I don’t know a single mom who’s said, “Time to breastfeed my baby, better go to a public place where we’re both on display and away from the comforts of home.” In my experience, breastfeeding in public isn’t something moms prefer to do; we do it out of necessity. I went through great lengths to avoid it, personally, and often used the backseat of my car as opposed to anywhere available in a store or restaurant. Still, there were times when that simply wasn’t an option, and I had to face the most annoying parts of breastfeeding in public.
Just a few days ago, I saw a mom breastfeeding in a restaurant and as my family and I were leaving, I lingered a bit. I really wanted to give her a compliment or some words of encouragement or simply acknowledge the awesome thing she was doing, but ultimately I decided not to. For starters, she was in a corner and surrounded by family, so it’s not as if she didn’t have a support system with her. Second of all, she looked totally and completely comfortable, so I think it was safe to assume she didn’t need a random stranger interrupting her (even if it was in the hopes of relaying a verbal thumbs-up).
Either way, and even though I ended up not saying anything I was suitably impressed. I was impressed not just because she was feeding her kid with her body (which, you know, is a pretty amazing thing) but because she didn't look like she was letting any of the following things bother her:
You’re Probably Not In Public *Just* To Breastfeed
I can honestly say that I never left the house just to feed my son. If we needed to go somewhere, and he needed to be fed, then I was "somewhere" when I fed him. But, if we were home, and he was hungry? Yeah, we’d stay home. I know that’s probably not surprising to anyone, but it’s the reason why breastfeeding in public is almost always an interruption to whatever other errand, or goal or reason why you decided to leave your house that day.
You Don’t Have Your Normal Chair
Restaurants aren’t the worst place to nurse, and neither are benches or the occasional couch that can be found in a nursing mom’s room — the golden child of all public nursing spaces. However, no matter how awesome the space it, it’s not ours.
You (Probably) Don’t Have Your Nursing Pillow
Of course, yes, it’s possible that you’ve brought it with you. However, just in case you didn’t, it’s one more thing that you probably wish you had when you're sitting in a public place, breastfeeding (like a water bottle that refills itself, and a phone with a battery that lasts forever).
You Have To Make Do With Whatever Spaces Are Available
To be fair, sometimes those spaces can work surprisingly well. I have very fond memories of a bench at the back entrance of an Italian restaurant in my city. It faced a lovely potted plant and so few people passed by that it felt practically private. Still, you can't always count on something like my perfect restaurant bench being available.
If You're In A Resturant You'll Probably Bump The Table And Rattle The Plates
Anybody else guilty of this, or just me? No matter how much I tried to fold myself up and make space, restaurant booth feeding situations were often an exercise in postnatal yoga.
The Watchful Eyes Watching You
Where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, people are generally pretty polite. I’m lucky that I’ve never had a negative interaction with anyone when I nursed publicly. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel self-conscious when random strangers would pass by or stare or just look in my general direction for an extended period of time.
My son tolerated covers maybe fifty percent of the time, which I will happily take (they were for me more than for him). I'd like to think he could pick up on the moments when I was more uncomfortable and, you know, just let me have my cover. Still, that doesn’t mean the cover wasn’t a pain to use, to get into place, to get over my head and not tangled.
Handling Any Spit-Up
Not that spit-up is hard to handle, I just was never a huge fan of putting spit-uppy burp cloths back into the diaper bag. Although, you do what you have to do when you're a mom.
Other Leaks And Spills
On that note, spit-up didn’t always make it into the cloth every time I wanted it to. Sometimes breast milk didn’t always make it straight into my son’s mouth, either. Nor did it stay there. As routine as breastfeeding eventually got for us, there was always the potential of a mess.
And, Of Course, Public WiFi Is Unreliable
Using my phone while breastfeeding kept me sane at home. While breastfeeding in public often took more concentration, there were moments when I tried to pass the time in my favorite ways, to no avail. If nothing else, it made me appreciate the comforts of home (and of a reliable modem).