If there are any breastfeeding moms out there who figured out a way to avoid breastfeeding in public, please teach me your ways. No, seriously; write a book and launch a speaking tour about how fellow moms can avoid a situation that is and can be fraught with discomfort and a wide variety of feelings. When I asked moms asked to describe what it feels like to breastfeed in public, the answers I received detailed experiences that were a mix of apprehension and judgment, with the occasional spark of comfort and nonchalance mixed in. So, if you never had to breastfeed in public — or just found a way to avoid the entire situation — the breastfeeding community needs you. (Or, breastfeeding mothers need our society to get with and realize that breastfeeding is normal, natural and necessary. You know, whatever comes first.)
My own public breastfeeding experiences were careful and calculated. For context, when my son was really tiny, I even declined a private room at my doctor’s office because I felt like we both needed the comforts of home to get him to latch. We eventually got the hang of it though, but I still opted for the car over, well, anywhere else and on numerous occasions. On that note, apologies to the couple who waited for my parking spot for like ten minutes outside of that Portland, Oregon mall in Summer 2015. My kid was especially hungry that night.
Breastfeeding in public shouldn't be this anxiety-inducing, but prevailing societal notion's of women's bodies and what they can and cannot do with them have created environments that aren't necessary breastfeeding friendly. Times are changing but, if the following breastfeeding mom's descriptions of public breastfeeding are any indication, they're not changing quickly enough. So, grab your water bottle, because if you’re breastfeeding you’ll probably need it, and even if you’re not, I still recommend tipping it in solidarity to these brave mamas.
"The first few months I felt kind of bad ass. Like, this is me, doing what my body was made to do, not caring about any of you staring at me. After that, it was just a normal thing, and my nip could be hanging out and I barely noticed."
"I always hated the inevitable, 'Wouldn't you be more comfortable in this room here?' I would just stare back and say, 'No thanks, I'm fine right where I am.'"
"I've been breastfeeding for a number of years. Right now I'm breastfeeding my youngest who is 15 months old. In all the time I've breastfed, I've always felt free to breastfeed in public. I do get nervous that someone will raise a stink and question me. On a personal level, I try to cover up (try being the operative word because all three of my girls hated being covered up from 6 months onward). Covering up helps me feel more comfortable. It isn't about anyone else. Since I've never been approached, I think I must have one of the best resting bitch faces ever. And I've breastfed everywhere — parks, stores, restaurants (at the table while eating), baseball games, amusement parks."
"Like a taboo social experiment every single time, every single place. Even at a friend or relatives home. You can tell everyone’s opinion on it the second you start doing it. And extra points if your child is over one year old."
"I'll never forget the first time I breastfed in public. I was leaving Target when the wails started. I didn't want to wait 20 mins until we got home, so I found a bench outside the store and got out my breastfeeding cover. I'll never forget the unexpected stares, especially from men. Some made an audible tsk sound. I couldn't believe the reaction! I also received unwelcoming states when I breastfed once at Cheesecake Factory. They never stopped me though!"
"I've only ever had neutral or very lovely experiences with encouraging people when I breastfed in public, and I'm delighted. Yet, not gonna lie, I had a bunch of zingers lined up if anyone ever tried to get me crap for it and while I'm very happy I never had to use them, they were devastatingly witty…"
"A bit like an animal in a zoo, on display for everybody to ogle."
"I think there's something in the hormones that makes me totally comfortable whipping out my boobs as needed. That is not at all how I behave when I am not breastfeeding — not even that time I went to New Orleans on spring break. Seriously though, I'm feeding my baby. What could be more important than that? I could not care less what anyone else thinks. Luckily, I've never had anyone hassle me."
"When I was around my mom's group I felt like it was a peer pressure test to bare your nip and breast to the world. Like the fact I'm more modest was judged for not embracing it enough!"
"The first few times when I tried with a nursing cover or blanket it felt super hard and awkward, but once I realized what a waste of energy that was, it just felt like going about my day, feeding my kid. I'd give the older one his string cheese or pretzel or whatever and nurse the baby. The two actions felt pretty much the same, like feeding my kid."
"I have breastfed two children. I was more comfortable breastfeeding my second in public than with the first. I always felt like I couldn't figure out how to be discrete. Nursing covers always made me hot and uncomfortable and I much preferred finding a semi-private location where I could be comfortable even if I was showing a little extra skin. I love seeing moms nursing publicly and I was a bit more comfortable doing it with some experience under my belt."
"I breastfed in public without a cover. I was nervous at first, but it quickly just became another thing I did for my son. It just felt natural, right, and connected. The act of doing it in public definitely bolstered my confidence, as I had to mentally prepare myself for a confrontation that never came."