While I was pregnant, I took every effort to educate myself on breastfeeding. I took a breastfeeding class at the hospital where I planned to give birth to my son, I frequented kellymom.com, I tweeted Heidi Murkoff (author of my pregnancy bible What to Expect When You're Expecting and I would ask many nursing moms about how they got started and what they did to keep a strong nursing relationship.
As a first-time-mom who gave up breastfeeding far too soon, I would feel twinges of guilt when I saw a mother nursing her child. I hated myself because I was a quitter. It took a long time to accept that what happened is in the past and that no matter what happened, I love J more than words could possibly express, and that at least I fed him. However, this is not what this post is about.
My post is about a controversial topic: NIP or Nursing in Public. Honestly, as a mom who fully supports breastfeeding, I do not see the reason for controversy. Here is my take on it...
Motherhood is never easy and breastfeeding often takes work. For some, it comes naturally whereas for most it does not. Every mother that I know who breastfed one child or more says that it takes 6 weeks to perfect latch, for the soreness to go away, for it to get easier in general. Many mothers get discouraged before that time is up then say they "couldn't breastfeed." For what it's worth, only 3% of women have a true medical reason why she cannot breastfeed. For the others, they either chose not to or gave it up and that is okay. All moms love their babies and want to give them the best and have a right to make their own choice regarding feeding.
Back to the topic of breastfeeding it must be said that the first few weeks are a learning curve as a mother learns how to position her baby, what a good latch looks and feels like how how long it takes for her baby to eat. Mothers nurse around the clock; breastfed babies eat about every two hours (from the time of first feed) and it may take 40 minutes for a baby to eat. That means every hour and 20 minutes, baby is attached to the boob. I still remember fumbling at the breast, trying to latch my newborn J to my breast, listening for sucking sounds, trying to keep him awake, trying to relax and persist until I felt a tugging sensation from within my breast. When I felt that, breastfeeding did feel natural; however, when I did not, it sometimes hurt and sometimes I felt like a failure. But I digress.
Eventually, every new mother must venture out of the house with her baby. Remember, we all need to run errands and get some time outside enjoying the fresh air. That is healthy. And eventually babies need to eat. A mother knows that there are signs that a baby is hungry before crying, which is a late sign and every mother knows how to feed her own baby. If a mother formula feeds, she either has a pre-prepared bottle of formula or powder stored in some way with a bottle of water. A breastfeeding mother has an advantage here: she does not need to pack a thing because her breasts go wherever she does.
Sometimes people turn and stare, sometimes people give dirty looks, sometimes people embarrass or shame a mother either by insulting the mother to her face or by whispering loudly something along the lines of, "I did not need to see that today" or "Why can't she pump a bottle of milk?" (FYI a breastpump is not as efficient as a baby at emptying the breast and a mother establishing her supply must empty the breasts every two hours to avoid engorgement and in order to keep the supply and demand going. Other people are supportive and then referred to as "breastfeeding nazis." Sometimes, the mother then feels ashamed and will try to find some place to hide and feed next time. Maybe she won't feel comfortable leaving the house. Other times, mothers feel indignant and angry, as they should, and fight for their rights. The law in most states says that a woman has a right to breastfeed her baby anywhere at any time.
Why do we feel the need to shame a women feeding? Here are some common anti-NIP statements I have heard along with my rebuttal. (italics for argument against)
- Breastfeeding is natural but so is peeing. I don't pee in front of everyone, so why should a woman breastfeed in public? When we urinate, the urine comes out in a stream into a toilet bowl. Sometimes it splashes and we need to wash our hands to wash away the germs. Technically our own urine is sanitary to ourselves but we do not need it in order to nourish ourselves. Babies need to be nourished. Breast milk is nourishment and and full of antibodies and actually protects against the illnesses that germs lead to? When in your lifetime has a mother expressed her milk by hand and squirted it at you?
- I don't want to see a woman whip out her tits. Most nursing moms nurse discreetly with little tricks that they have learned along the way. When a baby latches on, baby's body and face covers the breast. When a baby is properly latched, all you see is the top of her breast, the same thing you see in cleavage-bearing tops.
- What will I tell my child who sees a nursing mom? How about you tell your child that she is feeding her baby. The child may not ask questions. Or you can explain that a mother's breasts create milk made for babies.
- It's indecent exposure. Is it now? Do breastfeeding moms walk around topless in public while nursing? Does she strip out all of her clothes, grab a breast and flail it around while announcing on the top of her lungs, "I AM NOW BREASTFEEDING MY CHILD!"? No? Didn't think so.
- Why doesn't she pump and bring the milk with her? Pumping is not as efficient as letting a child suckle and empty the breast. Women who do not empty the breasts frequently enough get engorged which is painful and can lose their supply. Besides, who really wants to lug around bottles of breast milk that they then need to wash later when they have milk on tap?
- I don't want my husband/boyfriend/fiance to get turned on. Breasts have more than one purpose. They are both sexual and used for pleasure, but they are also used to make milk and feed another human being. Learn to separate the two. Mothers do not feed their babies to turn on men.
- Why can't moms just cover up before they breastfeed? Have you ever eaten with a blanket over your head? It gets hot and feels awkward. Most babies like to gaze into their mother's eyes while eating; that goes for both formula fed babies and breastfed babies. As babies get older, they may pull the cover off because they just don't like it. Some are fine with a cover but others are not. Mothers have a right to feed in whatever way works for her baby.
- Breastfeeding mothers flaunt what they are doing. No, they don't. They are trying to do the same thing that a bottle feeding mom is doing. They are trying to feed their baby. Would you rather hear a baby cry because a breastfeeding mom doesn't want to offend you? By the way, why is it that a breastfeeding mom is "flaunting" what she is doing but a formula feeding mom is just feeding her baby?
I'm sure there are many more arguments against breastfeeding and when a breastfeeding mom tries to defend the right to NIP, she is attacked as being a breastfeeding nazi or as a show-off. Maybe formula feeding moms feel attacked or judged, when all a breastfeeding mom is trying to do is feel pride in her accomplishments as a nursing mom and defend her right to feed her baby. This post has been written by a mother who only nursed for four days then formula fed; I have been educating myself because I believe that knowledge is power and someday I will try to breastfeed baby #2. I wanted to share what I have learned with all of you.
One last thing, if you say "I support breastfeeding followed by the conjunction "but," you do not support breastfeeding. Whether or not breastfeeding makes you comfortable or not, we as mothers need to support one another.
Nursing moms, share your stories with me! I would love to read them.