"Breastfeeding" is a word that, on its own, without context, can elicit some very powerful emotions. It's the cornerstone of trigger words in The Mommy Wars. Some parents feel as though society is side-eyeing them for not nursing their babies; Others feel that they have not been given the support they need to have a successful breastfeeding relationship with their baby and they're struggling as a result; Others still feel defiantly proud of their choice in how to feed their child because they've had so many naysayers tell them they can't or shouldn't. But for the overwhelming majority of parents, our attitude toward breastfeeding is either "uh, this is just how I feed my baby" or, if they don't breastfeed, their response is just "hey, you do you, friend!" Because the Mommy Wars are bullsh*t and most of us are way, way too busy with our own stuff to give a crap about how anyone else parents.
Of course, there are those people out there, parents and non-parents, with Very Important Opinions. And whenever someone has a Very Important Opinion, they want you to hear about it. So for those of us who breastfeed in public, we recognize that every time we do so someone might have something obnoxious to say about it.
I must confess that in breastfeeding two kids — one to 17 months and the other 18 months and counting — I've never had anyone say anything negative, either to my face or muttered/whispered/passive-aggressively groused about. And I've nursed everywhere, uncovered, because I give none of the f**ks. 99% of the time no one says anything about it. When someone does have something to say, it's usually quite nice. Now, I am not necessarily representative of all breastfeeding parents: I know lots of women who have been harassed on the regular for breastfeeding their little ones as discreetly as could be. This could be a combination of where I live (a pretty liberal, relatively breastfeeding friendly part of the country), luck, and a fiery look in my eye that warns would be interlopers, "Go ahead. I dare you, because I have at least seven really witty retorts to whatever garbage you have to say."
Between personal experience and stories I've heard from loved ones, I think I am qualified to share the things you will hear if you nurse in public, if you hear anything, which you probably won't (thank goodness).
"Could You Cover Up?"
"Actually, my baby hates to be covered up while she's nursing, but here, maybe you can put this blanket over your own head so you don't have to be exposed to this horrifying act."
I can't help but wonder, how immature do you have to be that you can't stand the idea of an uncovered breast near you? Dear Scandalized Person, please allow me to give you some examples of where you will encounter more boob than you are in the presence of someone breastfeeding...
A Carl's Jr. commercial
A Victoria's Secret store in the mall
I don't see you getting all bent out of shape in those instances. And nor should you! Someone else's breasts can't harm you and, moreover, have absolutely nothing to do with you, so leave them alone.
"This Is [An Inappropriate Nursing Location]!"
With the exception of Idaho, all states allow mothers to breastfeed in public. (And there's no law in Idaho that says you can't; it's just that the only law pertaining to breastfeeding they have on the books over there is that breastfeeding mothers have jury exemption.) Nursing mothers are allowed to do their thing in public or private locations. So if a restaurant owner comes up to you and says, "We don't allow that here," know that you are, in fact, allowed to do that there. If you are in one of 29 states, you are specifically exempted from public indecency laws, so no need to cover up, either.
"There Are Kids Here!"
"Yep! I have one, too! Right here on my boob!" I am continually baffled and tickled that there are those who think nursing is an inappropriate thing for a kid to look at, or that they are that uncomfortable explaining it to a child who might not know what's going on. It's actually pretty easy to explain breastfeeding to a child. Kids are smarter than we think and have way fewer hang-ups than we do. They'll get it.
"I'm All For Breastfeeding, But..."
No good ever came after the "but." See also "I'm not a racist, but..." and "I'm all for equal rights, but...". See what that does? See how it just undermines any claim that you are actually in support of what you claim to be? Just skip the "but."
Think about it this way: If your gravest breastfeeding concerns were realized, what's the worst that would happen? Women would have their lactating breasts out in public? Kids you have deemed "too old" to breastfeed would still be doing it? OK. Are either of those going to interfere with your life in any tangible way? No. Then leave it at "I'm all for breastfeeding." Hey, I'm not immune to discomfort. I've gone on the record as saying a woman breastfeeding her seven-year-old weirds me out. That's OK. I can have my opinion and remain supportive because what someone else does with their body is none of my damn business.
"Good For You!"
Whether it's a fellow nursing parent, a former nurser, someone who for whatever reason couldn't breastfeed but is happy to see others go for it, a mom or dad whose partner breastfeeds, or just one of those really friendly, encouraging people, it's nice to hear. Because knowing how often the aforementioned remarks get said, it's nice to hear something positive. It's like you're in a casual little club where members metaphorically high five from time to time. When I was in high school, my mom drove a Jeep, and whenever she passed another Jeep on the road they would give one another the "Jeep wave." It's kind of like that.
"That Is So Lovely!"
This is basically the next stage up from "good for you!" This is almost invariably the woman who loooooooooooved to breastfeed and doesn't anymore, but remembers those times with a baby attached to her so fondly that seeing another parent nursing fills her with equal parts hormones and nostalgia. She may stare at you a little longer than you're comfortable with, but her heart is in the right place.
"Let Me Tell You All About My Own Breastfeeding Experiences..."
Depending on the personality of the speaker, this can be really awkward or really awesome. I find the people who do this most are the old-school crunchy moms — the ones who were nursing back when less than a quarter of women breastfed. The subtext is always a mix of hipsterish pride ("I was lactating before it was cool.") and "We really paved the way for you ladies." More often than not, it's usually mostly just two parents talking, which is nice.
Someone Defending You Against Judgmental Jerks
If a person with A Very Important Opinion is an ass to you about nursing and words fail you, every now and then a stranger will stick up for you, and it's positively lovely. I have friends who have had other people run to their aid in such moments, and I like to hope it's part of a trend.
Images: Allison Gore/Romper; Giphy(9); Imgur; Tumblr