I breastfed my babies exclusively and on demand, which meant I found myself nursing in all kinds of public spaces, including but certainly not limited to museums, restaurants, and airplanes. I didn't know what public breastfeeding would be like, or what to look out for as a nursing mom out in the wild, and I'm pretty damn grateful. Actually, there are lots of things I'm glad no one told me about breastfeeding in public. Knowing the truth ahead of the time may have scared me away from nursing altogether.
Breastfeeding in public isn't exactly an overt decision a new mom makes when she has a baby. If she plans on breastfeeding exclusively, and on continuing to do so for six months up to a year, it is likely that at some point she will have to leave the house. Unless you live in a special place where there are designated Red Tent-type breastfeeding safe spaces, chances are that if you're a nursing mama you're going to be doing it in public. Sure, you might plan to do so "discreetly," with a nursing cover and the whole bit, but your baby might have other plans (i.e. scream and thrash that nursing cover away). The reality of nursing in public can be way harsh, for some moms at least. In this particular area of life, I found that the less you know going in, the better you are.
Note to moms who are beginning their breastfeeding journey: read no further! Or if you do plan on reading this, know that the struggle can be very worth it and fulfilling. Breastfeeding (for me, at least) despite its many challenges, still remains one of my best memories of motherhood. Without any more preamble, a list of things you may not want to know about nursing in public:
It Feels Like That Nightmare Where You Show Up To School Naked
Those first public breastfeeding sessions were terrifying for me. It was hard enough nursing my infant at my husband's grandma's house (where we were living at the time) and with neighbors and relatives popping in and making surprise visits. My boobs would be hanging out, as a newborn-mom-at-home's boobs are wont to do, and then, whoa! Hello, Neighbor From Three Blocks Away!
Nursing at my local coffee shop where I met friends who wanted to meet the baby wasn't much easier. I felt like a spectacle (though in truth, no one probably cared), imagining all the waiters talking about that weird lady in the corner with one breast out.
Someone Will Inevitably Make A Joke Involving Dairy Products
I'm really glad no one told me about the really bad jokes, or else I probably would never have left the house. One of the things that happened almost any time I found myself nursing in a restaurant in the company of someone who had never nursed or fed a baby by any means at all, is that they would crack a "dairy joke."
Example: Waiter comes by to take the order. I order coffee with half and half. Friend or relative who has never had a baby or taken care of a baby says, "Are you sure you didn't bring your own? Heh heh."
Yeah. Super funny. A regular Amy Schumer, you are.
Sometimes You'll Wish You Could Disappear
There are certain atmospheres and scenes that are legit breastfeeding friendly. Your Mom Group meet-up at a friend's apartment? Totally breastfeeding friendly. In fact, any venue in public where a group of moms have planted themselves together, and at least two moms are nursing, is safe. Play spaces for kids, pediatrician's offices, some nursery school waiting areas? All nursing friendly. Then there are the not-so-friendly places, like a stuffy cafe, or airport waiting area, or at a museum.
I had thought that since breastfeeding in public is a legal right, all places would be "friendly." I'm glad no one told me the ugly truth about the places where you just feel a vibe in the air that tells you judgement is all around you. And it is at these places where you have to put an invisible shield around you and your breastfeeding baby. It is best if you turn towards a wall to breastfeed in this instance, not to hide your breasts from others but to allow yourself to believe that no one else is around you. All it takes is reverting to a toddler mentality of peekaboo, really. If I can't see them, they must not be able to see me!
Nursing Covers Are Mostly Aspirational Items
Aren't nursing covers soft, practical, and easy to take anywhere? Plus, they come in lots of options in terms of patterns now. I loved packing my nursing cover with me for every outing with my baby.
Unfortunately, my nursing cover rarely made it out of the diaper bag, since both of my babies hated having their faces covered by such an offensive product. I'm glad no one told me that the cover would be strictly aspirational. Before I knew the real truth about covers, I liked the empowering feeling of being able to control how much of me strangers would be able to see when I was nursing my baby. It's too bad it was just a fantasy!
I Would Probably Need A Change Of Clothes With Me At All Times
Nursing is wet and messy work, especially in the early days. Unless I packed my nursing bra with tons of pads (super flattering, btw), I usually ended my day with wet spots on my chest.
Milk squirting across the living room? It could happen in public! A slow leak from the non-nursing boob as the other boob nursed? Keep an extra layer on hand to cover that up, or an extra shirt to change into. Just, be prepared for an outfit change.
My Baby Would Do Weird Things To My Boobs In Public
Babies have this strange thing about boobs being their territory. Like, the whole boob area is theirs, and under their control, when they're latched on. When my first son was nursing, he would nurse on one breast and push down my bra cup to play with the other breast. Sometimes he just liked to twist my nipple. Other times, he rested his tiny hand on it as if to say, "This one's mine, too."
If someone had told me that's what I was in for, I never would have believed them.
Some Babies Like To Nurse Exclusively In Public
Did you know that some babies like to be attached to your nipples from the second you leave the house until you come home? Maybe this is how they deal with social anxiety, or get out of having to exchange pleasantries with strangers (genius!). But either way, constantly trying to nurse someone while going about your day is a really tough battle.
How I Chose To Feed My Baby Would Be Seen As A Statement I Would Have To Discuss & Defend
When I had my first son six years ago, it was a little before the dam of online articles of "breastfeeding versus bottle" flooded into our collective mom consciousness. Still, the act of breastfeeding brought forth intense discussion almost every day. No one had told me that nursing my son in public would be perceived as a "statement" about the Type Of Mother I am, or what my Parenting Philosophy is. What I found out "on the job" so-to-speak, is that almost every person who saw me breastfeed wanted to have a conversation about my decision to do it, how long I planned to continue, and whether I had considered formula.
And all I could think was, "Do I ask you these personal questions about what goes into or comes out of your body? Does every secretion of yours require a statement?"
I don't think so.
Watch Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Check out the entire Romper's Doula Diaries series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.