Monday, June 22, 2009

Easy, discreet way to breastfeed a toddler in public

Welcome to the June Carnival of Breastfeeding: Nursing in public

This month we're bringing you posts on the topic of breastfeeding while out and about. Be sure to check out the links at the end for the masses of other participants' excellent posts!


I'm a big fan of nursing in public. The reason is that babies nurse a lot, and eventually you're going to want to leave the house. There's absolutely nothing wrong with breastfeeding, because it's the normative way to feed your baby. But just because it's the biological norm doesn't make it the cultural one, which is why breastfeeding in public can take some getting used to, even for the boldest mamas among us.

That's why I've written several times about nursing in public before.

There's my post on NIP tips, easy and inexpensive ways to nurse discreetly while out and about. My basic tip, and one that's served me well, is to wear two shirts, preferably with stretchy necklines, then lift one up over the active breast (I just coined that term, and it's amusing me) and one down underneath the active breast (I needed to use it again, for fun), leaving just the right size opening for a latch.

There's my post about my failed attempt to use a nursing coverup. When my son was an infant, I tried casually draping a blanket over my shoulder on a boat tour, and the whipping wind just made me more conspicuous, like I had pinned a banner proclaiming "I'm bare-breasted over here!" to my shirt.

There was my recent run-in with a covered-up mother at the playground, who it turns out was bottle feeding. For some reason, that made me laugh.

Since my son is two years old and still nursing with the frequency of a newborn — ok, I might be exaggerating: let's say a four-month-old (I counted 16 times the other day) — I've also been thinking a lot about what it means to nurse in public with a toddler. Am I required to be more discreet, so as not to jeopardize breastfeeding's hard-won and fragile foothold in American parenting society? Or should I continue to be outwardly insouciant about the matter and let other people get over their hang-ups without any help from me?

It's further complicated, the older my son gets, by his increasing physical and verbal insistence. He has a sound for "nummies" now, which so far sounds nothing like any word people would recognize, almost like a dolphin cursing. But his little grabby paws pulling at my shirt are an unmistakable signal to anyone looking for evidence of a nursling.

But my husband and I have a phrase we use all the time that is so far the tack I've taken: "Procrastination pays off."

Ok, it's not much for a family motto, not the kind you'd want engraved on your coat of arms. But we've found that often, if we don't think too hard to try too keenly, things have a way of resolving themselves. So, for now, I'm just letting Mikko nurse when he wants to, wherever we are, and trusting that the rarity of a nursing toddler will partially protect him. People see what they expect to see, after all, and few people expect to see a large two-year-old latched on.

I'll illustrate this with a story and a tip, all in one.

My son is heavy. He's actually gotten a little lighter recently, as he's shooting up and slimming down, so he's at a fighting 34 and a half pounds. But, still, he can be a load to carry if you don't have both arms to do the lifting.

He can walk, and likes to about half the time, but the other half he still likes to be held. I don't, however, always have a wrap or sling with me anymore when we go out, because of his increased mobility. Invariably, there comes a time when we're running errands that he needs "shnhee shnhee" (that's the closest approximation I can get to what he's calling it), and I'm trying to walk somewhere or get some shopping done. I don't always feel like taking a break, and there often isn't anywhere convenient to sit. I'll admit that sometimes I've just plopped right down in an aisle on the floor, but usually I'm on a mission and don't want to abort.

So, here's my latest tip for nursing in public, particularly good for older babies and heavy babies. Hold your child on your hip. Pull your shirt and bra down from the top, and let the little sucker latch on. Continue walking casually.

That's it.

I know, it's not that exciting. And, really, you could do it a lot easier with a sling or wrap to assist you (both with weight and discretion) in a hip or front carry.

But what's so intriguing to me about this NIP technique is how discreet it is on its own. It goes back to what I was saying about people seeing what they expect to see.

A mama sitting on a bench, with a long-legged toddler cradled across her lap, pressed close to her bosom: Either he's unusually calm, or he's nursing. A mama walking through a store with a toddler on her hip whose head is down: No one thinks anything of it.

Here's my story to illustrate. I was walking through the mall with two good friends (single and without children so far), and these friends have known me since before Mikko was even a tiny bump in my belly. We've been meeting weekly throughout Mikko's life, and they've seen me nurse him at every single one of those get-togethers. I couldn't hide it from them if I wanted to, and why would I want to? So they know he still nurses like a champ, and they expect to see it at every meeting.

One of my friends looked at Mikko nursing away as we walked along and said, "Boy, he's really sleepy tonight, isn't he?"

