Breastfeeding in Public Debate: Why Breastfeeding Debates Are Missing the Mark {Guest Post by Jenny Ramsey}

breastfeeding is like riding a bike + why breastfeeding debates are missing the mark // bring-joy.com Image Source: Cycling, from Flickr

 

Today’s post is from a dear friend from my early college days–we both attended the same cozy, small liberal arts college nestled in the mountains of Virginia. Jenny is a smart as whip, with lots of sass. She’s the kinda girl you just want to spend some time with (& she’s a mother of six!). Since I like Jenn so much (I know you will too!), I’ve asked her to be a regular, monthly contributor to bring joy. This is her first post.

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Do you remember the first time you saw someone ride a bike and it looked completely effortless?

Like they were rolling through a cloud with sparkles flying from the tires and woodland creatures forming a circle to sing their praises. Then you decided to hop on because surely it would be the same for you…and it wasn’t?

That is how breastfeeding was for me. Everyone I knew made it look effortless.

Hold the baby, cradle the baby against your barely exposed strip of breast, cue heavenly choir.

But it wasn’t like that for me. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

Imagine, if you can, that you went sunbathing in the altogether and got a second degree burn. On the walk home you fell, chest first, into the concrete sidewalk and were dragged six or so feet by a passerby and distributed in a nearby grassy patch, which housed a hill of fire ants. When you finally made it home, you were handed a beautiful eight pound, nine ounce crocodile with a major hankering for breast milk.

That, my friends, is about what my first few weeks of nursing were like.

Breastfeeding in Public Debate

I believe that this is why the current social debate regarding whether or not you should cover-up when you breastfeed in public is rubbing me a bit wrong.

Did I sleep through the age of enlightenment where we learned how to solve all the actual issues women face while trying to nurse to the extent that we now have time to worry about whether or not we throw a blanket over our shoulder?

Do women no longer have problems with producing enough milk or too much (and the subsequent envy of women who have the opposite problem)?

Do we not have latch issues, engorgement, mastitis, yeast infections or food allergies anymore?

Because, if we did still have those things, we would be foolish indeed to be wasting our time arguing over whether or not we are supposed to be under wraps in public.

Sadly, this debate rages on and has enticed passionate feelings on both sides. I mean, intense feelings ya’ll. People seem to be convinced that the health and wellbeing of the rising generations, the civilization of western culture, the stability of women’s rights and the balance of humanity are contingent upon whether or not I nurse my baby uncovered. Mkay. If you say so.

If I may be so bold as to propose that we are focusing, entirely, on the wrong things?

Let me give you a few reasons why I think this debate is unnecessary.

  1. In most settings, there are places to nurse discreetly without disrupting anything. This is a true story folks. I have logged a lot of nursing hours and I have nursed pretty much everywhere. In virtually all settings, there is a way to nurse that disrupts no one, least of all you. Many churches, doctor’s offices and shopping malls now have nursing rooms. These rooms are NOT about shaming women into a corner. Come on now. It’s a room that is just for YOU. Extra special you! They give you a place to sit and relax and nurse without worrying about whether or not a passerby happens to see your womanly-ness if baby pulls off to choke after let down. Yes, breastfeeding is natural and no, your breasts aren’t being exposed in a sexual way. Breasts are for feeding babies, I know, I know. Guess what? Genitals are used for urinating. But you would hardly drop your drawers outside of Nordstrom and water a nearby palm tree now would you? That would be inappropriate. So what harm is there in taking advantage of areas specially designed to help you fill the needs of you and your baby? After all nursing is about feeding your baby, is it not? Now, if your point of breastfeeding in the food court is to make a social statement then be my guest. You can have your “no one puts Baby in a corner” moment. I won’t look.

 

  1. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you are in a setting where there is no nursing room. I have been in such places. It ain’t no big thang ya’ll. Birds have to fly, bears poop in the woods and babies have to eat. One of two things is going to happen. You use a cover and most people don’t pay attention and the few who do notice will know what you are doing. OR, you don’t use a cover, most people don’t pay attention and the few who do notice will know what you are doing. Seriously. I have nursed six babies. Do you know how many people have ever said anything to me while I’m breastfeeding (with or without a cover)? None. Nada. Zilch. Not a single one. It.Is.Not.A.Big.Deal. Most people legitimately do not care. Now, if you are a passerby and you do happen to care, how about just letting it go? Who here does not know what a breast looks like? Anyone? Bueller? If you happen to catch a glance, turn your pretty little head and move along. It blows my mind that people can watch shows like “The Walking Dead” but get a little squeamish about seeing a baby nursing. Seriously, am I being punked?

