Read the post, then call Target and let them know you support a mother’s right to breastfeed her child in public. I, for one, will not be spending any of my hard-earned money at Target until I see this satisfactorily resolved. I’m horrified that they bullied this mother in the name of being “family friendly” — what could possibly be more family friendly than feeding her baby??
Breastfeeding is my magic wand, and I have to admit I feel like I have fewer tools in my toolbox now than I did when I used to babysit regularly, before having my own kid. The other stuff just doesn’t work quite as well for me (although clearly James has ways he deals with all the above situations that don’t involve lactating, I’m pretty sure they require more work). For a while, we swapped babysitting with friends so we could all get some time off, and it was while watching their son, who had some serious separation anxiety the first time, that I had no idea what to do to make him feel better. Even if I thought my friend would be ok with me nursing her son (and I hadn’t asked, so I wouldn’t assume that necessarily) I remembered she said he was possibly dairy sensitive, so my milk would have been problematic anyway. I realized I had very few ideas of what I could do to calm this baby down.
Then, when we were visiting with my cousins, one cousin, who has a three month old, said she didn’t want to nurse too long because she didn’t want her baby to “rely” on nursing to fix his problems. This got me thinking about how much I, never mind Jesse, rely on nursing to keep the day moving along smoothly. At this point in his life, I don’t think it’s a problem, and I kind of just want to cross that bridge when and if we come to it. At this point, even as he moves more and more clearly into toddlerhood, he’s still so little that I think a little extra comfort from Mama is ok, and if he gets it now, and knows that I’ll be there to help him, maybe that’ll give him the confidence to try new things, even if he might not excel right away.
Do you use nursing as your magic wand?
There are lots of studies about how breastfeeding helps mothers and babies bond with each other. What I’m not sure about is how much people have looked at how breastfeeding can help mothers bond with each other. For me, breastfeeding my son is a fundamental part of the parenting experience (so far — I’m sure at some point it will switch over to being all about something else). In a lot of ways, it’s my answer to most of the problems we run into. Jesse fell down and hit his head? Nurse him! If that calms him down, that’s good in and of itself, and it also tells me that he’s not THAT hurt, so I don’t have to worry too much (I subscribe to the “toddlers are made of rubber and short for a reason” school of thought about falls, so we tend to not worry if he falls from his own height or lower). Ran out of cheerios and string cheese while out and about? He can just nurse more. Won’t nap because the surroundings are too exciting? Jesse is usually willing to nurse in lieu of napping if the nap just isn’t working.
Because breastfeeding is such a critical part of my parenting experience, a lot of the bonding I have done with other mothers is on this topic. It’s the kind of shared experience that I just couldn’t fathom before it because part of my reality, as much as I tried to read up ahead of time.
Last week, we ended up at a U.S. Naval Academy Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OCF) cookout. My in-laws have gotten very involved in OCF since moving to Maryland. It makes a lot of sense for them — My father-in-law was in the Coast Guard for a long time, they’re both devout Christians, my mother-in-law writes Christian books… clearly these are their people :) I was a little nervous, when we were on our way over. Bunch of people I’ve never met, many of whom are college students, all of whom connect with each other over something I don’t share (religion — I’m Jewish). Add to all that that we’d be showing up late — something I *hate* doing, even for something as informal as a cookout.
Jesse was a little fussy when we got there, so James grabbed the Boba from the car and I started nursing him in the carrier, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw another mom with a baby in a carrier! New mom friends — I’ve had practice at that game! We ended up having a great time chatting about motherhood, breastfeeding, life, everything. It all started off when we started talking about breastfeeding, and doing so in a carrier, in public, wherever…. it was a great bonding moment, and I felt much more at ease, knowing there was someone I could talk to about the things that are most important in my life (and hers) right now.
I’ve got a new article out about how to make pumping at work a little better. Check it out, then come back and let me know what you think! Did you pump milk for your baby after returning to work? What were your favorite tips and tricks?
