Friday, September 7, 2012

Ashamed to Breastfeed

Welcome to the second edition of the "I'm a Natural Parent - BUT..." Carnival This post was written for inclusion in the carnival hosted by The Artful Mama and our feminist {play}school. During this carnival our participants have focused on how mainstream society has affected their natural parenting and how they have come to peace with this.
I consider myself a natural parenting, but I was ashamed to breastfed my child in public.

My experience with breastfeeding growing up was different than most. My mom nursed both my brother and I, and her friends nursed their babies, often and in public. I always saw women nursing growing up and never thought anything of it. Babies need to eat, simple as that.

After having my son, he latched pretty much perfectly and instantly and I was euphoric. There is really no other way to describe it...euphoric. It was an amazing feeling to provide for my child in such a way.

I wasn't ashamed to nurse at all. I was a bit concerned about doing it properly, as any new mom is, but I  wasn't ashamed.

Till the comments started. People began "hinting" that I needed privacy, that it wasn't appropriate to nurse in public (covered or not)....if you've breastfed you know the comments. You know how people act. The whole "I fully support breastfeeding but....." line.

It was so discouraging. I cried a lot. And I began to feel ashamed. I briefly considered switching to using a bottle, but I wasn't an efficient pumper and I knew it'd lead to supplementing with formula, something I didn't want to do.

We nursed on demand and used no pacifiers. Andrew wouldn't take one and I didn't want to push it on him. But he nursed so frequently. Often every 45-60 minutes and he cluster-fed for several hours a day till he was around 13-14 weeks old. As a social person, I found it ridiculous to either "Stay home" or disappear to another room to nurse my baby. But the disapproving looks, stares and comments continued. So I found myself confused, frustrated and beginning to regret my decision to nurse on demand. I was lonely, I needed interaction, but suddenly with a baby, my decision to breastfeed made people treat me like a leper.

Then I hit a wall. While out to lunch with friends I spent the majority of the event in an overheating car (it was 100 + degrees outside and my son needed to nurse, so we needed A/C), because I wasn't about to nurse in a bathroom but we were in a restaurant and I knew if I attempted to nurse, it would cause a scene, given the company I was with.

I left lunch hungry, and with a very hot and frustrated baby. I was angry at myself, but mostly angry at society. What on earth was our culture's hang-up with breastfeeding?

Out of frustration, I reached out to fellow like-minded moms. (Why didn't I do that sooner?) I received some invaluable advice and support.

I was given a few tips:
-Nurse at home in front of a mirror. Watch how you latch your baby, what is covered and isn't covered. I prefer to stay pretty covered while nursing, so at first I practiced with a nursing cover. I was amazed at how much it helped. As I got more confident, I practiced with two shirts. A cami underneath and a t-shirt on top. I began to feel more confident with the ability to nurse in public and not expose myself in anyway.
-Nurse (when possible) next to a supportive family member or friend. My mom and husband were both willing to take this roll. They sat beside me at gatherings or in public and talked to me and helped me gain confidence in myself. My husband is a "big" guy. He's 6'4", with very broad shoulders and very well built. He would put his arm around me and act as a "shield" for my son and I.
-Practice. Nurse in public often and gain confidence. That's really how we become confident in anything, practicing and doing it often. So I did.

And lastly, remember that everyone has an "opinion" about what you should or shouldn't do. That doesn't make it fact. As a Christian I felt very compelled to make sure I was modestly covered while nursing, but other than that, my husband and I agreed it wasn't necessary for me to shut myself off separately. His support and encouragement was invaluable during my nursing years with Andrew.

I still get comments, even though I'm no longer nursing Andrew, but I'm pregnant and about to pop. People know I'm going to nurse another baby and they know I support a baby's right to eat anytime, anywhere, in any situation! But I'm three years into this and learning to take the comments with a head nod and move on. I decided I would no longer argue with those who didn't want me nursing in public.

My husband and I have made our decision and we are sticking by it. It is what is *best* for our family.

Have you had an experience that made you ashamed to care for your baby in a certain way? How did you overcome it?


I'm a Natural Parent — But … Blog CarnivalThis carnival was created by The Artful Mama and Natural Parents Network. We recognize that "natural parenting" means different things to different families, and we are dedicated to providing a safe place for all families, regardless of where they are in their parenting journeys.


