Saturday, September 22, 2007

Nursing in public

I thought before becoming a mother that nursing in public would be much more of an ordeal than it is. And maybe it's just living in let-live Seattle, but I haven't found it to be much of a big deal. Every once in awhile, I'll catch someone's expression when they realize I'm breastfeeding and it will hit me -- should I be doing this here? But the answer is always yes -- because my baby's hungry, and breastfeeding is not something shameful to be hidden.

But, see, even that last line makes me sound like some sort of lactivist (which, granted, I am), and really I've had no need to defend my right to NIP as the message boards call it. I just do it, matter-of-factly, as breastfeeding should be done.

I never feel the need for Hooter Hiders or even a receiving blanket to drape over my shoulder, and I have yet to use the tail of my sling to shield what's going on, even though I had originally thought that was a great feature of ring slings. My baby and I just do our thing -- quickly, confidently, and, I think, discreetly.

Here's my awesome tip for nursing mothers (and, yes, it's very basic, but it will save you a bundle on nursing clothes if you obey me): Wear your maternity tank tops (extra long to cover that postpartum tummy -- oofa -- I'm still not over the saaaad changes there, and extra room in the chest for those va-va-voom postpartum boobies -- Old Navy ones are da bomb) and then wear something else on top. There, that's it. When you want to nurse, get your baby mostly in position on your lap. Unclasp your nursing bra cup (I use Target nursing bras, FYI -- they're not big enough for me, but they're cheap unlike every nursing bra my size, so what are you gonna do), pull up your top shirt to just above your nipple, and pull down your tank top to just below. Use your baby's head to shield this action. Get your baby latched on, and then adjust your shirts to cover as much breast tissue as possible without getting in the way of the baby's mouth (or annoying the baby). Use the arm near the feeding boob to help keep the side boobage covered. Voila! Instant breastfeeding modesty. I swear it looks just like you're holding a sleeping baby with this method. Except for the noisy slurps emanating from your boobal region.

The only times I've felt shame and embarrassment when breastfeeding are when I've tried to cover it up. When I just do it like it's the most natural thing in the world, I'm not embarrassed, and I think I keep most other people from feeling embarrassed as well. I mean, I can't control their own emotions and issues, but I hope I at least project the idea that they don't need to be embarrassed for my sake.

My two times of breastfeeding shame:

1. I was on a boat tour with my parents with Mikko as a very young newborn, and I noticed there were many eyes on us since he was the only baby on board. I needed to feed him but couldn't angle my way into anywhere discreet up on the top deck with the bench seats, so I got his little fleece blanket out and tried to sling it over my shoulder. The wind blew it off just as I was getting my bra unlatched. Well, that didn't work. So I tucked it into my bra strap. That emphasized my bra for everyone, and it still blew off my breast region, like waving a flag -- hey, booby under here! Hm. I was seriously red at this point and was still having trouble getting everything arranged while attaching a screaming baby AND hanging on to that stupid flying blanket, so I eventually ducked under it completely -- yes, I put a blanket over my head. On a boat. In front of a zillion strangers. It was actually OK while I was under it, but you can't stay hidden forever. I felt like the completest idiot when I popped back out finally, my hair all staticky and my face still red and, as everyone very well knew, my baby sucking away on my breast under that blanket. Oh, never mind. My first and last time trying a blanket to be discreet.

2. In the post office, I had Mikko strapped to me in the mei tai carrier, and he was fussy and a bit sleepy. I thought maybe he needed to eat, so instead of doing what I normally do, which is find a seat, untie, and know...feed him (see method in tip above), I walked toward the back of the post office where all the post office boxes are. There wasn't anyone back there at the moment, and I thought, I'll try to feed him in the mei tai, because I hadn't attempted that before. I knew in general that it required feeding him in more of an upright position rather than a cradling position. I tried to hike up my overshirt, but it was held tight by the straps of the mei tai and weight of the baby. I had to give up and settled for pulling down both and popping my boob out of the top. Then my mei tai was covering my breast, but I knew it was out, completely out in the open, behind that thin shield -- and it felt...dirty. That sounds ludicrous, like feeling embarrassed that you're naked underneath your clothes, but it was more like feeling embarrassed that you're masturbating and suddenly hear your mother outside your bedroom door. I felt like the post office skank, especially when someone came back to check her post office box and smiled at me. Tee hee, I thought, she doesn't know my boob's totally out of my bra.

I guess that's what it was, in both situations -- that it felt like hiding. When I breastfeed in the open, everyone knows what I'm doing, so it's not embarrassing. I don't want to revisit my earlier metaphor and say it's like masturbating in the open (because that, to me, would still be supremely embarrassing), but it does remind me of being naked out in the open. Like breasts themselves, being naked itself is not solely sexual. It can be sexual, but in everyday life it very often is matter-of-fact: showering, getting dressed, peeing, maybe even going to the doctor's office for a physical. When I was giving birth, I realized how profoundly being naked was not sexual in that I felt completely free to show parts that I would normally keep covered -- because it was not that kind of showing them.

Breasts, too, can be sexual, but when they're used to feed an infant, they're just your everyday, matter-of-fact sort of things. Watching someone breastfeed is like watching someone eat in public -- no blanket required.


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