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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

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Overcoming Fears of Nursing in Public

I am sitting alone in a dark room with my two month old son happily sleep-nursing at my breast. I can hear the noisy, joyful din of family and friends just a thin wall away, happily chatting away and catching up. Sighing, I rest my head on my hand and prod at my snoring son, hoping to wake him long enough to wrap up this 45 minute nursing session so I can rejoin the world, at least for the hour I have left until the next nursing session must begin. His eyes open the slightest crack, then roll back as he once again surrenders to sleep. My ears perk up as I hear one of my relatives in the next room ask “Where’s Madison?” The response: “Oh she’s nursing in the other room.” Feeling hopeful, I pray that someone will come into the isolated prison to which I have condemned myself. That somehow they will sense my boredom and come rescue me, or at least sit and chat for a while. No such luck. The relative responds “Oh okay. Well I’ll just see her when she’s done.” It is Thanksgiving and while the rest of the family is enjoying slices pumpkin pie and warm mugs of coffee, I am sitting alone in the dark with my snoozing baby, who could care less about pumpkin pie or coffee. This is the moment that I decide it is time to learn how to nurse in public.

Being a very modest woman, nursing in public did not come naturally for me. More power to the women who are willing and happy to just pop a breast out in public and latch their baby on, but after 14 months (11 of which I nursed in public) of successfully and happily nursing my son I can confidently say it is not my style. The idea of nursing in public has always very much intimidated me, and I felt a lot of pressure in the beginning of my nursing journey to either conform to the stereotype of proud cover less nursing or banishing myself to a dark, quiet room every time I wanted to nurse my baby.

However, as with most of my breastfeeding struggles I eventually realized that they were largely a result of my own fears and apprehension rather than being an actual obstacle. Once I was able to put aside my worries about nursing in public (How will I see to latch him on? How will I cover myself? How will I keep him from pulling the nursing cover off and exposing me?) I found that it was much less intimidating an endeavor than I had previously anticipated.

I started off slowly by practicing “nursing in public” at home. When friends and family would come over I would (often clumsily) attempt to nurse in the same room as everyone else. My husband or mother was always by my side to help me fumble with the blanket as I latched my son on. By the time Christmas rolled around I felt comfortable with nursing in front of extended family and in-laws. It was then that O knew I was ready to make the leap into actually nursing in public. The first few times I will admit to needing some assistance from my husband, but I felt surprisingly comfortable. I even found myself wondering why I had waited so long to learn how to do this.

Consequently, as I became more experienced using a nursing blanket to cover myself, my son, too, improved in his ability to latch. After time I no longer needed to see him to latch him on, as he learned to properly latch on his own. Furthermore, the bigger he got, the easier it became to keep myself covered. By the time he was old enough to pull the nursing blanket down or the nursing cover up he was also large enough to cover me completely without the use of either. I found that by wearing a belly band or nursing tank top underneath a regular shirt I was able to keep myself completely covered while nursing. So naturally did I begin to nurse in public that I no longer had to even hesitate about my surroundings. I would nurse in restaurants while eating, in the mall on one of the benches, or on the floor of my in-laws apartment. It didn’t really matter where I was or how many people were around, I was confident in my proficiency to nurse discreetly. On several occasions the waitresses or passersby would comment on my “sleeping baby,” to which I would respond “Oh, he’s having lunch.” I have never been ashamed of nursing. I couldn’t be prouder.

My son is a toddler now, and no longer a nursling. On a bittersweet day in December he weaned himself after 14 wonderful months of nursing. I miss the days when feeding him was so simple. Whenever we were out and about his food supply was always near and ready. I never had to fuss with remembering to bring the bottles, formula and water along with all the other excess baggage that must be remembered. I knew that no matter what situation we found ourselves in I always had a way to soothe his growling tummy. I miss our cuddle-time, but I am proud of myself and of him for how far we have come. And I am so grateful that he weaned when he was ready.

I now look forward to nursing my second son due next month, only this time I won’t waste the first three months of his life sitting in a room by myself.

-Madison C. of


The Baby Store Plus said...

That is wonderful that you shared this story because all new moms need to know that we all feel this way at first.

I think what helps most is supportive people around you who will say, "oh don't run off and hide in the other room, let me help you". That is sometimes the most helpful thing someone can do...give you permission to stay in the group, help cover you while you and baby learn about each other.

