Okay, so this is a completely unflattering photo, but it’s the only one I have of me nursing in public for the first time when Naomi was 7 weeks old.*
Yes, we took a picture.
Breastfeeding was something I knew I wanted to do, but before Naomi was born the thought of having someone, even a very adorable and tiny someone, hanging off my front all the time made me grimace. That part of my body is under wraps for the vast majority of the day. I’m not one to handle myself in public (aside from the Puppetry of the Penis guys, who is?), so thinking about partially disrobing every few hours was not something I was looking forward to. In fact, there was a part of me that worried that my conservative hang ups would stand in the way of my being able to successfully feed my little one in the way I knew I wanted to.
Fast forward to Naomi’s birth and all the naked time involved in the labour process… et voila! Hang ups be gone! It’s amazing how flashing your vajayjay for a couple hours will help you get over yourself.
I managed to intellectually become one with the babe at the breast, but breastfeeding did not come without its difficulties for me. Generally, aside from some soreness at the beginning, breastfeeding is no problem for most women. Unfortunately, I had some issues that weren’t diagnosed until after Naomi was a month and a half. I’m on the mend now, but my situation was pretty damn uncomfortable so nursing in public when I was inclined to do a Tarzan-esque yowl every time Naomi latched on was pretty much the last thing I wanted to top my day off with.
My first semi-public nursing experience was a few days before this in the waiting room at the doctor’s office (I say “semi-public” because I don’t think of a doctor’s office as a properly public place. A doc’s waiting area is a vulnerable location filled with people trying to avoid eye contact at all costs. You’d have to be pretty damn full of yourself to pull off being judgemental). Naomi was starting to fuss. She needed to eat and we were going to be called for our appointment at any moment. I could no longer avoid nursing her in front of perfect strangers. It was time to get over my performance anxiety.
Let’s DO this.
I jiggle Naomi with my right arm so my left hand can root around in the diaper bag for my nursing cover. Forgot it. DAMNIT. I grab a receiving blanket and tuck the corner into my brastrap to act as a nursing cover stand-in and pretzel my fingers in an attempt to make it stay put. I’m quietly begging Naomi not to start screaming.
Just a second, Little Bean, I know you’re hungry. Mommy’s trying to get her act together…
I’m positioning a blanket under Naomi, still fighting with my pseudo-nursing cover, and working to keep Naomi’s squiggly body on my lap. I drop one of my blankets. I’m sweating. Naomi is dangerously close to letting loose an all out blood curtling body wail.
So, I’m a slightly damp, blanket entangled mess and I’m trying to look like I have some idea of what the hell I’m doing because I have never done this around non-nursing strangers before and when you have a really little baby you are quietly plagued by the thought that everyone is looking at you and waiting to inform you that you are doing it wrong.** And then, just when I’m beginning to think that nursing in public is NEVER going to work for us and I am going to have to adjust to being a hermit forever… the clouds part, the sun shines directly upon Naomi’s perfect little head, and wouldn’t ya know it, she latches! SHE LATCHES, Y’ALL! I can hear the “cah, cah, cah”^ of sweet success and I wish someone would hand me a football so I could heave it to the ground and do a ‘WHADUP YO!!!” victory moonwalk in celebration of this HUGE accomplishment because HOLY CRAP we did it. At this stage in the game it still hurt and there are blankets everywhere but by golly WE DID IT.
When I look up there is a woman in her late-60’s sitting across from us trying to get my attention. She and her husband don’t speak English. She doesn’t smile, but once we make eye contact she pointedly looks at Naomi and then back at me and draws a circle in the air around us. For a brief moment I am fearful she is going to condemn me for nursing in public. A woman in my city was kicked off a bus for breastfeeding. You hear of these things all the time. I start to tense up, feeling defeated and defensive all at once, and then, with a very slight nod and a hint of a grin, she gives me a hearty thumbs up.
A thumbs up. I could have kissed her.
Naomi and I are pretty darn good at nursing now and I can nurse in public without dropping a dang thing (most of the time). So if you are learning to nurse, hang in there!
A few things that helped me:
- Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding– every pregnant woman should read this book (or something on breastfeeding) before your baby is born
- breastfeedinginc.ca– Dr. Jack Newman’s website, great info (his All Purpose Nipple Ointment is fabulous)
- La Leche League– it’s important to know where you can get support before your baby arrives; I went to meetings before Naomi was born, John came with me too because, as my primary support, I wanted him to be on board
- If you are sore seek help IMMEDIATELY, meaning, that day. Don’t feel self conscious, just do it. You might think, Oh, I’m supposed to be a bit sore… you’re not, actually. You’ve never done this before (even if this isn’t your first you’ve never nursed with THIS baby before) so you don’t really know what is normal. Call La Leche (leaders will often give advice over the phone) or get in to see your care provider. The sooner you get on it, the better. Back in the day we were surrounded by our grandmas and moms and aunts and sisters and we watched them nurse and they could give us advice on what to do. Most of us don’t live beside our families anymore so we have to rely on professionals to provide at least partial instruction. Yes, breastfeeding is “natural” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require work. Breathing is natural too, but most of us don’t do a very good job of breathing deeply.
Good luck to you. You’re going to rock it!
Edited to include points from Shannon in the comments section (thank you Shannon!):
- Reach out for help and if the help you get isn’t helpful, keep searching
- KellyMom.com is a great source for info
- If you’re feeling uncomforable about breastfeeding in public, just think that you are helping to normalize something that is completely normal!
* I did leave the house before Naomi was 7 weeks old. I just made it home again to breastfeed, nursed her in places with dedicated breatfeeding areas, or nursed her at friends houses.
** It doesn’t take long to be better able to handle your babe in public. Of course it’s not fun when the little one starts to cry, but you no longer feel someone is going to call Child Protective Services every time the peanut fusses.
^ “Cah, cah, cah” is the sound babe’s often make when they are nursing really well, it’s the swallowing in the back of their throat. When the two of you are learning to nurse that sound is music to a Mom’s ears.