The first time that I ever breastfed my daughter in public, she was barely 2 weeks old. It was a hot and sticky day, and my husband and I were sweaty, stinky, and completely and totally exhausted. Aside from the knowing that we needed some basics — food and diapers and industrial-strength pads — I don't know how or why we ever made it outside. But we did. We packed up the car and headed to the store, the first big adventure for a newborn and her new parents. My daughter slept through the shopping, but once we got to the checkout line she started to whimper. Before long the air was filled with tiny cries the two of us were flying through the store with one goal in mind: a quiet place for me to soothe and comfort her. Our 2-week-old baby girl needed to breastfeed, and I needed to find a place to make that happen. STAT.
I took her into the department store's bathroom, changed her diaper, held her, and talked to her. I did everything I could to calm her down, making cooing noises and kissing the soft spot on the top of her head. Nothing worked. Her cries became increasingly more frantic. It was time to eat — we both knew it. But the store we were in didn’t have cafe seating, and unless I was willing to feed her right here next to the toilets, I was sh*t out of luck. (And there was no way in hell I was feeding her in there, because it was gross, vile, and no place for any person to eat.)
So I headed outside to the parking garage, unlocked our car, and sat in the passenger’s seat. But instead of facing forward, I left the door open, picked up my daughter and let out my breast, and there we sat — uncovered — for the next 15 minutes. It wasn’t until my husband came outside that I thought about using a blanket to cover up, but it was too hot and I didn’t care. Feeding this way allowed us to both be more comfortable. There was a little breeze on my chest and the cool air circulated freely around her warm and sweaty little head. That was all that mattered: her comfort.
When it came down to covering up or going au naturale, I opted for to bare my breasts not to make a statement or to make others uncomfortable, but to do something so basic and so instinctual: to feed my baby. Because that's what she needed in that moment. I'm lucky to live in a state where a Breastfeeding Bill Of Rights exists. In New York, the bill states, mothers have the right to breastfeed in any location, public or private, where they're otherwise authorized to be, and we have the right to breastfeed our babies at any time, day or night. Thankfully, I've known many mothers who've exercised those rights each and every day. I've seen women breastfeed on the subway, out on the sidewalk, in front of their favorite coffee shops, and in restaurants. Moms feed in parks, in trendy family-friendly bars.
In the early days, I was often apologetic for needing to feed. I'd ask for permission from the people I was with to breastfeed my daughter, and I'd ask friends and family if they'd prefer I head into another room. But after some time, the need for their comfort didn't matter to me.
Not only have I seen other women feeding in each of these locations — I've also done it myself.
I know that isn’t the case everywhere. Some states, like Idaho, offer new mothers no breastfeeding laws. In fact, breastfeeding rights and the rights of the mothers barely get a mention — and only in Idaho Code § 2-212, a code which pertains to jury duty and allows potential jurors a postponement “only upon a showing of undue hardship, extreme inconvenience, or public necessity, or upon a showing that the juror is a mother breastfeeding her child.”) But that isn't right.
Even though I stand firm in my right to breastfeed in public, I didn't always feel this way. In the early days, I was often apologetic for needing to feed. I'd ask for permission from the people I was with to breastfeed my daughter, and I'd ask friends and family if they'd prefer I head into another room. But after some time, the need for their comfort didn't matter to me. I had a child to feed. I had a job to do. And my daughter needed to eat. I didn't need their approval. I didn't need their blessing, and if I wasn't apologizing for my meals, why should I apologize for hers?
Although my breastfeeding days are long behind me, if I ever needed to breastfeed in public again, I'd do it without a second thought. Not because I wanted to make some sort of political statement or start a social movement, but because I wanted to do everything I could to give my daughter the comfort and nutrition she so desperately craved. When I paid attention to her, everyone else faded away. And that was always the most important.