Breastfeeding in Public: It is (Not) a Big Deal!

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Breastfeeding moms are kind of ridiculous.

Seems like all we say is, “Hey, breastfeeding is so not a big deal! Lighten up, naysayers!” But then we stage nurse-ins, tweet to businesses that have mistreated us, and remind everyone from our friends to the mailman about the zillion ways that “breast is best.” I know, it’s a bit backwards to make a point of talking about breastfeeding at every chance, purposefully inflating it into a big deal when the bottom line of our advocating is, “Hey people, breastfeeding is NOT a big deal!”

Especially, especially, especially… breastfeeding in public.

Truth is, seeing a baby being fed in any way shouldn’t be a big deal to anyone. What if infant feeding was simply accepted and treated as a (wonderfully special but overall) normal part of life in any setting, because children and families naturally show up in just about every social environment? Even the formula feeding of infants has become a bit taboo (what, “Don’t you know breast is best? Why are you poisoning your child with formula?” Ugh. Barf). No matter how mothers feed their babies, they’re going to be WRONG according to some mothers, families, onlookers, health policy makers and others. After all, this country is no longer considered one of the top ten countries to be a mother. So infant feeding (and dare I focus upon uncovered, in public, beyond-infancy breastfeeding) IS a big deal.

But what does “in public” actually mean?

Does it mean in front of others, such as in the view of relatives in your own home? Does it mean in your own parked car, where others can see you through the window? Does it mean in a public bathroom stall (it’s called “public,” isn’t it)? Or does it refer to breastfeeding in a place where you’d otherwise be doing something else, such as waiting in line at the post office, by the side of a community pool, or in a restaurant booth? Does it make a difference if you bother to cover up the feeding of your child or not? Because that certainly adds a few degrees of privacy, no?

I’ve always been confused about this. I think my first time breastfeeding in public was at the grocery store with MaiTai in his front-carrier. Before that, we nursed in my car in parking lots (“in public,” I guess?) when he was very young. A relative of mine said she’d breastfed her babies in public. “Yeah, I took them to the public bathroom stalls because you just do what you gotta do!” She seemed to believe this was proper protocol. Is breastfeeding in a private two-by-four, locked stall designed for excreting bodily waste very “public,” or even proper for that matter? No one should feel like this is all the breastfeeding experience has to offer!

Some women discuss breastfeeding in public, but they wear a cover that could send Antartica into a blackout by its shadow. If it helps them breastfeed on demand, I’m all for it. Do what you like with your body. But I’ve gotta say, the normalization of covering up does make assumed exhibitionists out of those of us who just “whip it out” (is that even possible? I’m pretty sure my breasts are too attached to my body for any proper whipping action to take place).

Clearly, it takes a lot of bravery to get started with feeding an infant from your breasts in public whether they’re covered by the exterior of a car, a Hooter Hider, or nothing but the cool breeze. Breastfeeding in public is a very big deal to new moms. And they are not hypocrites for complaining that many others think it’s a big deal, because you know what, they’re not the ones breastfeeding outside their comfort zones… or at all!

Virtually every breastfeeding mother will have to feed her baby somewhere outside her or her baby’s comfort zone at least once. It may not always be apparent if the time you witness her breastfeeding in public just happens to be the time when she’s freaked the hell out. Hedge your bets. If you see a mother breastfeeding in public, consider what it took for her to get there.

Is she covering up? She’s self-conscious, but super proud that she’s prioritizing her baby’s needs. Don’t ignore her; give her some positive acknowledgment. She can only shed the insecurity if her efforts are acknowledged.

Is she separated from her friends or family? She’s probably daydreaming that someone supportive (even a stranger) will come keep her company and dote on her awesome act of love. Will you be that person?

Is she walking around, shirt down or up, what you consider to be “whipped out”? Don’t whisper to someone else about her, even if you’re saying you think she’s awesome. Go tell her! Or smile, give a thumbs up, make an “Awww” face. Say thank you for making this baby happy. It tells her that you don’t think it’s a big deal, but you get that it’s a big deal for her… and most importantly, you get that it’s a big deal for her baby.

So breastfeeding in public, whatever that means to you, is NOT a big deal because using organs that exist primarily and arguably solely to feed babies, for the feeding of babies, is totally normal. But breastfeeding in public IS a big deal because, you know, it’s this amazing thing that powers the human race through sustenance and love and unique properties found nowhere else in nature except a human mother’s body and it is spiritual and special. And it takes a lot of guts, confidence, bravery, and I don’t know, perhaps the kind of desperation that only a sleep-starved, hormonally-fired new mother would know.

Therefore…

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At what point in your breastfeeding experience did you think, “Hey, this is kind of a big deal!” ? Was there a stand-out moment when you remember thinking, “Ugh, this is so not a big deal!” ?

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