Breastfeeding in Public
A friend sent me a link to a New York Times article called 'Lactivists' Taking Their Cause, and Their Babies, to the Streets (free subscription required to view), and it made me realize how lucky I am—and how nonchalant I've become—when it comes to breastfeeding in public.
The list of places I've fed Austen is probably shorter than the list of places I haven't, with the former including at least four different airports; several restaurants; random benches at the mall and the park; my local CVS pharmacy; the car; the ice rink; and the lovely 2nd floor bathroom at Nordstrom King of Prussia. Just yesterday I fed him at the Starbucks at 16th and Market while drinking a cappucino and eating an iced lemon pound cake, with no complaints.
In the first weeks of Austen's life the UPS man saw me nursing him on an almost daily basis; a spate of new baby and Christmas gift deliveries combined with Austen's every 90 minutes eating schedule meant that I was always answering the door with a baby on the boob. His response was exactly what you'd hope for as a nursing mom: he'd sign for me, put the package inside, and never, ever stare. I love my UPS guy for that.
I'm aware of how uncomfortable witnessing a breastfeeding mother makes some people. I was uncomfortable myself when my sister-in-law fed my 18 month-old nephew at the dinner table in Hawaii once, in fact. I tried to analyze what about the situation made me uncomfortable, and I realized that it was the fact that he was playing more than eating, leaving the giant nipple exposed and pointing at me most of the time. I couldn't understand, at the time, how my sister-in-law could continue talking to the rest of us as if her boob wasn't hanging out for everyone to see. (I can now, of course; when you're feeding an infant every 2 hours, you get used to going about your business while doing it, and you sometimes forget that you're half-naked. :)
To lessen the chance that I'll make others feel the way I did in Hawaii, I close up the shop if Austen shows more interest in looking around than in eating, even if he fusses. I never leave the boob exposed if I can help it (when the kid pops off, the shirt comes down). If I have a choice between a table in the corner and one in front of the door, I'll take the corner. But I also don't make a bigger deal out of covering myself up or hiding from view than I need to. I don't want to invite stares, but I also don't want to suggest that I'm doing anything odd or dirty. I figure the more women who breastfeed in public without making people think, "good lord, put that thing away!", the more comfortable everyone will be with it in the long run.
So thanks to my so-far positive public breastfeeding experiences, I won't be taking to the streets in protest. I'll just continue doing what I'm doing and try to return the consideration folks are showing me. But for Barbara Walters, and the guy complaining loudly on his cell phone about the breastfeeding mom across the aisle, I have a message: Yeah, I know, our exposed breasts are uncomfortably close to you, thanks to sardine-style airplane seating. But which would you rather have: An infant eating quietly on the ascent and descent, or one screaming his lungs out because his ears won't pop? I'd take the exposed breast and the quiet baby any day... but then, I'd also take the screaming baby over you and your shouted cell phone conversation, too, asshole.