Deciding to breastfeed my son was one of the first decisions I ever made as a mother. In fact, I think I decided to breastfeed way before my partner and I settled on a name. I was so thankful that, when my son was born, I was actually able to breastfeed, but I wasn't necessarily thankful for some of the situations that come along with it. Turns out, from the outright shaming to the ways people don't realize their angering breastfeeding moms, there are so many less-than-pleasant situations that can be difficult to get through when you're sustaining another human being with your body. Let's just say, I've learned how to grit my teeth with the best of 'em.
That's not to deter women from breastfeeding, to be sure. I am very thankful for my breastfeeding experience, and consider it easily one of the best things I've ever done for an extended period of time. The good far outweighed the bad, for me, although I realize that for many women that's not always the case. Just like motherhood itself, breastfeeding is never going to be completely positive or completely negative. No, usually it will be a mix of both, fluctuating at various times and creating juxtaposing feelings that wouldn't make sense in any other setting. You'll feel powerful but vulnerable. You'll be rejuvenated and you'll feel exhausted. You'll be proud of yourself and you'll wonder what in the hell you were thinking. You'll love the fact that you're able to feed your child with your body, and you'll wish someone else could just take over for you.
I realized pretty early on in my breastfeeding experience that taking the good with the bad was the name of the breastfeeding game. I also realized that, because so many people don't see realistic representations of breastfeeding in the media (or have never been around a woman who has breastfed. Like, ever.) they can accidentally piss you off, and rather easily. It's not always intentional, to be sure, but it doesn't make it any less infuriating. Until we have open dialogues about breastfeeding are shown more positive representations of breastfeeding on our television shows and in our movies, and effectively remove the stigma of breastfeeding, things will probably remain awkward and annoying and sometimes infuriating.
So, in the name of open dialogue and helpful information, why not look over the subtle ways people end up upsetting breastfeeding women. Live and learn, guys. Live and learn (and don't do the following things anymore).
Constantly Asking If You Can Help When You Really Can't
While I think asking (when it's appropriate) if a woman needs help breastfeeding is kind, it can bet super old super quick if the kind inquiries are never-ending. Look, yes, sometimes women need help breastfeeding (because it's hard, you guys) but if you're not a lactation consultant or someone who has been there before, there's not much you can do. There are ways you can support a woman breastfeeding, but constantly asking her if she needs your help will leave her questioning her abilities and losing her confidence.
She'll figure it out. Give her space. Let her body do what she is asking it to do.
Staring. Like, Why?
I know that breastfeeding is a beautiful, miraculous thing and you rarely see represented in the media so, naturally, you're curious, but please don't stare. I know that curiosity gets the best of everyone and that if we saw more healthy and realistic representations of breastfeed on television, you wouldn't be so damn curious. But, you know, it's still my body and it's still a little awkward and the longer you stare, the more pissed off I get.
Asking Too Many Questions When You Could Easily Do The Research Yourself
Usually, I really don't mind someone asking heartfelt and earnest questions in the spirit of learning. I think the more open and honest discourse we have about breastfeeding, and the more people learn about it, the more it will be accepted, especially in public. However, it is also not a breastfeeding woman's job to educate you. Nope, that's your job. You can take to the internet and figure out everything you need to know.
Making Jokes That Aren't Funny...
Save the sexist, inappropriate jokes for someone else, buddy. I mean, yes, there are a lot of downright hilarious moments breastfeeding provides that you would be somewhat crazy not to laugh at, but explicit jokes about a woman's breasts or quips that turn breastfeeding into a sexual act just aren't OK. They're definitely not appreciated. They most certainly don't make it any easier for a woman to breastfeed her child.
...Especially When You're Exhausted And/Or Going Through Breastfeeding Problems
This one might be a bit personal, but my sense of humor is going to take a hit when I haven't slept in a few days. What might garnish a halfhearted chuckle from me, usually, probably won't get so much as a half-smile. Sorry, not sorry. My body is working pretty hard right now and I haven't been sleeping and your need for a laugh doesn't trump my need to stay mentally healthy. I'm in the zone. Don't talk to me.
Not Giving Her Space
It's not that I don't mind breastfeeding in front of other people, because I don't, but sometimes I do want (and need) my own space. Please don't crowd me when I start to get my child to latch. Please don't put your head close to my breast while my kid is having his dinner, because you're excited and curious. Please don't sit too close to me and impede on a moment that is not only important for my child's health, but a moment that means something to me. Will I always need to be by myself when I'm breastfeeding? Absolutely not, but sometimes I want my space and, honestly, I am entitled to that space.
Assuming Or Insinuating She Should Go Somewhere Else To Breastfeed So "She'll Be Comfortable"
If I feel uncomfortable about a particular breastfeeding situation, I will remove myself. If I don't remove myself, assume I don't feel uncomfortable. I had so many people (and honestly, I believe, with the best of intentions) ask if I would want to go to another room to breastfeed, essentially assuming that exposing my breasts in order to feed my kid would make me feel painfully uncomfortable. That assumption is stooped in the idea that breastfeeding is a sexual act, or that breastfeeding is "wrong" and "gross" and something that should be hidden. Nope. Nope nope nope.
Did I feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public? Sure, there were plenty of times when I felt exposed. That wasn't because of breastfeeding, though, but rather our society's learned reaction to it. Please don't add to that unnecessary and unhealthy reaction by assuming every time I breastfeed, I'm uncomfortable.
Telling "Breastfeeding Stories" About Your Friend's Cousin's Sister's Experience
Oh, the breastfeeding stories. So. Many. Breastfeeding. Stories. I get that many of those stories are shared with the hopes that they'll help, but more often than not, they don't. Every woman is different and every breastfeeding experience is different and, honestly, hearing about your second-cousin-once-removed's best friend's aunt's breastfeeding journey isn't going to aid me in mine.
Constantly Asking If She Is OK
I, personally, loved it when my partner would randomly check in t0 make sure I was OK, especially when I first started breastfeeding. Motherhood can be lonely, so reaching out and making sure your breastfeeding partner is feeling OK and is healthy and is being continually supported is, honestly, the best. However, please don't continually ask if she's OK, to the point that it becomes unnecessary and annoying and more of an accusation, than an actual question.
Talking About Breastfeeding When You Haven't Experienced It Yourself
I don't think there's anything wrong with an open dialogue concerning breastfeeding. In fact, I welcome in and support it and am all for fostering it, as that will be one of the many ways we can change how society views breastfeeding, in general.
However, if you've never tried breastfeeding before, please don't talk about it as if you are some expert (unless, of course, you are). Please don't go on and on about what a breastfeeding woman should or shouldn't do, if you're not a breastfeeding woman. Just, like, no.