As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed.
It just made sense. Money was tight, and it was free. I knew it was healthier for baby, and as I did my research I found out that it had a lot of health benefits for mom, too.
But as much as I was interested in pursuing a more natural lifestyle at that time, and as much as I worked on a daily basis with the human body as a massage therapist, I also acknowledged the stigma that was associated with breastfeeding. More than acknowledge – I accepted it.
I was going to breastfeed, but one of the first baby items I purchased was a nursing cover.
I was going to breastfeed, but I was very doubtful for how long – and voiced that on pregnancy forums. I still cringe at my poll asking moms when they chose to stop breastfeeding. When they got teeth? At a year? After a year, but given to baby in a cup versus off the breast?
How shocked was I when 99% of the answers were D. None of the above.
Baby’s birth day arrives.
While labor effectively released me of most of my modesty (there is nothing like being in the throes of back labor, stripping down so you can relax in the jetted tub, or opening your eyes to the blinding light and six people staring at your vagina as a human head is crowning), I was still modest about breastfeeding. While I had no problems pulling out a boob in front of my lactation consultant, I still got extremely nervous when family started to visit.
I remember when one of my sister-in-laws came over with her kids, and Roo wanted to nurse – constantly. CONSTANTLY. Trying to prop the pillow up, position baby, grab and move the blanket that kept falling off my shoulder.. looking back, she was probably nursing the whole time because I was so stressed out my let-down reflux was effectively disengaged.
Then there was Thanksgiving. A big family get-together with my husband’s extended family, a lot of whom I don’t know intimately or talk to on a regular basis. Trying to cover up a three-week newborn who was extremely hot blooded (she never wore clothes or a hat unless we went outside) in a small house crammed with warm bodies = not fun. The end result was a fussy, sweaty baby who was smothering and a frustrated mother who wanted to cry because the stress of trying to make sure no one saw “her goodies” or got offended was too much to bear.
That’s when I gave up.
Not breastfeeding. I gave up caring what other people think.
Breastfeeding is not obscene. It’s not sexual. Yet, somehow it’s “taboo”, at least in public.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and this is my conclusion: I think we have oversexualized the female body.
It’s perfectly okay, normal, acceptable – to go to the pool or the beach and see skimpy bikinis that barely cover anything.
It’s perfectly acceptable to turn on the TV and see nipples and boobies and teen or vampire (or, bonus, teen vampire) sex on channels that claim to be “family friendly”.
It’s perfectly acceptable to walk down a mall or drive down the street and have giant billboards with half-naked models advertizing push up, lacy underwear while also donning oversized angel wings.
Our society has us conditioned to see these things and not bat an eye – yet when we see a baby attached to a breast…
Our problem is that because these things are so commonplace, are so accepted – we are unable to view the female body, especially the breasts, as anything other than sexual. So when we see a baby sucking on one, we immediately get uncomfortable. After all, a baby is the epitome of everything innocent and pure.. so when they are mouth to nipple, it is essentially a clashing of two worlds.
After that Thanksgiving dinner, I decided I didn’t care if anyone saw anything, if anyone got offended. I had to feed my baby, and the alternative of staying home 24/7 or “hiding” in bathrooms didn’t appeal to me.
I remember one of the first times I breastfed in public without a cover. It was at our church’s Christmas Eve service. I admit, I was nervous – especially when she popped off and a stream of milk squirted at the couple in front of us (luckily, it missed). Talking about it afterwards to my family, neither my husband nor my sister-in-law sitting behind us had realized I had nursed at all!
That’s when I realized the argument about being “immodest” is pretty much bull. Even without a cover, I have been able to breastfeed at church, resteraunts, and other public venues without anyone being any the wiser. In fact, I’ve noticed that women who do use covers seem to get targeted more. A friend of mine was nursing with a cover at a resteraunt, and a woman refused to be seated near them [insert snotty voice] “while she is doing that” . A mom I met at our breastfeeding support group recently admitted that her son’s Little League coach asked her to leave the game because she was breastfeeding her newborn son (with a cover).
Now, let me just interject – I’m not saying covers are bad. I just seem to notice that when we use covers, we tend to draw more attention to the fact that we are breastfeeding – ironic considering moms who do use covers are “appropriately covered”. And I don’t want any mother who feels the need to use a nursing cover feel bad about that decision. Breastfeeding is more difficult if you are stressed or uncomfortable – so if you personally are uncomfortable just lifting up your shirt and prefer a cover, go right ahead! BUT, if you are like me, and hated using a cover – you shouldn’t have to either.
Women shouldn’t have to feel guilty at all for feeding their child in public. Women shouldn’t have to feel like they HAVE to cover up, or that they HAVE to feed in a bathroom.
And yes, sometimes I prefer to nurse in private. This weekend, our town had it’s annual festival. I had a vendor booth set up, and I knew with the hundreds of people walking the streets, my 9-month old daughter wouldn’t be able to focus long enough to eat. So I chose to nurse in a nearby quiet space. But the difference is that I chose that. Private nursing should be a choice or an option, not a requirement. Women should choose to nurse in private because they enjoy the solitude, not because they are shamed.
I was talking to a friend of mine whose son is about the same age as my daughter. We ended up in a conversation about breastfeeding, and she revealed that one of the biggest reasons she didn’t make it past a couple days (despite having AMAZING supply) was because she felt uncomfortable and didn’t want friends or family to say anything negative to her if they came over while she was nursing.
That just makes me so sad. And angry. Here was a woman whose body WANTED to nurse her child. What some women would have given anything for – great supply, good latch – she had with ease. Yet because of society’s view of breastfeeding, she gave that up.
That is why I am taking on August’s Breastfeeding Awareness full force. I feel like until we are comfortable enough with ourselves and brave enough to breastfeed in public – this stigma won’t change. We need to get out there and educate the public, show them that we aren’t ashamed of what our bodies are capable of: creating life, sustaining a child. The fact that my daughter is in the 90th percentile for weight and height, jabbering away, talking, crawling like a ninja-monkey, almost walking now – all because of my breastmilk? That’s amazing.
We should feel empowered. Not embarassed.
We should feel proud. Not ashamed.
Shame on those who make breastfeeding moms feel inaqudate or dirty for what they do, who perpetrate the lie that we have to feed our children in private, behind closed doors. I’m chalking it up to uneducation, ignorance, and naivitee – exactly what I was before I experienced the miracles of breastfeeding firsthand.
Now, instead of being afraid of offending someone, I revel in breastfeeding in public. Every time that I am able to nourish my daughter in the open, I am showing the world that this is normal. This is a blessing. This is life.
Who is with me??