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Nursing Among Friends

Posted: Breastfeeding » In Public | June 1st, 2003



By Pamela Kock

When I was eight months pregnant with my son, I attended a breastfeeding class given by my local baby-friendly (UNICEF-certified) hospital. It was wonderful; I learned a lot and gained confidence. But one thing they didn’t teach in that class was how to breastfeed around people who had never known a nursing mom.

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“Breastfeeding in Public” wasn’t covered in the curriculum. Actually, I never had any qualms about nursing my baby in public — in the mall, at the zoo, at the playground. I’m not particularly shy about my body, and the reactions of strangers didn’t bother me in the least. Strangely, the hardest times I had nursing my son were the moments I shared with friends and family. The problem was that very few of my acquaintances actually breastfed their babies. Those who did breastfeed only did so for a few weeks.

Determined not to let breastfeeding interfere with my social life, I proudly brought my son along everywhere with me. If he needed to nurse, I wasn’t about to slink off into a private place to do it. After all, I wouldn’t need privacy to feed him a bottle, and I didn’t want to miss out on the fun. The only concessions I made were when I was very new at breastfeeding and needed to concentrate, and when I visited my in-laws. Breastfeeding made my husband’s parents uncomfortable, and fighting that wasn’t worth the effort.

My daughter and I were in the habit of taking an evening stroll around the neighborhood during the summer months, and sometimes she’d stop to play with other kids while I chatted with their parents. Since my son nursed quite frequently, this meant I’d usually have to nurse him while we were out, sometimes sitting on a neighbor’s front porch. I felt like I was “educating” the entire neighborhood.

I could just imagine their conversations after I left. “You know that woman, the one who lives on Oak Street, with that little blonde-haired daughter? She came over and BREASTFED her baby, right here in the front yard!”

The real challenge, however, was visiting my friends. One friend, who had nursed her son for about six weeks, loudly announced to me that she thought I was way too indulgent. My son was about six months old then, and she kept telling me this till he was two; at that point I think she just gave up. Another friend — my oldest friend — actually shuddered in disgust when I told her I was nursing. Then there was the Fourth of July party; many of our friends were there. I retreated indoors to nurse, where it was cool. A steady stream of partygoers passed by, all doing a double-take when they saw what I was doing. The comments were, in retrospect, priceless.

When we moved, my son was about thirteen months old. I greeted the new neighbors, finding a street full of kids. We moms gathered for card games while the kids played, and my sleepy boy spent a lot of time on my lap underneath my shirt. One of the moms said that nursing wasn’t worth the effort, so she never tried. Another mom said it was too painful, so she stopped quite early. But since it didn’t interrupt the game too much, nobody minded. Nobody, that is, until my next-door neighbor joined us. I like her a lot; we’re friends now. But when she realized what I was doing, she freaked out, actually got up and went home!

“Nothing against you, but I just can’t sit next to someone doing that.”

I felt awful. I was trying so hard to fit in with this new group of people, and turning your new next-door neighbor against you doesn’t exactly bode well for the future. Suddenly, the weight of my chosen parenting style, and its implications, hit me. When all these people said they didn’t mind if I breastfed while chatting on their porch, sitting on their couch, or at the card table, did they really mean it? Or was the act of nourishing and nurturing my son social suicide, and I was too blind to notice?

My son is almost three now, and following his cues, we’ve been weaned for about four months. The only friends I’ve lost weren’t worth having in the first place. One of the moms at that neighborhood card game doesn’t live here anymore; I remain on very friendly terms with the other two. Our other friends don’t seem to feel any different toward us and, as far as I can tell, my in-laws approve of me about as much as they ever did.

So, stick to your beliefs, ladies. Babies don’t stay babies for long, and breastfeeding is such a short-lived experience that we shouldn’t worry about how our friends, acquaintances, and family members react while we’re doing it. Do it for yourself, do it for your children, and hold the rest of the world to a high standard of acceptance. You’ll be an example for the next breastfeeding mom these folks encounter — maybe she’ll be met with less resistance, and someday soon breastfeeding will be the norm instead of the exception.

Pamela Kock is a freelance writer, mother of two, and editor of IndoorJungle.net, the Indoor Gardener’s Web-zine.

2 Responses to “Nursing Among Friends”

1 Katherine Sullivan says:

Here, here! I had always planned to breastfeed never imagining I would have any difficulties. Then when my daughter was born she couldn’t latch on. Well, not quite true. She could latch on, as I wearily insisted to the nurses who kept pushing her head into place. I thought, being preemie, she wasn’t quite strong enough. As we found out later she had a damaged jaw! I was forced to bottle feed her to get her off the tube down her nose (another story) but, ignoring the warnings of nipple confusion, I tried to get her to nurse before every bottle. Four weeks and buckets of tears later, on her due date in fact, she started to suck! All of this meant I lost all inhibitions about nursing: it had been too much of a fight to be anything but proud of. My family and friends have been somewhat taken aback as I have always been quite a private person and I think there have been times when we have been out together that some of the men in the family wished I would be rather more discreet (ie leave the room- I am discreet as far as what I reveal to the world) What I am most happy about though is that two years on, and still nursing, my sister is planning to start a family and has said how she is determined to nurse in public, a decision I don’t think she would have made with so much conviction had she not seen for herself how easy it is and how much my daughter gets from it. It was all worth it.

Katherine SUllivan

2 Rebecca says:

I am a mom of two and totally agree and can relate to this article. With my first child I was too embarrassed to breastfeed in public, and probably too new at it to be comfortable. Now I carry a blanket with me wherever I take my five week old baby and leave the bottle at home. The funny part is half the world has no clue I am feeding him while I’m nursing, because I am so discreet.
My biggest critic has been my mother in law. She had the nerve to tell me when my baby was three weeks old (while we were sitting in the family resteraunt she owns-two hours before they even opened) that I could go nurse him in their bathroom! I might have consented to this with my first, but I’m beyond sitting on a toilet to breastfeed now. I told her I didn’t think a bathroom is a good place to feed a baby and kept nursing. She was insulted and assumed that I thought her bathroom was dirty! I think my attitude is a great example to other people out there, men and women. Why should we mothers be afraid to feed our babies when they are hungry? Nursing is a natural part of life that has existed since the dawn of time. There is no reason to be ashamed of it.

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