My son is going on 4 months old, and I still feel weird about breastfeeding in public. Yes, I know there are laws that say I can. But there aren't laws against the looks I get, ranging from knowing smiles, to curiosity, to all out disgust. So I bought the cover up (why are they all so hideous?) to cover up my breasts as well as my son and I slink off to a dark little corner where I won't offend anyone.
It doesn't make any sense to me though. In the hospital they push and push for you to breastfeed. It's practically considered child abuse if you don't. And yet once you leave the hospital, people seem to want you to just put them away. Pumping is even worse. You don't have the cute little baby to distract people. Three times a day I sneak into the kitchen in my office to discreetly wash the breast pump parts. Occasionally someone will wander in and give me a quizzical look but I just pretend I don't notice and keep washing. Last week, however, my office was having a networking event. I walked into the empty kitchen and started washing when people suddenly starting crowding in to get in line for BBQ. My friend walked over and saw the bottles and asked if I had brought the baby in. When I said no, she exclaimed loudly, "Oh you are pumping!" Instantly heads turned, and I saw a number of people wrinkle their noses and look away. I started to cringe, but then I thought, "Hey, I'm not doing anything wrong here!"
I realized that I was simply caving to societal pressure. I didn't start off embarrassed. In fact, when he was first born, I was pretty proud of myself. But then I got tired of the looks and the comments, and I slowly started changing my behavior. Well, no more! Now, I'm not saying that I shouldn't be discreet; it does involve pulling out body parts that are normally covered up, after all. But I shouldn't feel ashamed about what I'm doing, and neither should you. Ladies, while I realize there are lots of reasons we shouldn't feel embarrassed to breastfeed in public, here are my top four:
So Our Kids Don't Starve: This one seems obvious.
Because It's Hard Enough As It Is: Breastfeeding may be natural, but it isn't necessarily easy. Some babies have trouble getting the hang of it and this can be frustrating, painful and exhausting. Sometimes your body doesn't cooperate. You may have too much milk. You may not have enough milk. You may develop an infection or blisters. It can be really hard, but we hang in there because it's important.
Because The Cover-Ups Are Awful: They are awkward, hot and ugly, with terrible names that refer to covering our "udders." Not the mention that it feels like you are smothering your child under there.
Because It Won't Change Unless We Start Somewhere: I realized that if I was changing my behavior because of what other people thought, there must be other moms doing the same thing. And if we all give in the pressure, nothing will change. So let's start taking a little pride in the fact that we are nursing moms. We can start small. Stay on the bench in the park, instead of hiding in the car. Buy the nursing tee that allows you to nurse discreetly. Hold your head up as you carry your breast pump down the hall. Take pride in the fact that your body is so amazing, it can feed your child.
Throughout my pregnancy, I was in awe of my body, and the fact that we, as women, can give birth. Now, I'm in awe of the fact that I have the ability to feed my beautiful little boy. Today I will begin to celebrate it.
I am the Co-Founder of SAS for Women, a comprehensive education and coaching center for women. I am divorced, remarried to a wonderful man, and a new mother to a sweet little boy.