The Ugly Truth about Breastfeeding in Public

Every year, during World Breastfeeding Week, I write a little opinion piece on my experience as a breastfeeding mama. Last year, I wrote an article on The Huffington Post called “The Ugly Truth About Breastfeeding” and shared my tell-all truth about that first year nursing my first baby. Spoiler alert: it was rough and I didn’t love it all that much!

I’m back again this year to share my big fat breastfeeding opinions, and I’m here to tell you that things have changed a lot over the past twelve months. Now, I’m trying my hand at raising two babies under two years old, and exclusively breastfeeding this chunky little newborn. Strangely enough, as you grow up and experience new things in life, your opinions start to change. I look back at some of the things that I thought (or even said out loud) one year ago…two years ago…and I’m so embarrassed.

Here are a few of the things that actually came out of my mouth before I had personally experienced what it was like to breastfeed a baby:

“It’s not that hard to just use a cover when you’re nursing in public.”
“You can use a breast pump and give the baby a bottle when you’re in public.” 
“You should be considerate of people that are uncomfortable seeing your bare breast when you’re in public.”

 

For the sake of transparency, let me say: I am a woman, I have a heart, and would never brazenly approach a breastfeeding mom to say any of these things to her. But I will admit, during my honest conversations among friends, my personal opinions did come out and they sounded something like the above quotes.

I’ve come to learn that there are some things you just cannot understand unless you’ve experienced the other side. And now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time for the ugly truth about breastfeeding in public!

“You CAN use a cover when you’re nursing in public.”

Yes, you absolutely can. Maybe it’s not that hard for some mothers and babies to use a nursing cover. That’s great for them! But speaking from experience, it’s hard for some moms and babies to manage nursing under a cover. Some babies cannot latch easily, and certainly not under a dark cover. Some babies don’t like having a blanket over their head and they end up fighting to break free instead of filling their belly. That often leads to mama getting bit or pinched (which kinda hurts)!

All of that fun stuff aside, it really does get hot and stuffy under a nursing cover, and that is difficult for babies AND their mamas to deal with…ya know, with the hormones and all.

Can you still use a nursing cover despite all of these issues? Sure! I know several moms that are uncomfortable nursing in public, so they choose to endure the nursing cover instead. I don’t blame them one bit…but I also fully understand why many women aren’t willing to go that route. Because, to be honest, it kinda sucks.

“You CAN use a breast pump and give the baby a bottle when you’re in public.”

I did this on occasion. I know many moms that do. We sit in a chair hooked to this machine that sucks milk from our bodies like a farm cow. Then we fill storage bags with that milk, stick them in the freezer for later, so that we can bottle feed our babies when necessary (think about working moms, date nights, etc). Working moms actually spend more time hooked to their breast pumps than to their babies, and it’s a huge sacrifice that they make for their child.

If you’ve never pumped milk from your breasts using the strong suction of a machine, then you really don’t know how much it sucks (no pun intended)…it isn’t fun, and I wouldn’t wish that task on anyone.

So next time you ask yourself why that nursing mom can’t just “pump milk at home and bring a bottle to feed her baby in public”, you should probably hook your own nipples to a breast pump and crank it up to the highest setting. And see how you feel after 30 minutes of that…Breasts are for feeding babies, and no one has the right to tell a nursing mom that it would be better to pump milk using a machine than to just let her baby drink milk from the tap, as nature intended.

“You should be considerate of people that are uncomfortable seeing your bare breast in public.”

I can honestly say that I still believe this. We’re all brought up differently, we all have different standards of what modesty really is. We can’t force someone to feel differently than how they feel. If it makes someone uncomfortable to see your bare breast feeding a child, I do think that it would be decent and polite to cover up, if possible.

Let’s not get it twisted here: I don’t think that anyone should feel uncomfortable seeing a woman feeding her child in public. I don’t think it’s immodest or indecent, and I can’t even believe that it’s an issue in our modern world. But that’s just me. I still have the sense to be considerate of the people around me and I will be respectful if someone tells me they’re uncomfortable…if they’re polite about it. *wink wink*

I might not come to your house as often or join you for dinner in public again, but I will respect how you feel, because that’s the decent thing to do.

If you thought my opinions were bad…listen to these comments I’ve heard from others!

“You can breastfeed your baby in the restroom.” 

Well yeah, I guess you can. But this is when I just have to ask, have you ever been inside the women’s restroom in the mall, the grocery store, or even Target? Sometimes the bathroom is decently clean, but often it is NOT. I have been in bathroom stalls that had poop all over the toilet seat, clogged toilets, pee on the floor, and people having explosive diarrhea in the stall next to me, just inches from where my baby and I would be sitting to breastfeed…for real. I’m not going to sit in that smelly environment to feed my child, and I don’t think anyone should ever have to do so. Just think about that filthy toilet covered in feces next time you tell a nursing mom that she needs to go feed her baby in the restroom.

