Monday, July 12, 2010

My story of nursing in public

I was sorry to see I missed out on this blogging carnival about nursing in public (which isn't surprising, because lately I have very little time to keep up with my favorite blogs), but I decided I will share my perspective on nursing in public here anyway.

In Judaism, breastfeeding is given a lot of consideration, thought and importance. A woman's breasts, while generally considered an erotic body part (no, it is not a modern over-sexualized invention - breasts are not only for feeding babies) gain a special status while a woman is breastfeeding.

It is possible to explain that - in many cases only theoretically - breastfeeding while uncovered is immodest. And I say theoretically because if such concerns are expressed by someone who doesn't flinch upon seeing a woman in a bikini, that's hypocrisy. However, many people seem to have a problem with the fact that they know the woman who is sitting on a bench over there is nursing her baby. They will squirm just because of that knowledge, not because they have actually seen anything. So obviously the issue goes much deeper than modesty.

I do realize that for some mothers, it's difficult to cover up while nursing because the baby tends to be uncomfortable under the cover and/or yanks it off. For me, that was never an issue. I could cover up so that nothing would show, and still, I had huge hang-ups with breastfeeding in public for months after my daughter was born. I had this vague notion, though I never verbalized it, that I must both nurse on demand and never let people see I'm doing it, lest someone's feelings be offended by a baby's burp from underneath the cover. 

Sometimes it is simply more comfortable to nurse in a private corner, for example if you are in a crowded noisy place and your baby is already a curious, active little one who is easily distracted by all the commotion. But it's lousy to feel you must hide out.

There was a time when I had to nurse pretty much constantly to boost my supply. It worked and we never had to give formula, but it meant that I hid out for a month and a half or so, without being able to go out for more than forty-five minutes. Very frustrating and totally unnecessary when I reflect on it. If I had been less committed to nursing, no doubt I would have given up.

When our daughter was seven months old, we were invited to a Shabbat chatan. It had been months since I’ve been to synagogue because I didn’t feel comfortable nursing in the (mostly nearly empty) women's section. This time I had to go. I nursed in the dusty and stifling geniza (a back room where old holy books and texts are kept). Not very comfortable but at least there was a chair and shadow. After that, we proceeded to the meal, which was a long one. She wanted to nurse again. The meal was in a dining hall and it was impractical to go back to our room, so I just went outside, crouched somewhere in a tiny spot of shade and nursed. The baby and I were stiflingly hot and I was crying because I felt so suffocated by always having to miss out on conversations and family celebrations. I felt as though I had spent the best part of the last months hidden away. I didn’t even dare to tell my in-laws, “I need to nurse the baby.” I would just disappear.
Anyway, when I came back, I saw another mother comfortably sitting on a mattress in that dining hall and nursing without even a cover. Her breast was hanging out, and no one was paying the least bit of attention. I could have hit myself over the head for how silly I’ve been! It was a wake-up call and since then I was much more comfortable with nursing in public. Surely if she could nurse during lunch without covering up, it would be alright for me to nurse while modestly covered up.

We also went to my husband’s high school reunion where most of the couples were Haredi; most had a baby (in addition to the 3-4 older children) and women just nursed their babies (covered up) during dinner without even thinking of leaving the room. They behaved in a very discreet and natural way. I later asked my husband whether he noticed they were nursing their babies and it turns out he had no clue. I’m sure that was true for most of the men.

This time around, I hope and plan to do things differently and nurse whenever the baby needs to and wherever both baby and I feel comfortable. I do intend to cover up, but not hide away. There's nothing more natural than feeding your child the way God intended, whenever the need arises. The more women do it, the less people will cringe and squirm when they see it being done. 


Sharon said...

I'm so glad you've become more comfortable with nursing the baby in public! The more women who can nurse their babies in public comfortably, naturally, and of course modestly, the more other women will feel comfortable doing the same. I certainly have been inspired by seeing some of the sweetest and most modest women I know, nursing their babies in public without hesitation, and by seeing that they remain perfectly modest while doing so.

"Morethnrubies1" said...

Wonderful! I too had to get over my own embarassment at nursing in public, it does make motherhood much more enjoyable to be able to care for your baby no matter where you are.

Rose said...

Good for you! I nursed my youngest (now 23) until she was 15 or 16 months old. I even nursed her out in public, and I covered up when I did. I DID NOT feel the least bit embarrassed. And I don't think anyone noticed what I was doing.
We stopped nursing when she started pulling my shirt up in public, wanting to nurse.

Matushka Anna said...

I've nursed five children now (and hope there will be more) and I had to get used to nursing in public because sometimes there was just no place to go! I spent my forty days (time at home after baby is born) learning how to get a baby latched on and nursing while still covered up. This can be difficult at first. Later when the baby was older I had a problem with her yanking the blanket off. I have since then seen some marvelous nursing covers made by The Modest Mom that cover you up, let you still peek at the baby from above and hold it securely in place. I sure wish I had had one.

