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??
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.
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?