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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Breastfeeding out and about

Being out and about with my first baby was nerve racking. He had never taken to any kind of feeding schedule so there was no way of knowing he was hungry until he started to cry. A lot. Very loudly. This evoked a physical response in me. I would begin to heat up, my breathing would get shallow, I'd sweat, then leak. I would get close to a panic attack. Nothing mattered except putting my baby to the breast straight away. Unfortunately, I hadn't discovered slings at this point and was still mostly struggling along with an empty stroller in one hand, carrying a rooting, distressed infant in the other.

He was about three weeks old when it happened in the city. It was evening time and all the coffee shops on the street I was on were closed. It was downtown where my bus was due to leave from . I looked around. There was a pub. I could hear a soccer commentary through the door and then a loud cheer. I dismissed it.  Baby's cries rose. There was a monument with steps. I sat down on the steps. I opened my jacket and latched my baby on. Prolactin - the mothering hormone, rushed through me, panic subsided, a sense of calm came over me. Baby looked up at me lovingly. Then there was a shout, of incredulity, 'Hey look, that woman is breastfeeding her baby!' A group of young teenage boys walked past, staring, their mouths gaping. I checked myself. No part of my breast was visible to them. Baby's head was partially inside my jacket. 'What's their problem?' I thought and simply said, 'So?' They giggled and continued on their way. An old man passed me. He tipped his hat at me, smiled and said, 'Fair play to you. You're doing the best thing'. I was lucky. I had seen my mother breastfeed my sisters and my aunt breastfeed my cousins. It hadn't occurred to me to be self conscious and I really didn't know what the big deal was. I was far more self conscious of what people would think of me if my baby was screaming. 

Now, five years and another baby later, I've breastfed everywhere. On buses, trains, airplanes and boats, in museums, restaurants, at the beach, at festivals, in a church, even on top of the Empire State Building. If I've been there, I've probably breastfed there, and thankfully, I've never really had a negative experience.  I've had old ladies lament to me that their grandchildren aren't breastfed and I've had young teenagers ask  curious questions like, 'Does it hurt?' and 'How do you know how much he's getting?' My youngest son lived in a sling till he was 5 months old and helped himself whenever he felt like it. I once had a man move the sling to see the baby and jump back like he'd been burned when he realized baby was nursing away. He apologized to me immediately and then even offered to get me a chair.

I know that I would not have had satisfying breastfeeding relationships with my children had I not the freedom and confidence to breastfeed anytime, anyplace, anywhere. It made motherhood that much more easy for me to not be tied to a schedule, to take my pre-crawling babies with me to weddings, funerals and even Board of Management meetings, comfortable in the knowledge that they would be happy to sit quietly on my lap or in a sling and nurse themselves to sleep. If they caused any distraction it was usually adults cooing at them. I got stuck in an airport for ten hours once with a four month old. I am so glad I didn't have to worry about any facilities other than a changing table. When my toddler cut his knee in the playground, I could comfort him right away. Mothering through breastfeeding made my life less stressful and breastfeeding in public was a vital part of this

In my experience, people are usually supportive of breastfeeding even if they are a little uncomfortable at first. It is not their fault that the art of breastfeeding has almost been bred out of our cultural knowledge and that it is, unfortunately, relatively unusual to see in the western world. Only breastfeeding mothers can change that.. The law and nature is on their side. Breastfeed  your child with pride. Be comfortable yourself and welcome others to sit with you. Answer questions matter-of-factly and without embarrassment. Laugh at well-meant jokes even if they are inappropriate. Chances are they are merely trying to mask their discomfort. If you encounter any hostile stares or comments just  feel the prolactin and smile, secure in the knowledge you are contributing to the health of the next generation and setting a wonderful example for other women.You are doing much, much more than feeding your baby. There is no need to cover that up.


Posted on 09/28 at 01:39 PM

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