My husband has almost never noticed someone in the same room nursing when I have noticed. I think mothers are more attuned to the subtle clues and men usually don't think about it.

Emilie said...

Good post, thank you! I could never get the hang of breastfeeding while covered up. It simply didn't work for me. However, I found that a loose shirt gave me enough material to drape and cover most of my breast. The first few months were very lonely, though, because I had the same "hide-away" attitude.

Lady M said...

Well, said. While I was never approached negatively in public for breastfeeding my children, I have heard of those who were (here in the USA) - and it was either at a restaurant or a mall. One woman I know pointed out to the security person (who told her that she must stop) that there were plenty of young girls parading about with far, far less clothes on than she and if that was not a problem for the mall, than nursing her baby (modestly, mind you!) should be even less of an issue and to come back when they knew they could force her to stop and not get sued, lol! (Our state law here says women can breastfeed any where they themselves are allowed to be.)

My favorite encounter was from an older woman who came up to me while I was nursing my 2nd child (and I was in an out of the way place simply because he liked to wave his blanket &/or my shirt like a flag when he nursed, lol). She told me that it was wonderful that I was nursing my children and to keep it up! I was afraid she was going to be icky & instead, she was encouraging! What a blessing!

Kate said...

I loved reading your testimony on breastfeeding in public. When my son was born and later my daughter, I loathed having to hide out in certain circumstances and miss out on conversation or dinner. Now, I look forward to the peaceful quietude of just my son and I. And yes, in some cases I still do hide out.

I have a downstairs office in which to nurse at my in-laws' house. I'm not comfortable bfeeding in front of them and my FIL isn't comfortable in return. We're both content with this set-up. When mixed-gender company is visiting or I'm visiting in mixed company, I find a quiet, private-semi-private space (99% of the time, it is kindly provided to me.)

If I'm stuck in public with nowhere to go, then modesty be hanged, I'm feeding my baby!

I do believe in being discreet, but never to the detriment of the breastfeeding itself. If someone sees, they see! But, for myself, personally, I'd rather they didn't see my exposed breast.

Jenn said...

Thank you Anna for once again posting an excellent article! I felt the exact same way about breastfeeding in public and I had trouble with my milk supply and meeting his demands so I think it was all too much for me. I think my tension helped cause my son to wean himself early.

I have told my husband too that I definately will do things differently next time around!

Its so nice to hear other women who feel the same way! Bless you!

Kacie said...

I can relate. I didn't feel so bad nursing in public when my son was an infant, but when he was a squirmy baby and then later, a toddler, I didn't NIP. I just felt too uncomfortable, and it's not that anyone ever did or said anything to make me feel so! This was all MY own insecurities.

I had figured out how to nurse without a cover in a way that didn't show anything, but still I felt uncomfortable.

I wish that I had just gotten over myself and did it anyway. It helps the cause, because if anyone realizes what I'm doing, then YAY maybe more women will feel comfortable breastfeeding.

I did NIP a few times with my toddler when I was around other nursing women. I always felt more comfortable when I wasn't the only one!

Elle said...

this is a great post! I was very much the same with my first nursling. (Back then, I wasn't modest in the religious sense of the word, I was just very young and had never known anyone who breastfed so I felt really self conscious about the whole thing thinking i had to hide i a dark room when I was nursing!)

anyhow I remember how lonely and isolated I would feel back then! and now I am quite modest, and nurse in public regularly. now that my boy is 15 months i will go into "hiding" while nursing on occasion as he's a busy little thing who'd be distracted non-stop. and I do make effort to be modest at all times, but I always put feeding my baby as the top priority and modest as the close second. When you put modesty first breastfeeding in public becomes seen as "inappropriate" way too easily. I'm aiming to teach my children this as well so they will have the confidence to nurse (or watch their wives nurse) in public when decorum and grace.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

I went through this with my first baby and it was a whole new world with my second. I realised that much could be made easier by the way I dressed.
I try to always wear some kind of tank top and over that a cardigan. In hot weather I wear a very light tank top under a shirt or heavier tank top.

This way, I can have the baby in the sling, carrier or in my lap and simply slip the thin tank top over their head and my outer shirt is still down. The thin tank is light enough not to make them uncomfortable and they can peek at me through the neck hole.

I walked around stores with a nursing baby in my sling or carrier with the tank over their heads and they just fall asleep.

Many Blessings :)

Anonymous said...

One more thing, because it was other Mothers who nursed in public who made me feel like I could do it too... I insist on doing it and acting like it is very it make sure I encourage others.

Many Blessings :)

Anonymous said...

I am not a young person. In the 40's and 50's, my mother nursed all her children. As a result the same breast that would affect my pulse rate with no baby around barely registers on my brain if there is a baby feeding or about to feed. I think this whole, silly fuss is simply what people are used to. If women can show their breasts for immoral purposes, there should be no fuss made for nursing a baby.

