Nursing In Public
Amongst the many things that I want to share about our 2.5 years (and counting) breastfeeding journey, nursing in public (NIP) has always been a subject that I have felt strongly about. We as mothers SHOULD NOT be (or feel) ashamed to nurse our babies. If our baby is hungry, they deserve (and have the right) to be fed no matter where we are! Coming from being the shy and modest nursing mom (which aside from NIP I’m not that modest in general…. what being a competitive dancer growing up will do to ya) to tandem NIP for the first time (8/2/14 at The Big Latch On), I have SO much to say about NIP, especially to those who are like how I was in the beginning....
From early on in my pregnancy, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my girls. At that point I wasn't even aware of the benefits of breastfeeding. I only remember hearing "breast is best*,” and I took that thought and ran. When the girls finally made their appearance to the world, we had nursing restrictions in place due to their size. Despite all our obstacles (including M not being able to latch, and then once latched not being able to hold it for very long) we managed to have our first successful tandem nursing session by day 3!!!! I was SO proud and excited, and wanted to capture the moment to remember forever. Even as I was asking for a picture, I felt weird about it. But why? Anytime I do something that I am proud of and want to remember forever, I always take a picture. So why is this any different? Upon reflection, I'm sure it had something to do with the taboo and stigma society has placed on breastfeeding.
*note that when I refer this this statement, I am referring to breast milk in general and also include expressed milk as "best"
I continued to enjoy capturing the moments we three shared throughout the years. Whenever I would take a breastfeeding photo, I was confident that I would never publically share them, but I still wanted to have something to show the girls when they were older. (Let’s face it, tandem nursing is a feat within itself and something I had doubts about being able to do even when I was pregnant.) Over time, I began to question myself: “Why don’t I feel comfortable sharing such a HUGE and BEAUTIFUL accomplishment?” If it was anything else, I would share at the drop of a hat. I mean, I had no issues with sharing our babywearing journey every step of the way. All the girls milestones, any achievements-motherly or personal- I always share. So why is this one thing any different?
The stigma and double standard that society has placed on breastfeeding is, without a doubt, hypocrisy at it's finest. As I became more active in online support groups (both breastfeeding and twin groups) I started to become more aware of this. How many times (pre-baby) did I spend hours trying to find the right bra with the right shirt to give me the PERFECT cleavage? How many times when I worked at Victoria’s Secret did I come across a woman looking for something to enhance her breasts and make them look a certain way so she could “flaunt” them. Then I got to thinking even more. Why is it ok for women to use breasts as a sexual object but not to provide nourishment to their babies? I have never really been an “advocate” for anything, but do believe in sharing information, because knowledge is power right? It seems to me that the combination of a lack of information and the “sex negative” approach our society takes really impacts the level of comfort for nursing mothers (especially those like me who are first time moms and trying to survive in this judgmental world and abide by "the rules.”)
A little background about where my ideas came from about NIP: I grew up around people who used covers and thought it was the norm to not to talk about breastfeeding, let alone "expose" yourself while doing it. When my younger siblings were nursed, I was not allowed around them, which in turn planted the seed that it is something you do completely in private. My cultural background also indirectly implied that there is something “shameful” about showing your body, which to an extent I can understand. (Not necessarily that your body is shameful, but that your body is something private that you don’t share with anyone except a significant other.) When I nursed in my wrap for the first time, I was changing one baby and nursing the other, and I felt like I had just taken over the world. I felt like I had just unlocked the secret to twin mom survival. How else was I going to be able to do two things at once with twins? (Just one more example of how awesome and handy babywearing can be!)
Now, as you can see in the photo above, there is nothing showing. This was the first (and last for a while) time I shared a “breastfeeding photo.” I had only been a M.O.M. for about a week or 2 here and can't even begin to describe how proud I was in this moment. People are always asking me how I managed to survived with 2, and I saw no harm in sharing the image. (The initial photo I shared had no text on it whatsoever.) I later received a message from an aunt telling me that my photo was inappropriate and that it made her very uncomfortable to look at with my uncle, and of course, I immediately shut down and felt like what I was doing was wrong. These comments stuck with me anytime I took a photo and honestly made me feel shameful for my accomplishments, and it literally took me MONTHS to find a sense of "okayness" to share my feeding photos again. (As you may notice, in this-and most of my pix- you wouldn’t even know I was nursing unless you REALLY pay attention and/or I point it out.)
Fast forward a few months… Add in lots of exposure and education through these online communities and we now are 6 months into the girls lives. Ya, it took me SIX months for me to build up my confidence and try to NIP for the first time. And it was on a plane (where no one could see…) to Puerto Rico (PR) for our vacation. I had enough expressed milk to last the whole time we were traveling, but I wasn’t able to pump while on the plane, so it only made sense to directly feed the girls. Being able to nurse comfortably without anyone really seeing me in a public setting REALLY boosted my confidence that I CAN do this! And it reminded me the reason I nurse: to feed my kids and help their brains and bodies grow in the most healthy way I know how to provide for them!
My first “real” experiences NIP were in PR. Ironically, they do not have laws that protect breastfeeding mothers who NIP, but saw moms openly NIP with nothing to hide, and no one even giving a second look. (PR does support breastfeeding with other laws they have in place.) Seeing this gave me confidence and relieved me of the stigma I had felt back home about NIP, and I finally overcame my fears and nursed both of the girls in public in my wrap. (Baby steps right?!)
Using a wrap to nurse was such a big factor in my confidence to NIP. It not only allowed me to be hands free, but it offered a sense of discreteness that I may not have otherwise found. I tried not to pay attention to anyone that was looking our way (and with twins it sometimes feels virtually impossible to not have attention drawn towards us to begin with). For me the key was having the CONFIDENCE to say "Hey world, I'm going to do this whether you like it or not!" Once I got my "first time jitters" out of the way, I felt like the sky was opening to become my limit. I'm going to be 100% honest when I say that, even in the act, I still had my reservations about NIP because I knew was putting my body "out there," but knowing I was doing everything I could to meet my babies needs trumped all issues of self consciousness and made me feel empowered as a mother.
Once we were back home, I knew that I had to overcome my fear of someone calling me out about NIP and the fear of drawing attention from people (especially the creepers). The next time I tried was at our pediatrician appointment after the girls had a round of their shots. (We had a male pediatrician at the time, so this was big for me!) Eventually I did NIP here and there to continue to try to build my comfort and confidence but didn’t do it too much, especially since I started reading all these stories about people being asked to leave for publicly nursing. (Which is illegal!) Honestly, I wish someone would have tried to say something to me. When you have twins, you already have a back pocket FULL of comebacks for anything people have to say. So adding a few feeding retorts in there at that point was no biggie.
So now we fast forward to a year into our journey. Not much has changed (except for how much milk I am making, which is down to just enough to mostly comfort nurse). I learn that World Breastfeeding Week is coming along a week after my girls turned one, and I really wanted to use this chance to let my guard down and use my experiences to educate fellow M.O.M.s, and first time moms. Nursing (whether it’s 1 baby or 3) can pose to be a challenge within itself. Being comfortable nursing at any given moment can make life so much easier. (I can’t count the number of times I just made a bottle instead of breastfeeding because we were out in public, even though it made me sad to miss the nursing opportunity). I REALLY hope that the information I provide here (and within this site) not only encourages moms to breastfeed, but helps them find the confidence to feel comfortable nourishing your baby wherever you may be. There is nothing shameful, nor is there anything to be embarrassed about when it comes to breastfeeding. PERIOD. But most of all…. It's all about doing what makes YOU comfortable.