As a first-time soon-to-be mom I had grand plans to breastfeed my baby anywhere, anytime, and in front of anyone. After all, there's nothing shameful about breastfeeding, right? But after my baby was born and my parents came into my room during that first feeding I began to second-guess those plans. I paused like a deer in the headlights when the nurse asked, "Do you want privacy?" My parents had driven for 10 hours to make it to the hospital for her birth, but I didn't know the protocol for breastfeeding in front of my dad. The nurse's question, and the entire situation, threw me off.
In an instant I was faced with my new-mom life, and realized how much had changed in such a short amount of time. But I was in the middle of a feeding and, well, it was my dad. It's not like he's a stranger or something, right? So, after a beat, I joked "the more, the merrier" and waved my hand to signal to my dad that he could come in the room. I thought briefly about covering up, more for his comfort than mine, but I had no idea how I would accomplish that task. It was my first time breastfeeding so I had no clue how to simultaneously handle my boob, newborn, hospital gown, and nursing pillow simultaneously. There was no way I could cover up, too.
Since there was literally no place I could go, and my dad had already spent several hours in the hospital waiting room, I decided to get past any weirdness and just feed my baby in all my breastfeeding glory. You can probably guess what happened next, right?
The answer is absolutely nothing happened, except my baby eating and our day proceeding as usual.
He didn't mind, and I didn't mind, so we both made peace with the fact that my baby needed to be fed and I was going to breastfeed regardless of where I was or who was around.
Much to my surprise, breastfeeding in front of my dad ended up being no big deal. And, honestly, I was way too wrapped up in figuring out how to feed my baby to stress about my father being present. He was polite and laid back about the whole thing, too, because he's my father. It's not like he was trying to catch a glimpse of my boob, or had a problem with me feeding his hungry grandchild. Like me, my father viewed breastfeeding for what it is: a child eating and a mother feeding a child.
In the end I had a surprise crash course in breastfeeding in public, and it happened the first time ever I fed my baby. It was a good thing, too, because my parents ended up staying with my new family for a week. So unless I wanted to retreat to my bedroom to breastfeed my baby when she was hungry, or ask my father to constantly leave the living room, I didn't really have other options.
A few times, prior to a feeding, my father would politely ask if I wanted him to leave, but I would insist that it was only necessary if he wanted to. He didn't mind, and I didn't mind, so we both made peace with the fact that my baby needed to be fed and I was going to breastfeed regardless of where I was or who was around. And while it took a while for me to ease into the whole nursing routine, feeding my child in front of my father — uncovered — wasn't a big deal. In fact, it was the least of my worries. After all, have you tried to perfect a latch while sleep deprived?!
For the first time since becoming pregnant I felt like I had control over my own body again, and I wasn't going to give up that control just because my father was in the room.
During feedings my father simply, and politely, averted his eyes and read a book or watched TV. I realized breastfeeding in public was probably never going to be something I enjoyed or did when I had a choice, but nursing in front of family members — yes, even my dad — wasn't horrible or even that awkward. We are family.
I also knew that if my dad was uncomfortable he could and would leave at any point. And I knew that if I felt uncomfortable I could ask him to leave and he wouldn't take it seriously. But there was something empowering about staking a claim to my spot on the couch, during a time when I felt so vulnerable and emotionally raw, and refusing to budge when it came time to feed my baby. For the first time since becoming pregnant I felt like I had control over my own body again, and I wasn't going to give up that control just because my father was in the room.
Breastfeeding in front of my dad was no big deal. It wasn't sexual. It wasn't inappropriate. It wasn't anything other than a baby being fed while surrounded by family, which is about the most normal, most beautiful thing in the planet.
I later went on to breastfeed three babies in front of a wide variety of people, including a fair amount of men. Would I consider nursing in front of people my idea of a good time? Eh, not really. For me, breastfeeding in public wasn't always as comfortable and carefree as it should have been. And sometimes breastfeeding in front of male family members — like my brother, father-in-law, nephew, and my husband's creepy uncle — was way more awkward than doing it in front of strangers I would never see again. I didn't have perfect nursing sessions every single time my babies were hungry, and I don't know a single breastfeeding mom who can say the same.
But I can say that those early days of breastfeeding with my dad in the room helped me get over my general anxiety about nursing in public. It was so awkward and weird to expose my breasts in front of people who had never seen them before, especially while I was getting the hang of things and trying to perfect my nursing holds. But I did it, and I didn't die of shame or burst into flames, just like nothing happened when I nursed in front of my dad.
I'd like to think that by being casual about breastfeeding in public, or in front of family — yes, even my dad — I did more to normalize breastfeeding than I could have by posting brealfies on social media or participating in public breastfeeding events. Breastfeeding in front of my dad was no big deal. It wasn't sexual. It wasn't inappropriate. It wasn't anything other than a baby being fed while surrounded by family, which is about the most normal, most beautiful thing in the planet.