The first time I nursed in public I was on a busy Chicago roof deck in July. We had just taken the baby to his 6 week check-up with the pediatrician, and we hadn’t planned on stopping for lunch. I fed my son right before we left for his appointment, and had planned on nursing him again when we got back. This was my strategy whenever I left the house – it all revolved around perfect timing.
But driving in the car on a beautiful summer Saturday, my husband and I decide to stop for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, and despite the baby fussing, I agree, because I don’t want my husband to know that I’m different now – that I’m terrified of losing my old self, but also of trying to be that same woman again.
My plan was always to breastfeed for a year, but shortly after I started, I realized it was much harder than I thought. The whole experience felt like parts of me were constantly being taken away – my wardrobe, my freedom, my identity.
But, I wanted to keep trying and get through the challenges – breastfeeding was important to me, and if it’s important to you, there are ways to do it without counting down the days, and without feeling like less than yourself. The key is that the breastfeeding experience is as much about YOU as it is about your baby.
First, it’s important to understand and acknowledge our fears about breastfeeding, especially in public. As a maternity clothing designer for the past 10 years, I’ve spoken to thousands of new moms, and these are some of the many (and shocking) fears we have around breastfeeding:
Fear of nursing in public.
Fear of what other people will think.
Fear of being criticized by strangers.
Fear of being criticized by family.
Fear of not nursing long enough.
Fear of nursing too long.
Fear of not nursing at all.
Fear of having to speak up if someone does say something rude.
Fear of what to do if you’re asked to leave or cover up.
Omg, can you STAND it?? When I read this list of fears I can’t believe the pressure we put on ourselves as mothers and as women in order to please other people. It’s as if we feel we have no right to be out in society, to be seen, to exist.
You are not required to hide your motherhood. In fact, the more society sees women mothering in public, whether its breastfeeding or bottle feeding, the less foreign and shaming we make the experience.
It’s helpful to know the law –
The law in Madison states: “A mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.”
It’s ok to acknowledge that we have these fears – even if we can admit they are irrational, that the other people are wrong, that we have a right to nurse our babies in public, it still takes bravery to step out and do what you know is right. Any amount of breastfeeding in public brings awareness and creates a movement –
Here are 3 strategies that will give you the freedom and the confidence you deserve while breastfeeding.
1 – Wardrobe
2 – Practice
3 – Let go of expectations
Strategy 1: Wardrobe
Why do we think it’s ok to wear our husband’s oversized shirts during the most precious, magical, amazing time of our lives?
Why do we think we should “get by” with an old dress from H&M that’s falling apart because it was $18 and is 7 years old, but we don’t know how long we’re going to breastfeed so we absolutely refuse to buy anything new?
Why do we feel guilty spending money on things that help us take care of ourselves after we have the baby?
For breastfeeding, you need a wardrobe that is both functional and that fits your style. Are you a working or stay-at-home mom, do you prefer to wear jeans and tees or dresses? Will you be primarily pumping, or taking the baby out a lot? There are many options today for stylish breastfeeding clothes. Be intentional about a breastfeeding wardrobe and be willing to invest in it – just like you did for your maternity clothing, preparing the nursery, and everything else we get ready for baby.
Strategy 2: Practice AS IF
Don’t let the first time you breastfeed in public be your first time! Practice at home AS IF you are out – wear the clothes you’ll have on and practice being discreet. Get the hang of the clothing or the cover and let your baby get used to it too.
I’ll never forget walking into a restaurant one day, my infant in tow, and seeing a woman breastfeeding her baby at another table. Smiling, fork in one hand, eating a Cobb salad, sipping champagne, and chatting with her friend. In her other arm, she cradled a nursing baby. The baby basically blended in with the salad and champagne and the rest of the place setting. I envied her! Not only was she feeding her baby, she was bringing awareness to nursing in public, standing in her true self, and enjoying life on her terms. This woman doesn’t know it, but her beauty and courage to nurse openly in the restaurant inspired me as a new mom – and this is what we need throughout motherhood – encouragement, demonstration, and lifting each other up.
Strategy 3: Let go of expectations.
The ability to want what’s best for our baby, while also being able to let go, is the real test for any mother. This is where you begin to transform as a mom and as a person. You learn to let go, and shift with whatever comes – this is freedom. Maybe you had a plan to breastfeed for a year. Maybe you vowed to never use formula. Maybe you don’t want to introduce a bottle or a pacifier. Moms are bombarded with information, and with good intentions, we read and research, talk and plan. But inevitably, as in life, the plan doesn’t go our way, and we call it failure.
There are no failures in breastfeeding, or in mothering. There might be adjustments, changes, evolution, growth – but you are always exactly where you are meant to be. Everyday feeding and taking care of your baby is a miracle, and it should be celebrated, regardless of what you thought it would look like. Be proud of yourself today. You are that beautiful woman I saw breastfeeding her baby in the restaurant – you are the perfect mother, and you never know who you inspired to be just like you today.