My baby is definitely more of a toddler than a baby these days. He hasn’t quite taken his first truly independent steps yet, but he’ll be there soon, and he’s showing lots of other signs: saying “no” all the time (ok, that might be that he just likes to shake his head), getting pickier about his food, showing more signs of separation anxiety, his hair looks more like “real” hair and less like “baby” hair… I could go on. These all sort of developed gradually over the course of several months, so they don’t seem too shocking to my system.
The really big change seems to be how other people perceive him. Although the flack I’ve been getting about still breastfeeding him has been pretty minor, compared with what lots of women experience, there has definitely been an uptick in the number of surprised exclamations of “oh, you’re still doing that” when I breastfeed him in public (defined, for the moment, as anywhere populated by people besides me, my son, and my husband). It seems like once Jesse turned one, everyone started having an opinion (or, it’s possible I’m just noticing it more?).
Several of my cousins have gone out of their way to say things like “Are you going to nurse forever, like R did with P and S? Did you hear about the time P asked to nurse at [insert big family event]?? She just went right up to R and said ‘Mom, I want to nurse!'” I know they don’t mean to be mean — these are otherwise some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet — but I do think their attitude is part of a cultural pattern in regard to how people in America think about breastfeeding. As a fellow blogger describes in her critique of nursing covers, breastfeeding is foreign to most American women. We don’t see others do it, and we don’t really have much in the way of context and reference points. I’m pretty sure the reason my cousins are still talking about how R nursed her kids, twenty some years after the fact, is that seeing a child older than a new infant nurse is just not something they see often. For my part, their ragging on my (and R’s) nursing decisions made me even more determined to stay the course (and seek out R for advice and a pep talk, which she kindly obliged with!).
At this point, I feel like I see nursing infants everywhere, which is probably partly because I spent a lot of time with my local new moms’ groups, and with my local babywearing group where these things are to expected. Partly though, it may also just be that I’m in a pretty liberal part of the country, and there’s a lot of breastfeeding education and outreach locally, and the breastfeeding rates are relatively high. What I don’t see are nursing toddlers, usually. There are lots of reasons for this — it could be largely because many toddlers cut back their nursing to the point where they don’t ask to nurse other than morning and bedtime or naptime. That’s a very good reason to not see many toddlers nursing in public!
I wonder sometimes, though, whether there are also a fair number of moms who are worried about the looks they might get if *gasp* their child used WORDS to ask to nurse when they’re out and about. It’s like people don’t think infants can ask to nurse. They defnitely do (James was holding my cousin M’s new little one last weekend, and even though Jesse hasn’t rooted like that in a while, he recognized the signs right away that little J wanted his mom to nurse him). R said that when her kids were little, La Leche League suggested teaching a “code word” to toddlers so they could say, for instance “hippopotamus” and nobody but the mom would know that meant “can I nurse now, please.” R apparently thought that was silly at the time, and I have to admit that it kind of flies in the face of what I want to teach my kids: to use accurate language, describe their wants and needs politely, and to communicate well. I think teaching a code word really undermines that. I also don’t want my kids to think that there is something wrong with breastfeeding and that it needs to be hidden. Now, that being said, you do have several options for what accurate words to use. If you’re comfortable with your kid asking to breastfeed, teach them that word. If you prefer “nurse” use that. We usually use “nurse” and “milk” pretty interchangeably, partly because I think other people might be discomfited enough by the toddler asking for it, and I don’t feel the need to push the “breast” issue. Jesse already usually asks for milk when he wants to nurse, even though we may be the only ones who understand “MIH!! MIH!!” at the moment (l’s and k’s a bit challenging). My only complaint with how he asks to nurse is that he usually refers to ME as “milk” and not as “Mama” but I suspect that at some point, he’ll work out the difference :)
Before I end this (super long… sorry!) post, I should give a shout-out to my in-laws. My mother-in-law and father-in-law also asked me, on our recent trip to visit, what my nursing plans were, but rather than being snarky, they just seemed genuinely curious, and ended up sharing with me how much they (mostly MIL, but FIL too) were sad to see the nursing days go away when their youngest weaned, and I got to hear all five of my MIL’s weaning stories. The whole conversation just left me with a lot of warm-fuzzies, and it’s a good reminder that I do have women in my life (R, MIL, among others, I’m sure) who I can go to with questions, and to share the joys and challenges of nursing past infancy.
