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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