You are Not Alone: Breastfeeding Fears and Inspiration
The first time I ever nursed in public was on a busy Chicago roof deck in July. We had just taken the baby to his 6 week check-up at the pediatrician, and we hadnât planned on stopping for lunch. I fed my son right before we left for his appointment, which would keep him full until we got home. This was my strategy whenever I left the house â it all revolved around perfect timing.
But driving in the car on a beautiful summer Saturday, my husband and my mother-in-law wanted to stop for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. (Spontaneity goes out the window when you have an infant.) Despite the hungry baby, I agreed to stop for lunch, because I didnât want my husband to know that Iâm different now â that Iâm terrified of losing my old self, but also of trying to be that same woman again. The baby would need to eat, and I had no bottle and no nursing cover.
My mother-in-law said I could use her shawl. (Perfect!)
The experience wasn't perfect and it wasnât terrible. As I sat at a picnic table in the center of the crowd, the baby screamed and I tried to get a good latch. The wind whipped the light fabric of the scarf all over the place, and my mother-in-law tried to keep it wrapped all the way around me, as if I was completely naked underneath. Tense. It was tense, mostly because I had never done it before and was so anxious. Also because I was trying to hide the fact that anything was going on, and my husband and mother-in-law were also panicking. What if I exposed the top of my boob, or a nipple?!
People at the restaurant were nice. Most tried to ignore me and some looked at me sympathetically. I could feel them saying, âIt's ok. You're doing great.â
Sometimes what moms need most is understanding, not a solution and not advice. Just a loving glance or simple, "How are you?"
As a maternity clothing designer and mom myself, Iâve talked with hundreds of new moms, and these are some of the many (and shocking) fears we have around breastfeeding:
- Fear of nursing in public.
- Fear of what other people will think.
- Fear of being criticized by strangers.
- Fear of being criticized by family.
- Fear of not nursing long enough.
- Fear of nursing too long.
- Fear of not nursing at all.
- Fear of having to speak up if someone does say something rude.
- Fear of what to do if youâre asked to leave or cover up.
Omg, can you STAND it?? When I read this list of fears I can't believe the pressure we put on ourselves as mothers and as women in order to please other people. It's as if we feel we have no right to be out in society, to be seen, to exist. You are not required to hide your motherhood. In fact, the more society sees women mothering in public, whether its breastfeeding or bottle feeding, the less foreign and shaming we make the experience. Itâs helpful to know the law, which you can check in your state.
The Breastfeeding Law in Wisconsin states:
âA mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the motherâs breast is covered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.â
It's ok to acknowledge that we have these fears â even if we can admit they are irrational, that the other people are wrong, that we have a right to nurse our babies in public, it still takes bravery to step out and do what you know is right. Any amount of breastfeeding in public, taking care of our kids and babies in public, taking care of other moms in public, brings awareness and creates a movement around parenting. Motherhood is already scary, challenging, and even humiliating at times.
I'll never forget walking into a restaurant one day, my infant in tow, and seeing a beautiful woman breastfeeding her baby at another table. She was smiling, fork in one hand, eating a Cobb salad, and sipping champagne. In her other arm, she cradled a nursing baby. The baby basically blended in with the salad and glass of champagne. It all looked very magazine-worthy and civilized. My motherhood did not look like this. I envied her! Not only was she feeding her baby, she was doing it in a public space, showing that it doesnât have to be hidden, and enjoying herself in the process. This woman doesnât know it, but her beauty and courage to nurse openly in the restaurant inspired me as a new mom â if she could do it, so could I.
I'm also inspired by motherhood that doesn't look magazine-worthy, probably the same way I may have inspired people that day on the roof deck. Moms dragging crying toddlers through stores, moms picking up sippy cups that are launched out of strollers, and moms trying to breastfeed for the first time in public - all these women inspire me, and remind me of the unexpected journey when we have babies.
We don't need to compare ourselves to other moms in order to judge or criticize - we can see moms and women who have been there as encouragement, demonstration, and a way to lift each other up. You are also one of these moms. No matter what your motherhood looks like today, you are inspiring someone.