 

  1. We have bigger things to worry about. I did a little survey last week. I asked questions to both first time moms and moms who already have children and made some really interesting discoveries. While most first-time-expectant mothers felt extremely confident about being able to breastfeed, a majority of seasoned mothers felt that they were only mildly confident when the baby actually arrived. The majority of mothers who breastfed their babies for at least twelve weeks, went on to have long careers of nursing but a staggering number switched to formula before the twelve week mark. Why is this, you ask? Please scroll up and read my opening statements. Breastfeeding is painted as a natural, beautiful experience. And it is. It is also hard. Really, stinking hard. Instead of sitting at the park worrying about whether or not our udder-cover is sliding off our shoulder, what if we could focus on our baby latching properly so that we aren’t cracking and bleeding and developing infections? It should raise a few flags that 60% of veteran moms said they had felt uncomfortable nursing in public situations and the second greatest concern for new moms- just under handling the logistics of nursing- is how to handle nursing in public situations. Why is this happening? What can we do to help these mamas, especially the newcomers, feel confident and comfortable? NOT comfortable flashing the congregation at church or sitting on the grass outside a building with a sign, I mean comfortable providing nourishment to their child. Babies are not about political statements. Nursing a baby is about baby, not about sticking it to the man.

 

  1. Because nursing is about feeding babies, not about making a point, we should be focusing on education and support for nursing moms and allow moms to use that good ole thing called common sense when it comes to nursing in public. I will tell you right now, I nursed my first baby at home almost 100% of the time. The reason being, I spent our early nursing sessions openly weeping, moaning and cringing, while simultaneously holding a towel and a cup to catch the extra milk spewing forth from my Dollies. In other words, it wasn’t a picture I wanted to paint in front of my fellow citizens. I needed to be home, where I was comfortable and relaxed, where no one could hear my screams of agony. But it got better. It did. And once he was older and we had the nursing thing down, I felt totally comfortable nursing in most places even without a blanket. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can use covers when we feel more comfortable and not when we don’t. We can excuse ourselves and find a private place for our baby to flail and impatiently protest while we wait for our milk to let down. We can stay home. We can make choices that help us and our babies to be comfortable in the experience. That’s the perk of being a grown up. You can do those things.

 

We need to be focusing on supporting each other.

While many veteran moms said that lactation consultants were most helpful in mastering breastfeeding, both new and seasoned moms said they were most likely to go to friends for support. Be. A. Friend. Let your friend cry to you when the baby gives her thrush.

Bring her ice packs and cabbage leaves when her milk comes in. Let her know, no never mind, this is ME letting YOU know…you can do it.

It might not be easy but it will get better. If your baby doesn’t latch, if you don’t make enough milk, if you make too much milk, if you’re cracked and bleeding and crying and miserable, it is OKAY. You aren’t doing anything wrong. You don’t have to quit. There are people here to help you. Your baby won’t suffocate under a blanket and no one will throw you out of the restaurant if you don’t use one.

Your baby is not going to starve, your boobs are not going to fall off and no, the blood from your cracked nipples will not hurt them.

If you have to supplement with formula, your baby will still be smart and handsome (No, it’s true. My husband was formula fed and he’s a total hottie.).

Take a deep breath, eat a bar of chocolate (chances are it is NOT the cause of your baby’s reflux). Relax mama. It’s going to be okay. Nurse for your baby and for you and don’t you pay no never mind to the naysayers. You’re doing just perfectly swell.

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More in the bring joy summer guest post series:

jenny

 

Jenny is a wife, mom and self-proclaimed vampire expert.

If she’s not scraping children off the ceiling or smooching her hubby, she’s probably curled up with a tub of Blue Bell Lemon Bliss ice cream and a book (not the enlightening kind but the swoony, immature, urban fantasy kind).

