Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

by shelly on March 21, 2011

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The other day I went grocery shopping with my youngest, my 9 month old. After filling my cart with groceries, we were waiting to check out when I heard the two women behind me in line start talking about how adorable my son was. Soon after, he started getting fussy and without a second thought I picked him up, latched him on, and held him in my arms while he nursed.

Almost immediately, I heard the two women behind me start debating with each other over whether I was really nursing him (!) or if he was just falling asleep in my arms. It wasn’t a “OMGoodness how dare she do that in public!” type of debate, just a friendly back and forth of wondering if I could possibly be nursing him. I smiled, listening to them go back and forth. I swear I saw some skin when she first picked him up. No, you’re wrong, he is clearly just sleeping.

The debate abruptly ended when I starting loading my groceries onto the belt while still nursing him; both ladies decided that he must have been just sleeping, because there is no way someone could nurse a baby and load her groceries onto the belt at the same time.

It was an interesting experience for sure, but it of course got me thinking about how our culture perceives breastfeeding, specifically breastfeeding in public. And although these two women were not hostile about the possibility of me nursing in public, many nursing women have experienced humiliation, hostility, and plain old disapproval while nursing in public.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a culture where it didn’t matter if my son was nursing or sleeping, because neither was a big deal? Because both of those acts were perceived as perfectly normal behavior for a baby and his mother?

I was grocery shopping. My baby wanted to nurse, so I nursed him. I’m his mother, it’s what I do. Just because I was surrounded by people who might not understand, approve of, or agree with my actions did not stop me from meeting my child’s needs.

I nurse everywhere. In fact, I even have a small collection of photographs of me nursing my babies in “unusual” places: the top of a Ferris Wheel; at the Basketball Hall of Fame. And by nursing in public, not only am I meeting my child’s needs, but I’m normalizing breasfeeding simply by doing it then and there.

Because wouldn’t it be nice if my daughters nursed their babies in public and no one batted an eye?

I’m interested in hearing your experiences with breastfeeding in public. What kind of feedback did you get, if any? What is the most unusual place you have nursed your baby in?

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shelly (9 Posts)

Shelly is a mother of two and a birth and postpartum doula. When not blogging, she homeschools her children and is involved with her local La Leche League chapter. You can find her daily here: http://www.adventuresofabreastfeedingmother.com.


{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

emily March 21, 2011 at 10:40 am

I nurse everywhere too! At baseball games, hockey games, in the mall, in the booth at a restaurant…basically where ever I am when my baby is hungry! I’ve been fortunate that the only “backlash” I’ve received is a few curious stares. I know other women haven’t been as lucky!

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Tiffany March 21, 2011 at 10:45 am

I didn’t grow up thinking breast feeding was normal, but that all changed when I had a baby. At first I would only do it private, now that my guy is almost a year old I will nurse any where any time. Thanks to people like you who have shown me its ok and the needs of my little guy. Isn’t it ridiculous that i had to learn it was ok, what is wrong with our society.

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Lauren Crawford March 21, 2011 at 10:46 am

I have been pleasantly surprised that I’ve actually had women come up to me when I was nursing in public and compliment and congratulate for for doing so. I had one woman say that she understood how difficult it was but how great that I was nursing my baby AND doing it in public. I always prepare myself for a bit of a fight when I nurse in public expecting that someone is going to have something negative to say. I even carry around a “breastfeeding rights” info card that sites the breastfeeding protection laws in my state in case I need to defend my actions. I never expected to receive such outward support. It meant a lot to me and would make me consider passing on the same support to any nursing mother I see in public. I’m still nursing my 1 year-old and happily doing so in public.

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Bronwen March 21, 2011 at 11:01 am

The first time I traveled out of town when my oldest was a newborn, I nursed while eating breakfast. I had the waitress and a handful of old women sitting near us come up to me to tell me how great it was that I was doing it.

