I have a horror story. It happened in real life back in my single backpacker days, and I’m not even sure how I chose to breastfeed after this. I was an innocent ole country girl who didn’t “know nothin’ bout birthin’ no babies.” It was Rome, Italy circa 2005 where I was seated by the window on a bus stopped near Campo dei Fiori. As I was people watching I saw a gypsy woman holding a big ole baby. Now, I don’t mean this derogatory and don’t send me hate mail, but I want you to get with me setting wise on this.
There are a large population of gypsies in Italy due to its location and it is very common to see groups of women with multiple children. And, for the most part, they are not terribly clean. So, I see this mother holding her big ole baby and he gives a cry and then it happened. Right there, in front of tons of people and our entire side of the bus, she pulls down her shirt and (spoiler: way gross) peels off some type of large dried milk product from her breast, gives it a look, then throws it down on the sidewalk. Right there in the middle of about 20 businessmen in Armani suits. Then proceeds to feed her baby. Breastfeeding is natural, but that was just a little too much sharing.
Well, now that I got that story out of the way.
I think nursing in public is a slightly taboo subject. Well, maybe not taboo. Maybe just awkward. Before I lived in Europe and then Australia I think I’d probably seen a woman breastfeeding in public… never. Like, not even once. In the UK it was a lot more common and again in Australia. I’d even call it “normal” to go out and see someone breastfeeding in those countries. Partly because it’s actually more common to breastfeed there, and partly because it is culturally different. I think in some places nursing in public is viewed as indecent whereas in others it’s viewed as natural.
If you’re on the fence thinking “should I breastfeed or shouldn’t I?” then you might find this interesting. Let’s think about it for a while.
One of the most common reasons I hear in favor of breastfeeding is that it is convenient. While at home, this is correct. While in public, I can’t say I agree. I’m sure it’s more convenient to find a place to nurse than it is to find a way to bottle at a proper temperature, but convenience means a lot of things. In public, times to feed often coincides with sitting down to a meal, the start of a sermon or halftime during a football game. If you are about to leave the house and know about when your baby will be feeding, and you know it’s going to be smack in the middle of a busy time, think about pumping and putting it in a bottle.
However, if you are kitted out with ninja skills (see tip below) then damn the torpedoes and feed when you want. I’ve always fed in public and had a love/hate relationship with it simply because I find it logistically difficult to feed. But I never bat an eyelid at another mother feeding. It is, after all, the most natural thing in the world!
2. Your ninja skills.
I personally have never been able to skilfully manoeuvre my top and the baby and a blanket. Perhaps if I had one of these I’d be more adept. I have tried many a time and usually, by the time the baby is feeding, I have flashed 4 people, got sympathetic looks from other women, and broken out into a cold sweat. I think it depends also on your body type (some women need manipulate only the baby, not the baby and their breast) and clothing choices. I am so awkward I simply attract attention to myself as opposed to blending in. There are some moms in my church who can sit two seats down from you while breastfeeding for half an hour and nobody would notice. That is skill. If you are up to the challenge, practice that at home.
3. The setting.
Again, this will depend largely on the country, city and location where you find yourself. In America there will likely be far more places where nursing is considered inappropriate. In Australia, I see it everywhere. The mall, waiting rooms, park benches, you name it. Unless you are super comfortable feeding and know most people around you, I’d also consider the gender situation. If you are at a football game and 90% of the people around you are men, it might not be appropriate. Not because you’re doing something wrong, but because there are now lots of men around you purposefully trying not to look at you. That battle will be lost.
4. Your comfort level and the cleanliness of the bathrooms.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt dejected at my ninja skills and decided to just feed my baby in the bathroom and join everyone else later. This is okay if (a) the bathroom is clean (2) others aren’t actually sitting outside the bathroom for half an hour waiting for you and (d) there is a place to lay your baby while you situate and go to the bathroom yourself. However, most times the bathrooms are nasty so it’s a pretty gross prospect. My husband and mom are experts at entertaining themselves and the other siblings while I nurse the baby, no matter the location.
So, while this post offers no real advice or conclusions, it has given us something to think about. Do we think it’s normal to nurse in public? Are we offended if we see others do it? Can you breastfeed without anyone else even noticing? Did you ditch breastfeeding for bottle feeding out of convenience, or vice versa?
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I couldn’t nurse my baby anywhere but home for quite a while because he was so fussy. Like you, I just can’t coordinate a cover, shirt, boob, etc. without everything flopping all over the place. I decided that I’m not embarrassed, and that my baby’s needs come before that of society. That being said, if we are somewhere that my husband is uncomfortable, I try and go to the car or somewhere more private. Now that my son is almost one, we only nurse 4x a day so nursing on the go isn’t a big problem. I would love to see breastfeeding be the norm in the US!
I did something similar. I just said ‘screw it’ so to speak and started to nurse in public when I needed to. My husband (must be like yours) was a sort of radar and when I could tell he felt uncomfortable I’d go to the bathroom, car, etc. In Australia it is very common, though, so even if you flashed people it would still not be necessarily out of the norm. I mean, okay, that ain’t normal, but you see what I mean!