“If you don’t want to feed in the restroom, you can feed your baby before leaving the house or feed your baby in the car.”

First of all, let me say that I do understand some people are just uncomfortable at the sight of a bare breast in public and they don’t want to see it. I get it, and I respect how you feel. In light of that respect, I’m also going to ask you to try and see this situation from a mother’s perspective. Newborn babies can nurse for up to 45 minutes every two to three hours, and more if they’re going through a growth spurt.

Bare breasts and nipples aside, can you even imagine how lonely it would be for a new mom to sit by herself in a nursery, or a bathroom, or her car, every single time she needed to feed her baby? She would seriously be completely isolated for most of the day. Would you ask your mother, your sister, your daughter, or your friend to endure such isolation, for any reason at all? It’s just something to consider before you judge her for public breastfeeding. Being a new mom can be lonely, and we need to support and encourage new moms (and all moms) to feed their babies however they are comfortable.

“Sex is a natural thing too, but it doesn’t mean we should have to watch people doing it while we eat at a restaurant.”

This was just one of those outrageous comments on a Facebook post that I should not have even been scrolling through, but it did get me thinking. There are plenty of natural things that are reserved for specific times and places. Nursing a baby is not one of them. Breastfeeding babies feed on demand, they eat frequently, and it’s important that they empty all of the milk from the breast so that our bodies receive the appropriate signal to make more milk. Infants don’t understand concepts like patience and self control. They only understand that they are hungry and they need milk…right now. It’s a pretty simple, and natural, concept.

“Have some respect for yourself.”

There is no greater respect for self than to use your body as nature intended, to nourish your children, and to put their needs and comfort before your own…I just made that up, but it certainly sounds like one of those quotes from a wise philosopher of past times.

I’m not pushing my opinions just for the sake of being controversial. Like I said, I respect that some people are just a bit more sensitive to uncovered breastfeeding than others. I just think it’s worth looking at the scenario from the viewpoint of a tired new mommy that is trying to give her baby the best start to life. Breastfeeding is hard, it can be lonely, and if you haven’t experienced some of the real struggles, you just can’t understand what it’s like to walk in that woman’s shoes. So if I have to choose between the comfort of a grown adult who can avert their eyes, or the comfort of a helpless infant and a new mom, I’m going to defend that mom and baby every time. 

I look back at some of the things I said and did before breastfeeding my two babies, and truth be told, I was such a fool. You really can’t understand what it’s like until you’re walking in those shoes. And if you made it to the end of this article, then you probably picked up on the fact that walking in those shoes is no easy task. So next time you see a mother breastfeeding her baby, covered or uncovered, give her a smile or a nod of respect. She might need it more than you know.

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6 Comments

  1. Tasheena

    October 18, 2017 at 5:14 am

    It’s like you were in my head! I said all of those ridiculous things before I became a parent. And I’ve gone through the cycle of self-consciousness as a new mom to now experienced and confident with my second baby. I especially love the point you made about being respectful. You can feed a baby comfortably while still being mindful of others. Sharing this!

    1. Cate

      October 18, 2017 at 5:33 am

      Funny how quick we are to judge when we don’t know what we’re talking about, right? I was also self-conscious with my first and am now confident and comfortable with my second. We live and learn. So wonderful to connect with you girl!

  2. Holly

    October 27, 2017 at 1:04 am

    Nobody knows what they’re talking about until they’ve actually been a breastfeeding mom! So irritating! As a mom of a little one who just gets way too distracted nursing in public there really should be more places designated for moms to nurse- not because they shouldn’t be in public but just to give them a calm, quiet space.

    1. Cate

      October 27, 2017 at 9:37 pm

      I completely agree! I don’t even mind nursing in private most of the time, but not seated on a dirty toilet. I’m so glad to hear from a fellow mama who understands!

  3. Meghan

    November 9, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    This is a beautiful blog and I especially loved this post. I loved the contrast of your previous and current perspectives. It’s comforting to know that if people experienced the things they complain about in other people, not only would they not criticize anymore, but they may find that they will do it too.

    1. Cate

      November 10, 2017 at 6:22 am

      Thank you for taking the time to read my article! It’s always good to try to understand why someone does something before judging or criticizing. I’m so embarrassed that as a woman, I had to learn it this way, but it taught me a valuable lesson anyway. So I’m thankful for that.

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