I nursed her everywhere – shopping, eating, walking around, at the movies. Most places I used a Moby wrap to keep her close and to cover up, but sometimes I used a nursing cover, while other times I didn’t cover at all.

I’m thankful that no one made disparaging comments to me about nursing in public. I only wish the same were true when I had to stop nursing and move to formula; the area I live in is very “crunchy” and tends to frown on anyone who needs formula.

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Jessica @ clothdiaperingmama March 21, 2011 at 11:04 am

I love that you have a photo collection of nursing in unusual places!!! I think I just nurse wherever I happen to be. With my first son I was much more nervous about it because I felt the eyes on me…but now…not so much. I’m in San Diego and nursing in public is the norm here, for the most part. Nursing while trick or treating was something different…lol…but seemed pretty ordinary for me!

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onnyta March 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm

hahaha… Would you like to share what was the trick or treating?? ;)

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Jessica @ clothdiaperingmama March 23, 2011 at 8:53 pm

lol! well the babies treat was definitely the milk! the trick was on everyone else because i was wearing him in the mai tei carrier…nice and snuggled in :) my other son, spiderman, was on the hunt for candy.

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Jemma March 21, 2011 at 11:05 am

I didn’t quite have the dexterity to manage this but when my boy started fussing the supermarket queue the woman in front of me turned and asked if he was hungry and if I bottle fed him. I replied that he was hungry and that he was breastfed and she said it was a shame he’d have to wait til he got home then. I rather hotly replied “no he won’t! I’ll feed him over there on that bench – I do it all the time!” She was amazed and said “young people will do anything these days!” I like to interpret that in a positive way – maybe she wishes it’d been the same in her day? Strange to think I’d have my baby wait half an hour for a feed though!

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Rebecca M. March 29, 2011 at 9:49 am

I think you’re being really kind to give her the benefit of the doubt and think she could possibly have meant that in a positive way. She has a really twisted view of the world if she thinks it could possibly be a “shame” to breastfeed a baby, and that her first assumption is that you would make your baby and suffer through hunger. She obviously views bottle feeding as the convenient, modern choice and breastfeeding as the inconvenient, archaic choice. To actually think that you can breastfeed AND have a life seems to be beyond that woman. I hope you opened her mind that day, but sadly, it sounds to me like she will just chalk it up to the further downfall of our society thanks to all us unmannered, ignorant young parents. Of course, I’m sure she knew EVERYTHING when she was herself a young parent!!

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Danielle March 21, 2011 at 11:22 am

nursing while transferring groceries from a shopping cart will ALWAYS be remarkable. Even with the best sling, wrap, structured carrier, etc I could not hold my little one to the breast with one arm while lugging pineapples.

Some of my more unusual public nursings have included congressional offices, rides at Epcot, while interviewing potential employees (great weed out tool by the way), in business meetings… Thank goodness for nursing shirts that look like business wear.

I did once have a very old and very sarcastic gentleman family friend see me nursing at a corporate business dinner. He said, “You know (winking) you aren’t supposed to do that here.” And then he gave me a thumbs up and laughed. I think most people know that it is silly that nursing is any more out of the ordinary than walking.

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Tania March 21, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Great post.
I’d just ignore people with negative comments. I nursed my daughter in public all the time for 20 months everywhere we went. I’ve NEVER heard any negative comments about nursing from stranges – only positive ones like “vow, you are still breastfeeding!” or “it is wonderful to see baby at the breast”. Here in Australia (at least in Sydney, or at least in our area) I see a lot of mothers breastfeeding babies, so it’s kind of normal. Not so many with toddlers, but I see them occasionally. There were times when friends or friends of friends would comment on me “still breastfeeding” to that I’d say: “What, do you expect me to carry around bottles? Spend money on formula?” or something like that. Same with co-sleeping: “You mean I should be getting up at night? Or worse, leaving baby to cry? I’m not in for child abuse here!”. Eventually all this people who question my parenting approaches just get used to it. Even my inlaws :).

