Before I had a baby and started breastfeeding, it was fairly rare for me to expose my breasts in public. OK, I did have a short amateur career as a burlesque dancer but, well, pasties cover quite a lot. Despite my past, I did initially find nursing in company a little embarrassing. With support from my partner and family, I eventually became more comfortable (thankfully). In fact, I was surprised by the ways even a few strangers actually helped me feel empowered when I breastfed in public.
Anyone who has tried to feed a baby in a busy mall or restaurant knows that protecting your modesty (if you care about that sort of thing) is really tricky when a squirmy, hungry baby (who doesn't appreciate a nursing cover) is thrown into the mix. Articles of clothing are bound to move in ways you didn't intend, flesh is bound to be exposed in ways others may not entirely appreciate, and you may very well be left feeling exposed when, honestly, any woman who is feeding another human being with her body should feel emboldened.
As a society we need to support women in their decisions and not shame them for deciding to either breastfeed or bottle feed. After all, how anyone chooses to feed their child is a personal parenting decision, made more difficult when people place their own judgments on new moms. So, when breastfeeding mothers fear comments or negative attention when feeding their baby in public, the entire "How am I going to feed my kid today?" decision making process can be altered.
Thankfully, I did find that even though people continue to have a problem with breastfeeding in public (it's 2016, people) there are more than a few supportive people around, too. In fact, the following strangers made me feel strong, empowered, and capable when feeding my kid in public, so there's hope, breastfeeding moms. There's definitely hope.
The Kind Environmentalist
I have to admit when the grungy looking guy with a backpack and goatee approached me,as I was feeding my baby in a coffee shop, I was more than a little wary.
But then he opened his mouth and said, "That's so cool. Thanks for making a stand for the environment, mama." That's right: he actually called me "mama," but his heart was in the right place.
The Experienced Mom
When I was in the first few weeks of breastfeeding, and having some trouble, an experienced nursing mom of two in my baby and mom group became a fountain of knowledge and advice.
One afternoon in the lobby of the community center, I couldn't get my son to latch and I was obviously close to tears. I was feeling particularly exposed, too, as though all eyes were on me. Even though her toddler was happily playing and not asking for milk at all, she called her over to nurse in an act of solidarity. I loved her so much in that moment.
Thankfully I have never experienced any overt aggression or shaming when breastfeeding, but I have felt many glares and stares (which can be just as intimidating, especially when you're a vulnerable new mom).
So, when a waitress approached me in a busy restaurant, I presumed she was coming to tell me there had been a complaint and I needed to stop nursing. Instead she told me she wished she had breastfed her son, but that he had an diagnosed tongue tie and it wasn't possible. She then got me a glass of water and a cushion. #Hero
The Shop Assistant
What was I thinking, trying to shop with a new baby in tow? I had only been in one store when my son started fussing. So, naturally, when the store associate walked over I though she was going to ask me to leave. After all, my son was getting pretty loud. Instead she led me to a large fitting room and said I could stay for as long as I liked.
I fed my baby in peace and he slept for the next two hours. That, dear reader, is the dream.
The Flight Attendant
By the time my child was a 2-year-old toddler, we had been on more than 10 flights (most of them transatlantic, long-ass flights). My son should have been a seasoned traveler, but he still hated flying and the only way to calm him down was to nurse him, which I often had to do for the entire flight. It was exhausting. I also found it a bit embarrassing, as you are so close to the people next to you and it's almost impossible to hide your breast in such close proximity.
On one occasion I was getting serious side-eye from a nosy old passenger who had decided I shouldn't be nursing on the plane. The amazing flight attendant noticed trouble was brewing, and stood in the aisle between our seats. We talked about my baby and this particular flight attendant totally normalized what I was doing because, you know, it's normal.
The Badass Mom Of Twins
When my son was really little we had to use a nipple shield, and it was often extremely difficult to put it on and get him latched properly while underneath a nursing cover.
One day a woman sat opposite me and, like a boss, started to feed her twin babies no cover needed. It was all the encouragement I needed to throw off the sweaty cover and got on with the job at hand.
The Hundreds Of Moms At The Pro-Breastfeeding Picnic
When my baby was a few months old I heard about a local event in my city that was aiming to support breastfeeding moms through a public event. The organization Breasts Out for Ontario Babies (BOOB) sought to normalize breastfeeding in public, and hosted a picnic where hundreds of moms with hundreds of babies and children were able to confidently breastfeed in a supportive environment. It was the pat on the back I needed to feel truly empowered about nursing my baby in public (and the nipple-shaped cupcakes were delicious).
The Mall Planners Who Made Family Rooms
As much as I have no problem breastfeeding in public, and I think more of us should do it to aid in normalizing a totally natural event, I do understand that some people would rather feed their baby in private (and there are some occasions where a quiet spot is beneficial to your little one).
That's when I have to give it up to the strangers who designed nursing and family rooms. I have visited some really nice ones with rocking chairs, couches, televisions, and amenities that make a nursing break as much a rest for mom as it is for baby.
The Silent Mom
I was breastfeeding at an airport once, when a baby carrier mom walked up to me — her little one snuggled into her chest for a nap — and, without a word, placed a card in front of me, smiled and walked away. The card said:
"Thank you for breastfeeding in public, you are setting a great example." I still have it to this day.