Do you sign with your child? Have you found it to be helpful? Jesse got the sign for “milk” really early, and that’s still the main thing he signs for. Even though I sometimes wish he had more signs, I’m very grateful he can signal when he wants to nurse.
What was your baby’s first sign? Which signs do you find most helpful to teach?
Sometimes it seems like parenting is all about the transition moments. Today I’m thinking about transitions in feeding. When my son was born (big transition for both of us!) he was exclusively breastfed, and it seemed like no sooner had we really gotten that down than the pediatrician was telling us it might be time to think about introducing solids — surely it couldn’t be time for that already?!
Jesse loved tasting lots of different types of solid foods, but only really ingested tiny, minuscule amounts, and, for all intents and purposes was still getting 99% of his nutrition from breast milk until fairly recently. This transition happened to come around the time I moved offices to be further from a pumping room, and I have to admit being a little relieved that if I didn’t make it halfway across campus three times a day, there were other things he could eat while I was away from him. At the same time, it definitely was a bittersweet realization that he now gets a significant (though still minority) portion of his calories from other sources — up until that point, it had been a point of pride that all his growth was from food I had *made* for him, not just prepared. Still, it was fun to see him emerge with his own likes and dislikes (big time favorite: anything peanut, major dislike: anything cold or slimy) and to see him get SO excited when he saw something he loved being offered for a meal. It’s also just plain fun to introduce a baby to new tastes and see how they react — Jesse makes a face like whatever he just put in his mouth is the most disgusting thing on the planet the first few times he tastes it, and then, nine times out of ten, begs for more, which is just funny to watch.
Yesterday, I hit another transition. After just about nine months of lugging my breast pump to work with me, I left it at home for the first time yesterday. I’ve been looking forward to quitting pumping, to greater and lesser degrees, pretty much since I started. Unlike actually nursing, I never really was a fan of the pump. Recently, however, it just seems like I would rather do *anything* than pump, so I thought leaving my pump at home (which was actually mostly due to a combination of running late getting out the door and figuring out how much milk was still in the fridge that would have to be used before it went bad when today is my last day at work before the weekend) would be liberating.
Instead, I sat at my desk jumping up to go pump as soon as my calendar beeped a reminder at me (in recent weeks, I’ve been clicking “dismiss” without even registering it, most of the time) and I felt engorged by 10am, even though I’ve mostly just been pumping once in the afternoon for a few weeks. Seriously. There is no way I was possibly as engorged as I felt.
This all got me thinking though about our next transition — pump weaning. I work outside
the home, and I’m only entitled to protected pump breaks until my son is a year old, although I suspect if I were really gung-ho about pumping and wanted to continue my boss wouldn’t give me a hard time about it. Really though, my closest pumping room is a ten minute walk away (a little shorter in nice weather when I can take an outdoor shortcut) and I’m really ready to be done with my pump, especially since I only work outside of the home four days a week and I’m with my son the other three, so he’ll still be getting lots of breast milk. It’ll be really, really nice to not have to be hooked up to a pump on a regular basis. Also, seriously, can I tell you how amazingly liberated I felt walking to the bus stop with just my purse?? No diaper bag, no pump bag, just my purse. It felt wonderful, which is part of why I think I’m definitely ready for this transition on the whole, even as I get slightly freaked out still about making the freezer stash last until mid-November (my quantitatively inclined husband assures me it will).
I think we’re quite a ways off from full weaning, which will be a whole other transition full of mixed feelings, I’m sure, but in the meantime, one baby step at a time, my little one becomes a bit more independent. Have you started your child on solid foods? Weaned entirely or partially? How did you feel about those transitions?