Congratulations on baby #2 coming soon...I hope you enjoy breastfeeding and company all a the same time, right from the beginning this time. {Hugs} to you for overcoming that fear!


Bethany said...

I definitely liked reading this - part of me regrets giving up nursing, but reading stories like this makes me look forward to having another baby one day and truly pushing forward and breastfeeding.
You go momma! =)

Nataly said...

this makes me sad. i didnt breastfeed my son due to meds i was on and i feel like i missed out on a lot of bonding

Secret Mommy said...

Bravo to you! At the beginning of this post I thought, "Wow, she's even afraid to nurse in front of family???" But I'm on my 2nd child and when I think back on it, I remember fumbling with a nursing cover with my first when only my in-laws were at our house. Now I'm more of a "flop-it-out" kinda gal, though I don't really like that term, because I feel that it is very easy to learn to nurse without showing anything more than a v-neck shirt would show.

But all women who are timid about nursing should read this post. It can be a journey for those who aren't ready, but most of us end up feeling 100% confident and comfortable with feeding our baby wherever we are. :)

Whitney said...

i can't tell you how much i enjoyed reading this, because i can absolutely relate. my son is nine months now, and i haven't hesitated to nurse since he was about 4 months old, but there are still times when it feels awkward for me, because i am very private and don't really like my anything hanging out. :D even though i'm confident most the time, and many of my friends and family know i'm a "lactivist" (and not a very silent one, either) i still need to push past that fear sometimes. and then everything's okay. :)

Shannon said...

I smiled when I read your take on thanksgiving sitting alone. I remember being there! I will do things so differently this time around, no more banishing myself and then feeling like I should hurry to not make anyone wait. Now we'll just nurse where ever we are!

Hannah said...

It was good to hear your story :). My story was that I was "good" at nursing in the beginning and then not sure how to do it with an older squirmy baby (now 10 months) who doesn't eat well when he is distracted by other people or a new place. I'm still figuring it out, and I don't mind retreating to a back room if it is to help him get a good meal.

Mom of FIVE said...

What a great post! I have never really felt nervous nursing in front of people. More neverous of the person who might tell me to go elsewhere. After nursing 5 children the current being twins I have certainly broken in all my BILs and there are 5 so when their turn comes they will support their wives in breastfeeding.

Karen said...

My sister-in-law made me a nursing cover that ties in the back, so I can easily check on my son as he's nursing. I don't have much issues now with nursing in public (he's 2 months old) and haven't since pretty early on. My only issue now is when he falls off and I have to use 2 hands to put him back on. I usually pull the cover up to my forehead then. :)

Cheryl said...

Thank you for posting this... I'm a first time mom and breastfeeder-to-be, and this is something I'm struggling with, mentally.

I believe a lot of the problem is that the people I'm surrounded by (aside from my husband, of course) aren't nearly as supportive and understanding as those around you.

Already, I tell people that I'm going to be breastfeeding and I hear comments about how they don't want to know that (how can I nurse in front of someone who doesn't even want to KNOW that I breastfeed?), that I had better not do it in front of them and/or in public, how toddlers (i.e. over 6 months old, according to these people) nursing is "gross", etc.

And these comments are from my own FAMILY - inlaws and blood relatives.

Everyone in my family formula fed. Everyone. I'm so alone in wanting to breastfeed my children, I feel like I should be ashamed of it.

Seeing that another mom struggled with thoughts like these, and overcame them - it gives me hope that I'll be able to nurse in front of my family one day, too. :)

Mindy said...

I have to admit, I am kind of bummed because I just finished a post almost exactly like this a couple of days ago to submit for some much desired Kelly's closet points :P. However, I'm glad to see this post on here. I struggled with the exact same issues. Thank you for such a great blog.

Anonymous said...

Sorry this is an anon comment but I can't get my blogger account to log in for some reason. Anyway, I do so remember those awkward times in the beginning. But I agree that I think it was more me overcoming my own fear of what if I end up exposed than anything else. I was nervous to nurse in front of family too. Now after 4 kids and number 4 still nursing at age 2, I have been "forced" to overcome those fears. My youngest is quite the little lactivist. We have talked about getting him a t-shirt that say LACTIVIST/INTACTIVIST/SNACKTIVIST or something along those lines. Congrats on your success with public nursing and many wishes for a happy healthy mom and baby.

Lauren said...

