Before I had a child, seeing other women nurse in public was always a little bothersome to me. I was and am all for raising kids as naturally as possible but something about seeing even glimpses of one of the most natural acts feasible in child-rearing gave me the heebie-jeebies.
When my first close friend who had a child would breastfeed in public without a care in the world, or a cover, I didn't know where to look and oftentimes caught the eyes of mortified passersby. However, seeing their looks of horror and disgust suddenly made me want to defend my friend. If strangers took issue with a baby being fed, they were the ones with the problem, not my friend.
But I still wasn't really comfortable being around a baby being nursed. After all, my friend was feeding her child with what Carrie's doting mom referred to as "dirty pillows." Even my phone's auto-correct changes "boobs" to "boondoggle." Breasts were just not meant to be seen. Right?
I suppose we can blame society. If men suddenly had to start whipping out their anatomy in public I'd be just as horrified. We've just been taught that breasts should be fully covered (except, you know, if you are at the beach, or wearing a dress, or a tank top or a v-neck shirt, or it is summer, or you are a celebrity, or an athlete).
It wasn't until years later, when I had a child, that I realized fully how backwards and unfortunate this attitude is. Although nursing is extremely convenient, when one first starts off, it is oftentimes also extremely difficult, and without the proper support from family, friends and society, it can be easy for a first-time mother to abandon breastfeeding without giving it the number of weeks it takes to become just part of the routine.
On a scale of uber-conservative breastfeeding mom who nurses in hiding, (generally in the car with tinted windows and a nursing cover for extra protection), to the (nursing) bra burning, fling off your shirt in public, who-gives-a-damn-my-child-has-every-right-to-be-fed kind of mom, I'm now somewhere in the middle. I'm a proud breastfeeding mom, who exclusively breastfed my first son until he was 17-months-old, until my milk dried up during my second pregnancy.
Those 17 months weren't always easy. My son comfort-nursed for hours at a time in the early days and then reverted to nursing through the night, much more frequently than every two hours, in the later months. But through the almost year-and-a-half adventure, I started to notice there were six types of reactions to a mother breastfeeding her child:
1) Disappointment: The people let down by your choice, who would rather you pump or give formula so they can feed the baby. (There's absolutely nothing wrong with bottle-feeding formula or breastmilk but if it isn't what you've decided to do, or if it isn't what you want to do right now, you shouldn't be pressured into doing it, just like a woman who chooses to bottle-feed shouldn't be pressured into breastfeeding). This person may try to convince you how inconvenient breastfeeding is in the early days, when you're struggling to establish a proper latch, or try to entice you in your most sleep-deprived state with promises of naps for mommy if you will just fill a bottle. Stay strong, mombies; if a bottle isn't your thing, don't cave in to their demands.
2) Embarrassment: The uncomfortable friend or family member who doesn't know where to look, and if a nip-slip is to occur, will erratically shift her eyes every which way. Should she look right at the bullseye to show how cool she is with you nursing? Should she look away so you don't feel bad? Should she look at her cuticles and pretend nothing happened? Should she make a dated Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction joke to lighten the mood? Don't worry. By the time she figures out what to do, you will have figured out you're hanging out, and all will once again be right in the world.
3) WTF, bro: The shocked male friend who used to think you were this awesome, potty-mouthed, dude-trapped-in-a-girl's-body bff, who now suddenly develops morning sickness symptoms at the sight of your nursing cover, and has to bolt out of the room in horror. Just the mention of the word "breast" in "breastfeeding" shakes him to his core and can lead to gagging.
4) Secret WTF, bro: The male friend's significant other who rushes to defend you and admonish him while secretly being totally freaked out by what you're doing.
5) Judgment: The bystander, who shields his or her children's eyes as they pass, like they had just witnessed an act of frotteurism, (Look it up, people. I knew that psych degree would come in handy one day). Apparently these folks were never clued-in to the fact that breasts are not sex organs. If they are, a lot of us have been drinking milk that came from a cow's sex organs.
6) Anger: The old stranger offended to the point of anger because you dared to feed your child at a chain restaurant. It doesn't matter that she gets to eat so your baby should get to as well. You made her lose her appetite and she longs for the good old days when women knew to do this kind of thing behind closed doors. Apparently no one from a generation prior to hers reminded her that in the really good old days of early humans, women would have been free to nurse in public as they pleased. This type of person may actually be Carrie's mother, so make sure you cover up those dirty pillows while engaging in the act of something as X-rated as feeding a child. (Remember, flashes of mammary glands are not to be seen in public, unless you're at the beach, or wearing a dress, or a tank top or a v-neck shirt or...)
In the end there is a seventh type of reaction too. It doesn't come from an angry person or an embarrassed person or a disappointed person. It comes from someone who is rather new at being a person. But his reaction is the most normal of all. He just latches on and drinks, nourishing his body and fulfilling a basic need in the most natural way possible. He is your baby and he hasn't been tainted by society. Yet.
So to all you nervous first-time moms forced to Google terms like "EBF" to know what the heck those SAHMs and WMs mean when they talk about their LOs and DHs in online moms' groups, hang in there. Don't let anyone else's reactions to you feeding your child make you feel bad about yourself or make you want to give up. Go ahead and feed your kid from under the cloak of your tinted minivan windows or out in public with or without a nursing cover. Be proud of your dirty pillows and always remember reaction number seven is the only one that ever really matters when it comes to nursing.
Supriya Kelkar works as a screenwriter for the Indian production house, Vinod Chopra Films, and she blogs about green living and green parenting at wadingthroughsoup.blogspot.com