Clothing is not really something I’m generally very into. I’m not very stylish, and I generally wear items way past when they should probably be retired. That being said, I kind of looked forward to nursing clothes as a way to branch out a little bit, and see about expanding my comfort zone, stylistically. I do, however, also live in a cold climate. Even more than that, I live in a cold house. We keep the heat pretty low in the winter (57 degrees, Fahrenheit when we’re home and awake, a few degrees colder when we’re out or asleep).
Pretty much everything I could find on nursing clothes, in terms of what people actually wear was pointing me in the direction of nursing tanks, alone (for those in warmer climates/households, presumably) or layered under something with longer sleeves. My mother-in-law very kindly bought me some clothes from Motherwear, which were helpful, but not something I could really outfit myself in 100% of the time due to cost (and they’re definitely one of the more affordable makers of nursing clothing).
Enter my fabulous sister-in-law, and her wonderful sewing machine. See, the thing I really, really wanted were turtlenecks. I live in turtlenecks in the winter because of my affinity for wool sweaters (and aforementioned cold house). Turtlenecks are not very nursing-friendly, but Darlene happened upon this great tutorial for how to make your own simple nursing shirt, using pretty much any shirt pattern. Off we went to the fabric store, and she made me a whole week’s worth of wonderful nursing turtlenecks. I’m wearing one right now, since the overlapped opening is also hugely helpful for pumping without having to take off your shirt or bare lots of skin.
My husband, a crafty guy who was getting a little burned out on all the math in his dissertation, made me three dresses as well — you can’t even see the overlap line on this one:
and this one, where you can see the elastic:
With warmer weather came easier nursing, no matter what clothes I was wearing — lower necklines that can just be pulled aside are by far the ultimate in nursing convenience, but one thing that I did have to adjust to is that pull-aside necklines definitely expose more skin. I got used to it, but as a pretty modest person, I also appreciate the added cover these overlap styles give when nursing in public.
What have you found most useful for nursing on the go?
One of the things I love about breastfeeding is that it is pretty light in the gear department. Mostly, I’ve already got what I need built in, although I do have an electric pump for when I’m at work, but when I’m with my son, there isn’t really much gear I need. One of the things I hope to teach Jesse as he gets older (and, at 11 months, I’m starting to now) is the difference between a need and a want. I think the NIP gear I describe below definitely falls into the latter category, although it is very, very, useful.
A Baby Carrier
My life totally changed when I learned how to nurse in a carrier. I was all about the baby wearing right from the start, especially once winter really set in and a stroller wasn’t very practical on city streets, but I kept trying and failing to nurse in a carrier. It made it much more difficult to nurse on the go, because I had to gauge how much time was left in a bus ride or train ride (to make sure I had time to get the carrier off, nurse, and get Jesse back in securely), or find some place to sit down. Most of the instructions I found online (and in my Moby instruction book) suggested shifting the baby into a cradle hold to nurse, which involved loosening the carrier and, well, shifting the baby, which I found to be a huge pain.
My husband, who fed Jesse bottles of expressed milk while I was at work, took to carrying him in a pouch sling, with a bottle propped against his chest as a way to get some hands-free time. Jesse just sat up straight and held the bottle, with help from friction, and ate. I was totally jealous that I couldn’t feed him so easily in a carrier, until one day, I saw a friend nursing her daughter in her Ergo at a Boston Babywearers meeting. Baby R was sitting up, and my friend had just moved her breast to bring it up to R’s mouth level — there was no shifting, and very minor loosening! It was like a lightbulb went off in my head, and when she showed me how she did it, my life changed. I could now nurse while walking down the street, while running for a bus, when there wasn’t a place to sit.
