I’ve just updated my resources page, with links to a whole bunch of local and online resources — check out the updated list, and let me know if there are any glaring omissions!
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.
Yesterday, mentioned one of the most annoying things about being car-free — having random strangers come up to you and criticize your parenting. Lest you think it’s all annoyances, I thought I’d balance that post with one today about some of the joys of interacting with random strangers on a daily basis.
We ride the bus a lot. We know there are lots of people who would prefer we not take up any more space than possible, and we try our best to be compact, but sometimes, my back is bothering me and I can’t wear Jesse in a carrier, or we’re going somewhere all day (or overnight) and need more stuff than we can easily carry while also carrying him, so we use a stroller. I feel lucky that only a couple of people have given us a hard time about this (one woman yelled at me as I was getting on a (not at all crowded) bus that “those things” are illegal, which is blatantly not true).
Usually, the opposite happens. People smile, make funny faces, and generally engage with a baby in a way they wouldn’t be caught dead doing with an adult. Especially in Boston, the general code of conduct is “pretend nobody else is there and you’re in your own little world.” I don’t say this to be disparaging — I grew up here, and it’s what I’m used to and I totally admit to getting kind of weirded out when random strangers seem to really want to talk to you. For years, I’ve known that there are a few exceptions to this rule:
1) The weather is awful in some way and you’ve been waiting outside for a while
2) The bus/train is having major problems
3) You want to know if you just missed a bus or train
Those are pretty much the only things that people won’t look at you oddly for starting a conversation about — hey, everyone loves to kvetch about the T and the weather, right? Turns out, there is a fourth topic on that list: babies. I’ve had so many people start gushing about their own kids and how fast these early years go by, or what their grandkids are up to, or comparing notes on strollers, carriers, or other baby gear. It’s amazing, and you meet some really nice people. Some people speak just enough English to say “cute baby” but then they spend the rest of the bus ride playing peek-a-boo. It’s an amazing way to really restore your faith in humanity, ride the bus with a baby.
One of my local parenting listservs, SomervilleMoms, is an excellent source of parenting advice, used babygear, and tips on what to do with kids locally. When I was pregnant, pretty much everyone I talked to said I should sign up, and I’m very glad I did — I’ve learned a lot from the list over the past year. Babble, a parenting website, apparently agrees that SomervilleMoms is an awesome list — we ranked #11 on the east coast in their recent ranking of parenting listservs! Congrats, SomervilleMoms — keep up the good work!
Do you have a local parenting listserv? Is it very active, and do you find it helpful?
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?