Do You See? A Letter to Those Who See Me Breastfeeding in Public

My eyes dart around the room, a quick survey of those around me: ages, genders, proximity. I fumble in the diaper bag, trying to tug my nursing cover from the bottom of the bag with one hand while bouncing and shushing my fussy baby with the other. I’m nervous, and anxious, and struggling to arrange all the items I need to make this comfortable and successful. If I had another hand, I would be crossing my fingers that I can get her eating happily before she explodes into screams and disrupts the whole room.

I briefly wish that I had requested one of the high-back booths instead of the table I’m sitting at. I worry that you are going to be offended at the sight of my body. I worry that you will see what I’m doing as shameful, or vulgar, or offensive.

I wish you could see what I see.

nursing 5
Image Credit: Whit C Photography

In an (my) ideal world, new mothers would be surrounded with support and encouragement. Older women would pass on their knowledge and experiences, and guide new moms through the difficult obstacles they might encounter. We would no longer hear discouraging advice, like

“Just give the baby a bottle,”

or “Why don’t you go to the bathroom to feed her?”

or “Formula is just as good you know, and a whole lot easier!”

Instead, we would be encouraged to keep trying, seek help, and find our tribe when things get challenging. Children would grow up seeing women breastfeeding all the time, so that we wouldn’t have an entire generation of adults that don’t bat an eye at the half-naked women in the media, but take offense to nursing babies. Little girls would grow up to emulate the breastfeeding mothers they’ve seen, and little boys would grow up to support their sisters and spouses in the same endeavor.

We could all stop seeing breastfeeding as a sexual act and start seeing it as the natural, beautiful relationship between a mother and her baby that it is. Our little babies would be able to eat whenever and wherever they happened to be when they got hungry. And all the new mothers could gaze at their baby’s faces as they ate, unencumbered by the anxiety and stress of hiding the act from others.

nursing in public 4
Image Credit: Whit C Photography

So when I use my body for something it was intended for, something it was created for, it isn’t about what I look like. For once, this isn’t about what my body looks like. It’s about my baby. It’s always about my baby.

Do you know how hard this has been for me?

The toe-curling pain, the bleeding and scabs and medicines and ointments, the desperate heaving sobs in the middle of the night, the pleading prayers that I could make it through just one more feeding. The doctor’s appointments and lactation consultant visits, the antibiotics and troubleshooting.

And then–sweet victory!–the blessed day we finally had a feeding where the latch was good! I actually leaned back a little bit in my chair, let go of the enormous tension in my shoulders, and breathed a hesitant sigh of relief. In that moment, when we were finally figuring it all out together, I was so in awe at the wonder of my baby growing through the work of my body alone! If you knew about all that, if you really knew the road it took to get here, I don’t think you’d see me trying to feed my baby away from home and choose to offer words of correction or blame or shame.

nursing 2
Image Credit: Whit C Photography

Right now, my baby is hungry. My baby needs me. All she knows is the safety and comfort and satisfaction she receives from nursing. She knows nothing of social norms, nothing of being discreet. She doesn’t know about sex or shame. But here in public, I know you are sitting nearby, and I do want to be respectful of you. If you are watching closely, you might see my nipple briefly as my baby and I both struggle to see what we are doing through the cover. (That’s one of the problems with covers.) I’m sorry if you do, and I’m sorry if that bothers you. At this moment, though, I’m really only focusing on my baby and her needs. Do you see? I hope you understand.

I am trying to be discreet. Not for myself, really. I’m not ashamed of my body, even though it isn’t anything special to look at, and I’m certainly not flaunting myself. It’s just that giving birth has given me a whole new respect for my body. For much of our lives, women’s bodies are seen as objects that must fall somewhere on a continuum from sexy to not sexy. But now I see my body as something that is useful, powerful, capable, and inspiring. So when I use my body for something it was intended for, something it was created for, it isn’t about what I look like. For once, this isn’t about what my body looks like.

It’s about my baby. It’s always about my baby.

nursing 1
Image Credit: Whit C Photography

I don’t want to offend you, or anyone. I hope you don’t feel disrespected. I simply want to feed my baby. I want to hold her in my arms, smile sweetly at her while I hold her head and help her get latched on, and gaze into her round eyes as she drinks and sighs, satisfied.

Do you see?


 

Lianna is a homesteading mama of three: a sparkly seven-year-old daughter, a joyful five-year-old boy, and a confident three-year-old boy. After graduating from the University of Iowa’s college of education, she started Wondergarten Early Enrichment Home, a multi-age, play-based early childhood program. A self-proclaimed Queen Dabbler, she has a long list of hobbies (from gardening and canning to sewing and painting), and doesn’t mind being only mediocre at all of them. She lives with her husband, mother, three kiddos, dog, cat, rabbits, dwarf goats, and chickens on an acreage in the country. The Cornally family spends their time talking about education, learning how to grow and preserve their own food, and romping around in their woods.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Right on, mama. I feel the same way you do… I try to be discreet, and I want to be respectful, but at the same time I am upset that I even have to worry about anything *except* feeding my baby. Others’ sensibilities are at the bottom of my priority list when my little one is pounding his little forehead against my chest, begging to nurse. So I’ll keep trying. Thanks again for posting.

  2. Thanks, Lydia! Yes, I agree, at some point we have to sort out our priorities and decide what matters more: are we going to put a stranger’s opinion above the needs of a hungry infant? I hope not. I do my best to consider others, but not at the expense of feeding my baby. As I’m now nursing my third baby, I’ve come a long way, and learned to let go of some of the anxiety and worry, realizing that I don’t have to take responsibility for everyone else’s response. As Sarah wrote about in yesterday’s post, Nurse On, Mama! 🙂

  3. Amen! I was the same way. I wanted to be courteous and not upset anyone and was also battling my own insecurity of trying to feed and not show anything. I feel like with my second, I’ll end up being far less concerned about that. I didn’t have much support from my family when I chose to breastfeed. They thought they were supporting me by telling me continually to not worry and that i “could just go in formula when I needed a break or it wasn’t working”. They didn’t understand that I wanted to breastfeed, it’s what I chose to do and wanted that for us. I will never forget that blessed time where it went well and I was able to have that bond with my baby girl.

    • Veronica, I totally agree that those kinds of comments about using formula are *intended* to be supportive, but often feel like the opposite. Breastfeeding takes so much dedication and a belief that it WILL work, even when it feels like it’s close to impossible. I’m nursing my third baby now (I wrote this blog post from the perspective I had when I was nursing my first born), and I definitely have come a long way since then towards feeling confident and secure in feeding my babies wherever we happen to be. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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