Here in rural Mexico I see women in three groups.

The first group keeps everything covered in the entire process.

The second group exposes the breast just long enough to get the baby clamped on, then covers it up.

The third group does it all in plain sight.

I don't see much reaction to all three groups, not even by the most macho men.

About 6 or 8 years ago, I went to see a cousin's new baby. The mother was nursing, and she simply held the baby out, his mouth covering the nipple. In this case, I did notice because the areola was the prettiest blue you can imagine.

I asked many people what would make that areola blue and no one had any idea.

Last week, I was talking to a friend whose husband delivers several hundred babies a year in his small clinic. She said it is indigenous Mexican ancestry. It is not always blue; sometimes it can be very dark instead.

Anonymous age 68

Lori Lynn said...

Thank you Anna! I'm a single young woman, still in my parents' home, but this blog was very incormative to me! When I see a woman nursing in public (modestly) I don't really think about the fact that she is nursing. I think how wonderful it is that she is taking that special time for her baby. Thank you for your informative post!

Rachel said...

When I first started nursing my son I was likewise self-conscious and very concerned with being "modest enough" to compensate for everyone else's discomfort. The result? One Shabbat I was nursing in the side room during the service, with a baby blanket covering me and the baby. The older women of the synagogue all came over and chided me for covering up! "He can't breathe!" "He'll fall asleep!" "He won't eat enough!" they said. So I stopped covering.

I didn't let it all hang out by any means, but I stopped hiding, and I stopped covering the baby. It turned out these older women were right. Our nursing relationship immediately improved.

And the best part? My exuding the confidence to nurse publicly seemed to keep others from making negative comments. In fact, complete strangers started coming up to me to tell me how wonderful it was to see a woman nursing her child.

Luci said...

I think you're absolutely right! :) I was at a conference last weekend where my husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet other like-minded families and couples. Many women had nursing-age children, and I probably saw at least one nursing every 15 minutes. :) They were all modestly covered. What struck me as being so lovely was the absolute joy they seemed to be experiencing from the freedom of being able to nurse their children without having to hide in a bathroom or other location. My husband later commented that he didn't even notice when a mother ended up nursing her child; it seemed completely natural (which, of course, it is!) I think that's such a wonderful environment that we can foster.


Joie said...

I am modest but not for religious reasons. I just don't like anything between my collar bone and knees to show. But when it came to nursing. All that had to fall away. I would cover with the really cool covers, he would rip it off. I would try to discreetly nurse without a cover. He would pop on and off the breast from 2.5 months on. It was hell. Kept it up, though until month 11 when he just wouldn't cooperate any more. Good luck, I hope this next little one will be cooperative for you!

Buffy said...

Good for you for posting this story. I am sure it will help many mothers :)

Mommy-moto said...

I love your story Miss Anna! It's always interesting to see things from the other side of the fence, seeing I never had a problem nursing in public.
If the nursing room were available at the shopping center I would stop in there (they had a real comfy rocking chair), but if it were occupied, I'd just find a nice quiet corner on a bench and feed my son there. I just let my shirt cover up the part of my breast that was showing and my son covered up everything else.
I was so crazy comfortable with nursing in public that I nursed in front of my brother! it weirded him out to catch the short glimpse of his sisters bare chest, and can you blame him?, but he understood and respected my commitment for breastfeeding and never said much about it.

Anonymous said...

I live in The netherlands, and livinig in a country appraised for its open-mindedness I feel sad to tell you even here I feel the need to cover up or hide when breastfeeding.
My youngest addition (I have nursed my two other children as well) is now 6 months old and I have always thought it was so important for me to nurse in public. There are so many reasons for me to do so, first of all because I feel nothing can be more important than taking care of my infants needs. I am the only one she can rely on, so how in the world could I find what other people might think of me more important. Second of all, If any grownup can eat a sandwich and drink a cup of coffee anywhere at anytime one feels hungry or thirsty, why should my baby have to wait until I find a more suitable place to nurse her. And last but certainly not least, I am trying to make young mothers more comfortable nursing in public by doing so myself. Our bodies were made so we can feed our children, so why not use it the way it's supposed to be used? Why should we hide in our houses just because we are nursing our children? I simply refuse to comply to this 'modern' standard that has been set.
But still, even I feel uncomfortalbe at times. My two older children go to school and the youngest finishes an hour before the eldest does. Therefore I wait in the school for an hour almost every day and obviously I always end up nursing my baby. When I spoke about this with a (male) friend I told him how I'm always struggling to feed her during that hour of waiting. I was actually reffering to the fact that there is only one very uncomfortable chair in the hallway where we're supposed to wait, but he immediately said :"yes, it would be very inappropriatd indeed to nurse her here". That blew my mind! This man is the father of two children and I thought of him as being a very kind man.
I hope more women will be inspired to nurse in public so we can (hopefully) change the view on this issue