursing her 18 month old.  The store manager and security guard couldn't understand why she wouldn't just "cover up".  I'm here to attest that not even my mellow little Gigi would let me keep any sort of cover over her after she was about 9 months old!  I really loved the momma's response to the "cover up" suggestion...
To me, when you ask a nursing mother to cover up it sends a message that what you are doing is wrong.  I didn't feel it was appropriate for them to tell me I was doing something wrong when I was nourishing my child.
A national nurse-in is being organized for Saturday, August 20th, and I definitely plan to attend.  I'm thinking about ordering some of these cards to hand out at the event, because really I don't think I could summarize the reasons I nurse in public any better than this...

Here are more post by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.


Mel said...

I am SO sad to hear about the Whole Foods situation. I really felt that Utah was ahead of the game as far as public breastfeeding support. Anyway, I really enjoyed your post! I had a noisy nurser myself which made me self conscious at first but was never noticed by others.

Sara from the Momzelle blog said...

I agree that the only way to make breastfeeding in public normal is to get more of us out there doing it! It is such a shame that we hear of news everyday of women being harassed for feeding their child.

Dionna said...

I was also sad to see the Whole Foods incident, I haven't been reading any of the follow up, but I hope that WF will address it with their employees!

Anonymous said...

It's incredible how our society views breastfeeding! It's okay to see a half naked celebrity posted on billboards in a sexual position, but not a baby suckling on a breast? It always gets me when I read about woman being harassed over a simple act of feeding a baby. GRRR

Anonymous said...

I used to be uncomfortable with breastfeeding in public until it was a part of my every day life. I don't have a child but my boss does, and she would work while breastfeeding, do everything while breastfeeding, and it really struck a chord with me. I won't be using a cover up, I'll proudly breast feed my child in public.

The Happy Hippie Homemaker said...

That's so great! And that's really what it's all about... making the site of a breastfeeding woman normal so people don't feel awkward or uncomfortable when they see it. Kudos to your boss, and to you too :)


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