My mom proudly breastfed me and my sister, so when it came time to breastfeed my own baby, I was sure I would know exactly what to do. After all, breastfeeding was in my blood, so to speak.
But when it came time to actually nurse my slippery little newborn, I had no freaking clue what I was doing. I literally didn’t know how to hold him, what to do with my breasts, how to get them in his mouth. After many days of trying, some help from my wonderful midwives and doulas, and lots of tears, we finally got the hang of it.
In between, though, I felt like my body was failing me, and I couldn’t help but think: I am supposed to know how to do this. After all, unlike most women, I grew up with the idea that breastfeeding was the norm.
But I realized something a little later about my own story. Although I had grown up knowing that breastfeeding was beautiful and normal, it was just a theory. When my first son was born, I had barely seen anyone breastfeed in person since I was a little girl, and my memories of it were foggy.
Sure, I’d seen breastfeeding in books, and I’d seen women at the park, fumbling under their nursing covers to get their babies to latch. But a real mother casually latching her newborn onto the breast – holding and shaping her breast so it could fit into her baby’s mouth, repositioning her baby so it was more comfortable? Those weren’t things I saw up close and personal on a regular basis.
And so it was no wonder that I had no idea what to do with my baby when he was delivered earth-side. I had no picture in my mind of what real breastfeeding looked like, and my baby just wasn’t the type to latch on magically all by himself (some babies are, but many aren’t).
Now, I’m not saying that having seen breastfeeding more often would have solved all my breastfeeding problems – not at all. Nor would it solve the breastfeeding issues of the many woman who encounter breastfeeding challenges every day. There is more to breastfeeding than simply how to hold and position your baby, for sure.
But I also think there is something to be said for having seen the real-life mechanics of breastfeeding all your life, in the same way that we’ve all seen a baby latch onto a bottle and therefore feel like we basically know how to do it – in the same way we’ve seen the correct way to spoon-feed a baby, push a baby in a stroller, cradle a newborn in our arms, etc.
There is something very powerful that happens when breastfeeding becomes deeply ingrained in a culture, when it becomes as normal as walking down the street, driving a car, or feeding a child a snack at the park.
In cultures where breastfeeding is everywhere and anywhere, breastfeeding is much easier to initiate and sustain. It’s not that women don’t encounter problems here and there with the mechanics of it, but they are much more likely to have in inkling of what to do to overcome these problems – and most of all, they feel supported in getting the help they need.
These are just a few of the reasons I’m a big advocate of breastfeeding in public – proudly, and without a cover.
Now, before you go jump down my throat, and say, “Breastfeeding my baby is not for everyone else’s prenatal education,” or “It’s not my job to normalize breastfeeding if I don’t feel comfortable nursing in public,” I agree with you 100%. I believe that when it comes to breastfeeding in public, we should all do whatever the heck we want, including nursing under a cover, or not nursing at all if that feels more comfortable.
But nursing in public is actually something I encourage moms to just do. It’s much more convenient to be able to nurse your baby whenever you want, wherever you want. If you feel chained to your house or the pump whenever you consider going out, you’re not going to find breastfeeding sustainable. And in terms of covers, the truth is that most babies don’t like or tolerate them. Sometimes newborns will be okay with them, but it takes a lot of freaking work to latch on when you can barely see what you’re doing and when you or your baby are constricted in any way.
Once your baby gets older, they are likely to just swat the cover away, and then you will either not take your baby out, or restrict their breastfeeding to private spaces, which can become a real pain for everyone involved – and again, may become one of the reasons you inadvertently cut your breastfeeding relationship short.
You probably know that it is legal to breastfeed in public in all 50 states. Did you know that this is regardless of how much of your breast or nipple shows in the process? I know these are uncomfortable things to think about, and the “slipped breast and nipple moments” are the reason why many of us opt not to breastfeed in public or decide to only breastfeed with a cover.
But let me just say this: It’s okay if a tiny bit of your breast or nipple shows. The truth is that you see a whole lot more of your breast and nipple as you look down at your baby than any onlookers do as they pass by (for real: try nursing in front of a mirror and you’ll see what I mean).
The likelihood is that no one is going to see anything. And if they do, well, so what? It’s their problem if they are uncomfortable. It really is. And the only way we are going to make folks more comfortable is by doing it!
I remember the first time I went out to breastfeed in public. I was nervous AF. I brought about 15 different pillows. I fumbled with my bra and my baby. I felt naked and exposed. But it was fine. And then the more I did it, the more I realized that it wasn’t a big deal.
And when I started to get nods of encouragement from older women, outpouring of thanks from fellow moms – and most of all, when young children would come over to me and ask innocently what I was doing, and want to know all about it – I knew that it was totally worth it for me to be nursing my child in public, proudly.
So as we enter National Breastfeeding Month, here’s my request to all the nursing mamas out there. Nurse in public at some point this month. Try it, even if it’s outside your comfort zone. Try ditching the cover for once. It’s going to be smoother and easier than you think.
Do what works for you, but get out there and nurse your baby proudly and without fear. It’s perfectly natural, normal, and the world needs to see more of it. Happy nursing!