She is passionate about motherhood, her family, her church and chocolate. She currently resides in Richmond, Virginia with her crazy family, a bearded rabbit and a very lazy cat.

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Comments


  1. Mrs. Wetzel
    on August 16, 2014 at 2:09 pm said:

    With my first baby, I struggled with milk production and ended up having to switch him to formula because I just couldn’t do it. (He is an awesomely smart and healthy little guy!) When I got pregnant with baby #2 I told myself I was going to breastfeed no matter what. Luckily, my milk supply was much stronger and with the help of nursing covers, boppies and nursing tank tops, I was able to nurse her until the day she weened herself. And the success continued with other babies! I would actually practice at home with my nursing cover around my siblings and friends so I could get used to nursing in public. And I got pretty good at it. Hurray for me!

    No one every said anything to me about it except I did get asked one time at a completely empty Barnes and Noble if I could go somewhere to nurse because I might be in the way of the (non-exsistant) customers. I admit, I was a little heated by the request. I told the woman that I was modestly covered, in a corner where there was no one but me, my baby and my 18m old who was playing with some trains. There was no where else for me to go nurse. When she suggested the I go to somewhere private like a private room (she was indicating the bathroom around the corner) I told her that it was not a mothers room, there was no place to sit and I was not going to sit on a public bathroom toilet for 30 minutes while my baby nursed. It was unsanitary or necessary. She seemed to accept that and walked away. And that was that.

    I have heard many arguments for the breastfeeding in public debate.It seems a double standard that women can wear things that leave nothing to the imagination but a women breastfeeding her baby is somehow offensive. It’s weird and I just can’t comprehend it. I think it is possible to modestly nurse your baby both with a cover and without one and if you are in public, I think it is just a good idea to be discreet but still do what comes naturally. Some people will be jerks about it, it’s human nature. However, we need not be nasty and hateful ourselves. We can be kind and courteous to the random squeemishness of others while taking care of our precious little ones.

    Love this post. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Amanda K. @ Living on Grace
    on July 31, 2014 at 8:10 pm said:

    well said! i also think the breastfeeding thing is overblown. i’ve breastfed 2 babies (am still nursing my 14-month old) and no one has ever said anything to me. not a friend, not a relative, not a stranger. i nurse in public, in private, covered and uncovered. (i find it really hard to “cover” an active, alert baby.)
    i do never understand women who WANT to be exposed, but i also really really don’t understand people who are inconvenienced by nursing mothers. doesn’t make sense to me.

    i do know that nursing my first baby was the hardest, most overwhelming thing ever done. back then i needed to hear lots of people saying, “this is ME letting YOU know…you can do it.”

    also, i always tell my friends that i was breastfed and my husband was formula fed. and he graduated summa cum laude and i…well, i didn’t. so there’s that.

    • Jenny Ramsey
      on August 1, 2014 at 2:10 pm said:

      Amen. This debate ignites some very passionate feelings in some. I’ve just never felt like it was a big deal. Just feed the babies!

  3. bethany
    on July 31, 2014 at 10:33 am said:

    Thank you for this piece! I’m not a mother, but have seen this debate all over social media and thought it all was a bit misplaced. Isn’t there a happy medium? Or could mothers just do what is most comfortable for them, without worrying about passers-by?

    On a personal note: the breastfeeding debate further isolates mothers who formula-feed for many reasons. A friend of mine struggled to successfully breastfeed. After multiple visits with an in-home lactation specialist and her doctor, both told her that formula might be the best option. Years later, she still feels guilt and judgement when she encounters these debates, because she couldn’t provide what is lauded as “the best” for her child…which is so sad because she’s an amazing mother, regardless of what her child ate for the first year of his life.

    Motherhood (from the looks of it) is tough, joyful, messy, rewarding and exhausting. Instead of channeling energy into social debates that change nothing, it seems we could accomplish so much more by simply leaning over to the mother next to us and saying, “Hey, you’re doing great.”

    • Jenny Ramsey
      on July 31, 2014 at 10:52 am said:

      Bethany, thank you so much for your sweet comment. I am so sorry that your friend has not received support in her challenges with breastfeeding, and the subsequent decision to formula feed. Please feel free to tell her that Jenny says her child will probably grow up to be a hottie. :)

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