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Sally Willis March 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I once nursed my then 4 month old little boy in the Royal Albert Hall theatre in London, up in the gallery surrounded by literally hundreds of people! It had snowed heavily that day and we couldn’t get him to his Grandparent’s house to be babysat, as their village was snowed in, so we just took him with us!

By chance we actually up sitting next to a lady who was pregnant! I hope it gave her the confidence not to be shy about nursig in public :-)

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Janine March 21, 2011 at 6:25 pm

That sounds like the issue was whether you were nursing while loading groceries – That sounds difficult to me! I have no problem nursing in public but my 6 month old seems to – He is so easily distracted away from home!

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onnyta March 22, 2011 at 2:54 am

haii… I do salute for those nursing woman who breastfeed their babies in public. But sometimes in my society/culture, nursing the baby is still a taboo as the woman will show her skin to public, so i would like to suggest that it will be nice if nursing woman can breastfeed their babies while covering it with some clothes but still anticipate whether the babies breathe in enough oxygen and the suffocation case…

I salute for you mom, and keep doing that nicely without raising some debate from others especially women who have not nursed their baby yet..

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Rebecca M. March 29, 2011 at 9:55 am

No one should have the right to tell another woman to cover up, or even to “suggest” it. That’s a personal choice for the mother to make. Many babies DO NOT nurse well under a cover. It can become more of a distraction, especially with an older baby (6-8+ months) who may yank on the cover and end up exposing more of mom than if she hadn’t used the cover in the first place (I speak from experience here). You don’t eat YOUR dinner under a cover, why should a baby? You’re attributing sexuality to the breast, when it’s being used to feed a baby. Just because society has sick, twisted views doesn’t mean that nursing mothers have to accommodate them. In fact, the only way our society will get over those hang-ups and come to view the breast for its primary function, feeding babies, is if we show society that’s what they’re for! I’m not saying everyone has to whip out their entire boob for everyone to see — it’s all about your personal comfort level and what works for you — but again, neither you nor anyone else has the right to tell women to cover up. More skin is shown at the beach — or heck, the mall! — than by a breastfeeding mother ANY day!!

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Bronwen April 10, 2011 at 10:57 am

Rebecca, I think you’re missing what Onnyta said. In HER culture, she said. From the name, I am assuming that she is from a near Eastern culture, where showing skin can be extremely dangerous for the woman.

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Dena March 23, 2011 at 7:02 am

I nurse in public everywhere. I am surprised and pleased to say that I have never, in 11 months, detected any negativity, disapproval or even interest. My first nursing in public experience was a bit traumatic for me. My baby was only 3 days old and I had to go to the DMV. Breastfeeding had not gone well for us thus far and I had no idea how to nurse in public, but my baby was screaming, so I lifted up my whole shirt and took out the whole boob. And I was crying to boot. Nobody said a word, nor even gave us any sideways glances. Since then things have gone much better!

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Stacy March 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I had to nurse my daughter a few random places in our time, but the strangest had to be in a bar!! Yup my daughter had her first drink in a bar at 5 months old, lol! It was the middle of a downtown street festival in town and the temperatures ended up climbing pretty high, so the coolest and easiest place was a local bar (we did happen to know the people who run the establishment), but I just sat at a table not at the actual bar (that would have just been to much) and fed my hungry girl and nobody even gave us a second glance!

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Nichole March 23, 2011 at 7:35 pm

It was mid December at the mall. My Lily who was then 6 months was openly nursing in my lap at the coffee house. I saw a family of four walk by the child’s play area. Mom glanced back at me. My first impression of her was, breast-feeder for sure. She didn’t smile though. She was soon out of sight. Then back in sight, coming toward me. Oh no, I thought as I looked at my mother-in-law across from me. She didn’t nurse any of her 3 children.
“Thank you for nursing in the open.”
“All the time” I replied. “Yeah she does it everywhere and I’ve never seen a happier baby” my mother-in-law chimed in. It made me so thankful that someone would do that and I am still openly nursing my Lily who will be two the first day of June 2011.