Thanks for sharing. At first I was hesitant as well. My little one and I were both still learning. I quickly got comfortable with nursing in public, because like you--I got sooo lonesome. Unfortunately, it turned out that my little one didn't want to nurse away from home! So much for me overcoming my own obstacles. He wanted quiet and calm and dim lighting. Since he was my first, I of course obliged. I hope to have more, so the second and subsequent kids will probably have to learn to take what they can get! =)

debbiekl said...

I've seen mom's who let it all hang out - that's not my thing. I wouldn't flash people otherwise, so why do it while nursing? I think if you're discrete, there's no reason not to nurse in public. I used nursing bras and shirts to help make it easier. And there's always the option of a blanket or other cover if you're nervous.
Like you, it took me a couple months to figure out nursing and doing it in public. After that it was no big deal!

Kristina said...

I just wanted to say thank you for this post. I am nursing my 1 month old and didn't really like the whole aspect of nursing in public and found myself locked away in rooms missing out on all the fun activities. I am slowly overcoming my 'fears' and now nurse with a cover while out, which is usually at a family members home. I think that some of them may be more uncomfortable with it than me. I have yet to venture out to public areas like the mall and nurse but i think once baby and I are more in sync and he is better at latching on on his own that will be in our future.

AllRusty said...

I really enjoyed reading this (even though it took me all day between the kids). I could so related. I know very few people who exclusively BF, and even fewer who do it longer than six months. All of my children were exlusively breastfed until they weaned themselves (they wouldn't even take a bottle). It was a bittersweet day as each one weaned. I, too, struggled with nursing in public. The first few months are hardest just b/c the baby doesn't support himself very well. But I rarely use a cover to nurse in public b/c I just wearing a nursing tank under my shirts all the time. I've loved how supportive my husband has been. Some people I know would probably try nursing in public, but their husband pushes them off to another room. My husband doesn't really care where I nurse.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I believe nearly every nursing mother could relate. And congrats on the new one coming!

Crystal said...

Thanks for such an honest post! My first is now 11 months old and I can remember struggling to nurse in public in the beginning. I used a cover whenever anyone else was around, even in my own house, and found that hard because my DD was still learning to latch well and the cover made it hard for me to see what she was doing. Sometimes I would give up and go somewhere else where I didn't have to worry about privacy. Now, after time and both my daughter and I becoming better at breast feeding, I am able to nurse wherever I am without a cover. I love being able to remain in the conversation! Now if only my DD would stay focused and stop letting go every couple minutes to look around! :)

Tricia said...

Love this post! I would consider myself a lactivist even before I ever breastfed. When my baby was first born I was nervous the first couple months when she still needed help latching on. Once she could latch herself on it became much easier and more comfortable. I only use a cover at church, otherwise I will cover the top of my breast with a burp cloth when pulling my breast over clothes (for my own comfort) and I always wear tanks anyway to cover my belly. These days it is too hot to cover the baby and I just try to wear easy to nurse in outfits when I am going out. I am not the least bit offended by other nursing moms regardless of how much skin or breast they show when modesty issues are all my own!

Kimberly said...

I;ve never been shy to nurse in front of anyone. My kid needs to eat, I;m going to feed her! My husband;s family HATES it. They do not breastfeed. They always tell me that they set up an area in the basement for me. Um, no that is ok I'm fine right here on the couch! His female cousins had a discussion about how gross breastfeeding was and how they don't see how someone can "do that to their baby" (??!!), not knowimg I was sitting right there breastfeeding mine. Some people are so ignorant, but you or your child shouldn't have to pay for it.

Danni said...

I really enjoyed reading this. Sadly, after 3.5 years of nursing, I STILL go into another room when I'm at large functions with my in-laws. Not because I am uncomfortable though- merely because a lot of them are ignorant and I KNOW that something would be said. So rather than put up with unnecessary stress, I remove myself from the situation.

Put it this way- I nursed in a bedroom during my own "meet the baby" party Step MIL had thrown me, not once did anyone even attempt to say "oh no, you don't have to leave the room!". Nope, they all let me leave my own party to feed my 4 week old baby and carried on without me!

I NIP everywhere else though without even thinking twice about it! I never used a cover but I felt it drew more attention to me than nursing w/o one.

Support is VERY important.

Congrats on son #2!!!

Danni said...

I hope you don't mind but I linked to this on my blog :)