I got more comfortable the longer I did it. I remember one time with my oldest having to breastfeed at a Pizza Hut because they took over an hour to get us our meal and the bathroom was not acceptable and it was too hot in the car. I used a blanket and got some looks, but after that experience, I felt more comfortable doing it.
Ha, yes, I am with you. I’ve had some of those. People give you sideways looks and then you just kind of relax and think “well, my baby needs milk” so everyone else can shove it! Particularly if you are covered up. Of course having said that, there are some places that just wouldn’t be acceptable to me, like a business building or somewhere that having children there in the first place is odd.
Normally, I didn’t like to nurse in a restaurant, but when the baby is freaking out to eat, ya gotta do what ya gotta do! A guy sitting next to me on a plane once gave me weird looks for nursing the baby. Again – I had a blanket. I told him that it was nursing or crying and I think he’d prefer the nursing, lol.
Haha, you got that right. Plus nursing helps the war popping issue!
Janice Schmidt says
I have an udder cover and used it all the time to nurse my baby in public. I am fine nursing in public, but I am NOT fine exposing myself in public! I learned how to secure the edges of the udder cover by kind of wrapping the tail end of it around the baby and securing it with my arm so even when she started waving her arms around it still stayed in place.
I agree with that. Nursing = good, exposing self = not good. Glad to hear the udder cover worked well, I’ve always felt like an actual cover is better because blankets just fall. Even when I’ve tied them they slipped and when my babies started waving arms…we had problems!!!
I think we chatted about this before ;-). I have nursed everywhere I went in public and have never even thought about covering up. Not that I exposed everything, either, but in general a baby in front of my breast didn’t allow for anybody to see more than a low cut shirt would reveal. I tried a cover once and my baby got so hot and so wiggly that it made nursing very difficult…. just my two cents. BTW, I’m glad I didn’t have to witness that Italy scenario…. not pretty…
But Franziska you are European therefore skilled. I don’t always cover, depending on the shirt but it is the act of getting the baby positioned that gives me trouble and mine always wiggle around which means I am constantly in fear of flashing! Ha
haha. I think there are two parts to it (for me). One is to get more skillful and the other is to stop paying attention to the people around you ;-) I stopped pretty early to look around…
Great point, if we are insecure then we look around then get more insecure! I will practice at home this time :)
Until I read all the comments I wasn’t totally sure whether your post was referring to nursing in public in general or nursing in public without a cover. I think that you should be able to (as the law pretty much states around here any ways!) nurse your baby without people giving you crap about it anywhere that you are allowed to have your baby! So obviously, not a bar or somewhere you wouldn’t take your baby in the first place. I think that whether you use a cover or not is more of an issue…if I was at my girlfriend’s house and we were hanging out having afternoon tea and there were only small children around, I probably wouldn’t bother with a cover (even thought my ninja skills are lacking!); when I am at my mom’s bible study at church in a large group of women, I use my cover, but there are ladies who do not and nobody seems to mind; when I’m in mixed company or out in public at a restaurant I use a cover, and the only time I leave the area is when the baby is in that super distracted stage when they’d rather yank on your nipple and look around than actually nurse OR when I’m somewhere where I know baby is going to make TOO much noise (church, a lecture hall, etc). I have an Infinity Nursing Scarf and have tried other covers and just a blanket and would ONLY recommend this nursing scarf and nothing else! It is light weight so you’re not sweating and super easy to carry around with you. Having said all this, I never wear nursing bras or nursing shirts so I end up exposing my whole back/stomach when pulling my shirt up…which is part of the reason I am uncomfortable without a cover, but if I did have a bunch of nursing shirts (and a little better ninja skills) I would totally nurse my baby in more places and not bother with the cover or leaving the place.
Rachel Norman says
This time around I am so much more like this. Relaxed I mean. It is definitely good to know the baby because my first two were distracted and hated being under the cover so I would break it in a full sweat and still have to go to a bathroom. Ha!
I ended up not nursing in public as my baby got older because a) I did not have ninja skills. Who knew it took so much coordination to nurse?! My breasts are also quite large, so nursing was always a two hand operation – one hand on baby, one hand on boob. That left no hands to adjust the nursing cover if needed (and it was always needed) b) My baby was especially squirmy and took especially long to eat. For the first six months nursing sessions lasted at least 45 minutes, usually well over an hour and even when he was older it was rarely less than half an hour. Being stuck in a very public place for that long is super uncomfortable. And as I said, he squirmed, so the nursing cover would never stay in place, and going back to point a, I did not have a free hand to keep it in place. c) As my baby got older, the nursing cover (similar to the udder cover) was just not large enough. This time I plan on making my own with a large sheet of light weight muslin. Or maybe I will just cut a hole for my head in a queen-sized sheet. That might be big enough.
When I was in public and my son was hungry, I would usually go to the car and start it for heating or cooling if necessary. This gave me a bit of privacy and made me feel like he could take his time. I envy women than can easily hold their non-squirmy babies in public and nurse without a nursing cover without being noticed, because they have normal-sized boobs. These ladies don’t know how good they have it.
Rachel Norman says
Hahahaha, a sheet with a hole in it. I’m telling you this is about all that would work for me too. I also nurse in the car because it feels more private and I don’t break out in a sweat :)