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Rebecca M. March 29, 2011 at 9:58 am

What an awesome story! I thanked a mom for nursing in public outside a kids’ museum. Right on the bench by the front door where people were walking in and out. It made me so happy and I just had to tell her how awesome it was. :-)

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Stephanie March 24, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I’ve been nursing my second daughter for six months now and have never used a cover with her since my first one didn’t like it. This week I happened to be nursing at church during the meet and greet moments and had a mom tell be that it was great to see someone choosing to nurse. I will nurse anywhere that I can sit down because Breast feeding has been bit of a challenge for me and I need both hands to keep a good latch. I’ve noticed a few dirty looks but nothing too discouraging.

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Marion March 27, 2011 at 6:34 am

Basically I nursed (and still nurse my youngest !) all of my three children everywhere. But I made the experience that each child got curious and distracted at a certain age. So at about six months old, it was not the reactions of the people around, but the behaviour of the baby itself which made it difficult for me to nurse in public. Aged less than about six months – no problem. But then – with everything around so interesting for the baby I find it quite hard. I am just experiencing that right now with my five and a half month old. Although hungry, she could look up and turn her head just to see what is going on if I try to nurse her in public. From people around I never got any negative feedback.

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Niki March 30, 2011 at 7:24 am

The strangest place I have nursed my 1 year old was the other day in the middle of an aisle at Michaels Craft store! He just kept patting the boobs and asking, then started to cry-so I thought-what the heck, which is going to get more looks, nursing quiet kid or screaming kid?! He was soon right as rain and I got the rest of my shopping done! BTW we have nursed on the NY subway during rush hour, airplanes, supermarkets, leaning over him while my husband is driving-popping a boob in his mouth so I dont have to take him out of his carseat….

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amym8 April 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm

love it! i canrelate to ALL of those

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Rosemary March 31, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I’m impressed with the loading groceries at the same time! My little one’s a squirmer. :) I’m a big fan or nursing her wherever I need to as well; library, book store, lots of parking lots in the car, at a baby shower… she’s only 4 months old, so my list is just starting! Haha…

Although, if I’m ready for some quiet connecting time with her, it’s nice to leave a room full of people for the excuse to feed her. Those nursing sessions last a long time. ;)

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Jen April 1, 2011 at 10:11 pm

My husband and I were on our way to view a house for sale when the then 3 week old baby started crying. I took him out of the car and viewed the house with him latched on. The realtors were both women, and, while neither looked particularly disapproving, they were both quite surprised.

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amym8 April 14, 2011 at 8:44 pm

my first time nursing my first baby out in public i ocked myself in a restaurant bathroom n sat on the sink counter to nurse … i was a new mom n new at nursing … didnt know how or what i was supposed to do when out in public… it was so uncomfortable n aqward after all the knocks on the door that after that time i made the decision that when my baby needed to nurse she would nurse n it wouldnt matter where or what i was by… she ended up nursing til 2yrs 3 months so i got the hang of it and am glad to have went thru the learning process now that i have my 2nd baby i nurse him where ever when ever he needs and dont think twice about t ;)
ps nursing covers are great too! didnt have that with the 1st

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jessica May 7, 2011 at 3:51 pm

I’ve been nursing continually for nearly 18 yrs (save about 9 months in the mid ’90s) and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been approached with a negative comment or a request to move or cover up. I can’t think of unusual places that I’ve nursed, but that speaks more to my generally mundane lifestyle than lack of nursing in public ;-).

In addition to the assumption you mentioned that you couldn’t possibly be nursing be you are also :::gasp::: doing other things, a similar frustration I have experienced is the many health care providers who refuse to treat mothers who are breastfeeding saying simply “let’s just wait until you wean”. This is for all sorts fo things from depression to back aches to hormonal imbalances. Some women wean prematurly and others go with conditions unresolved – neither of which respects the breastfeeding relationship.

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