I definitely learned a very valuable lesson that day: there are multiple ways to nurse in a carrier, and what works best for you will vary depending on how much of the work your baby can do (older babies need less help getting set up and staying latched) and how your body is shaped. Another friend, whose breasts are shaped differently, said she could never nurse her babe sitting up like I do, but finds a cradle hold in a carrier to be what’s easiest for her.
Now, I do have a bit of a carrier addiction — in our house, we currently have a Moby (stretchy wrap), ring sling, two pouch slings (one sized for me, one for my husband), a mei tai, a Beco Gemini, a Boba, and a Vatanai woven wrap (my husband’s favorite). As I said before, this is by no means a necessity. You can definitely nurse in public successfully, and discreetly, without a carrier, but boy oh boy does a carrier make it easier. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of my favorite parts about baby wearing!!
Well, first of all — my application is in to the program I mentioned in my previous post, now I just get to wait to find out if I got in! Hopefully I’ll know soon!
Now to the meat of today’s post: nursing in public. This definitely seems to be one of the most controversial and polarizing aspects of breastfeeding. For me, nursing in public has been non-negotiable from day one. (ok, day five — the first four days I spent in a hospital room recovering from my c-section). I had been on “couch rest” (modified bed rest) for seven weeks towards the end of my pregnancy, and when my son was born, all I wanted was to Get. Out. Of. My. House. But, I also had a newborn, who wanted to eat frequently (you know, like newborns do).
It took a little bit of practice, but I soon got the hang of nursing him wherever we were — on the subway, on the bus, at a restaurant. I only ever got one negative comment from a stranger, and that was more odd than hostile: when Jesse was very young (for about the first month or so) we had to swaddle him to nurse, since he kept getting his hands in the way otherwise. A woman on the train noticed my husband swaddling him, and then noticed me starting to nurse him, and told me I was doing it all wrong, and didn’t I know it’s massively damaging to swaddle a baby for feeding. I just (relatively calmly!) told her that this was how he ate, and his pediatrician didn’t have a problem with it and proceeded to feed him.
My mother, who has generally been very supportive of me nursing Jesse, did make a few comments early on about how I should cover up when nursing in public. Covers never really worked for us though — by the time Jesse and I knew what we were doing enough that I didn’t need to look, he was old enough to be bothered by the cover and pull it off. At the time, her comments really hurt (she’s my mom, and she thought I was mothering “wrong” and I was on the postpartum hormonal rollercoaster) but in retrospect, I’m pretty sure she was reacting to how *she* would have been perceived for nursing in public when I was a baby, and she didn’t want to offend the people who were nearby — it was generally pretty clear that she herself wasn’t actually bothered, she just didn’t want me bothering other people, and probably wanted to protect me from their potentially hostile comments. For the two of us, this was definitely a good test for figuring out our transforming relationship now that I’m a mother myself (who values my mother’s opinions, but also will make my own decisions). Now, it doesn’t seem to bother my mom as much, and I think she’s gotten used to the idea that it doesn’t bother people as much as it might have in the past.
When Jesse was six weeks old, we took him on his first plane ride, to my husband’s family in Florida for Christmas. I am so, so grateful to have married into a family where breastfeeding is the norm, and nobody made a big deal out of me nursing Jesse wherever and whenever was needed. I did attempt to use a nursing cover when we went to church with them, but when that didn’t really work out, nobody cared. Added bonus: we were staying with my sister-in-law and her family, and she had nursed all four of her kids (and now the fifth, too!) and my mother-in-law had nursed all five of her kids, so I felt like I had a huge wealth of knowledge at my disposal, in case I had any questions.
Having a community of other nursing mothers definitely is a huge part of what makes me comfortable nursing in public — going to new moms’ groups, hanging out with other nursing mothers in parks and wherever else, has definitely helped make me less self-conscious — by making nursing in public the norm, it becomes much easier to just feed the baby when he’s hungry!
Next up: Tools of the trade — my favorite gear for nursing in public.
Do you nurse in public? How have your friends and family, and strangers reacted? What makes you feel supported in meeting your baby’s needs wherever you are, out and about?