  1. Best wishes for the new baby and new nursing relationship! It's posts like these that make it so hard for me to hear women out when they say they didn't nurse and they were made to feel ashamed, shot looks of disgust, etc. I don't want to deny anyone's experience, but we are still a society where you see no one breastfeeding on TV and in mainstream ads, but bottles are everywhere, symbols for babyhood in general.

    I nursed my son until age three with little concern for others' comfort and then found myself feeling more reserved with baby #2, but that mostly faded. Good luck!

  2. I hate sio much that our society does this to mothers (& hungry babies!). I had a little trouble with my parents (I was still a minor), but thankfully I've never had any other trouble. NIP makes my hubby a lil uncomfortable, but the way I see it: that is *his* hangup. I try to be as discreet as possible for his comfort, but I'm not going to starve our babies. :-P

    Those are some GREAT tips, btw!

  3. I've been very fortunate that I've never had a bad experience with NIP. However, I found that with all three of mine I started (purposely or subconsciously, I don't know) discouraging them from nursing while we were out once they hit about 18-24 months. My son (I have an Andrew, too :-) is 22 months and I think I've only nursed him in public a handful of times in the past 6-8 months. Although honestly, if seeing a nursing toddler seems "weird" enough to someone to comment about it, they seriously need to get out more.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and advice! I know it will be encouraging to so many other women! When my little one was younger, I would be in social gatherings and often the host would offer an empty bedroom or basement for me to nurse even though I always did so with a cover. I really did not want to leave the group and didn't feel the need for added privacy. The first time this happened I obediently left the room, but the next time he needed to eat I stayed right there. The funny thing was, I could tell that most people in the room didn't even notice what I was doing! Now baby is 13 months, and is so distracted he rarely nurses in public anymore, but I have so much more confidence now than in those early days thanks to the support of lots of like minded mamas surrounding me.

  5. I nursed my son over 14 years ago, and I hardly ever NIP with him. It is amazing that I even ended up breastfeeding him because I had not grown up with that. My sister and I were both formula fed, bottle fed babies. My mother decided against breastfeeding because my grandmother had told her that she would spend the entire first year tucked away in a back bedroom at family gatherings. I had my daughter almost 7 months ago, and have NIP with her several times. I do try to plan to not have to though. It isn't always easy, or comfortable. But if we have to, we have to. I try to just ignore any scowls or sidelong glances that I get.
    I believe that as nursing mothers we have to just keep NIP and make it normal again. It wasn't always so taboo. Hopefully by not hiding in bathrooms, and cars, and back bedrooms we can make it a natural part of society again. :)

  6. I have had the exact opposite experience. My son and I had a very difficult time breastfeeding at first. It took us almost 6 weeks to get it right and I had to supplement with formula during that time. We began NIP when he was 3 days old. I felt self conscious at first, but when I saw how quickly it calmed my screaming baby, I didn't give it another thought. I conintued NIP until he was about 2 years old (when he began to lose interest) and did not receive 1 negative comment. In fact, I received several very encouraging comments. I breastfed everywhere.

    Good for you (and your baby) for hanging in there. Way to go mama!

  7. Thanks for sharing this! I am trying to get over my anticipated social fears of NIP. My husband is so wonderful though, he just keeps telling me that when our baby comes, I need to stand firm and do what I believe in, regardless of what anyone else says, thinks, or even how I perceive their thoughts! I'm glad to have his support, it helps me feel better about wanting to do this.

  8. I'm glad you didn't let people "banish" you to back rooms -- it shocks me that this is still an issue. Way back when I was a nursing mom, from 1988-89 and again from 1992-95, I nursed in public all the time and never heard a peep out of anyone. I was always discreet, and rarely nursed in public after my babies' first birthdays (I believe they can tide themselves over with water or juice from a sippy cup at age 1), but I can't think of a single place I went that I didn't nurse at: the mall, doctor's office, post office, grocery store (yes, even standing in line!), the DMV, library, city parks, laundromats, friend's & relative's homes.

    The funny thing is that people born in the 1950's or later (and presumably didn't witness a lot of breastfeeding while growing up themselves) were often the ones who would, once they realized I was breastfeeding, get a surprised look and VERY quickly look away, as if they were embarrassed. However, people who were from a much older generation would nod and smile before looking away to give me privacy, and you could tell they had a certain level of comfort with it because in childhood they'd seen their moms & aunts nursing babies as a common occurrence.