I just laughed and asked when he had ever fallen asleep while we were out, and she realized in surprise that he was eating.

So there it is. Sometimes I get myself more worked up about what other people are seeing or thinking of me than I need to, and it helps me to remember (and here's another mantra I tell myself) that no one's as fascinated with you as you are. Most people are thinking just of themselves and not trying too hard to analyze what your kid's doing against your chest there. There will be a few kooks out there who will stare at every mama with a potential nursling, hoping to scold or shame, but thankfully I haven't run into any of them.

My best tip for nursing in public is just to do it. Just treat it as normal. Practice it a lot. Be casual and confident, continue your conversations, practice in the mirror beforehand if it helps reassure you that your child's head and body, and your own clothing, hide a lot.

Most of all, just concentrate on your sweet child, whether she's three months old or three years old, and know that you're giving her something she needs. Mama love.


Please read the excellent posts from our other carnival participants:

Breastfeeding Mums: "Nursing in Public - What's a Breastfeeding Mother to Do!!"
Never a Dull Moment…: "Breastfeeding Hats? YES! Nursing Covers? Uh... Not So Much"
Breastfeeding Moms Unite!: "Nursing in Public: A Fresh Perspective on Nurse-In's"
Tales of Life With a Girl on the Go: "Planes, trains and automobiles - we’ve breastfed in them all"
babyREADY: "A wee NIP in the park!!"
Mama Knows Breast: "Products that can Help You Breastfeed in Public"
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: "Get kicked off a bus for nursing in public? Here's how to respond."
Musings on Mamahood: "NIP, no tuck"
Blacktating: "Thank You for Nursing in Public"
Warm Hearts Happy Family: "Breastfeeding and the summertime"
Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: "Why Worry About NIP?"
Stork Stories: "Little Old Men... & Nursing in Public"
Breastfeeding 1-2-3: "To Cover or Not to Cover"
Mommy News & Views Blog: "Breastfeeding In Public"
Tiny Grass: "Nursing in Public as an Immigrant"
Mother Mary's Soapbox: "June Carnival: Breastfeeding in Public: Breastfeeding Oriana"
Massachusetts Friends of Midwives: "Nursing in Public: Chinatown, the Subway, the Vatican, and More"
MumUnplugged: "Aww, is he sleeping?"
GrudgeMom: "Nursing in a room full of people you know"
Kim Through the Looking Glass: "Here? At the restaurant?"
PhD in Parenting: "Would you, could you nurse in public?"
Dirty Diaper Laundry: "Breastfeeding in Public- Talents- I haz it"
Lucy & Ethel Have a Baby: "Nursing in Public (Boobs) Out and Proud"

Photo titled "Would you, could you in a tram?"
courtesy Ronen's Dad on flickr (cc)


Elita said...

I'll let you in on a secret: the big, bad, breastfeeding blogger is scared to nurse her toddler in public. A baby, I could handle. My 19 month old? The whole thing makes me too nervous. He has maybe asked to nurse in public twice and both times forgot about it when I handed him his cup. Thanks for these tips, though. Maybe next time I will try to walk around with him and see if anyone notices!

Melodie said...

I love it! I totally agree, although my 34 lb 26 mo is getting a little harder to nurse while I walk around, but truly, the more comfortable and nonchalant about it you are the less people notice. This is a weird comparison but it's like shoplifting. The pros don't get caught and the worriers do. (No, I'm not a shoplifter in case you are wondering!)

Lisa C said...

My baby is almost a toddler! I'm so excited to have a nursing toddler. It really does get more fun. As for nursing in public...if he really really wants it, then yeah, I'll do it. Otherwise, I think he will be too distracted and keep popping off. In public. Ak. It shouldn't be a big deal, but I've heard enough negative comments about it that it makes me nervous!

Michelle said...

I had to laugh about the bottlefeeding mother who was using a cover - good reminder that sometimes it's not about mom's modesty, it's about a distractible baby.

My kids never would have stood for it - any attempt at covering resulted in a flailing scene that almost certainly ended in someone not only seeing full nipple, but probably milk sprays too.

Mom On The Go said...

My daughter was too acrobatic - or I was too clutzy - to nurse and walk when she was 2. I think your idea is good one, if you can carry it off, though. It's good to look for what people aren't expecting as camouflage.

Lauren Wayne said...

elita & lisa c: I haven't definitely become more aware that I'm nursing in public now that I have a toddler. There's definitely a different vibe, even if only in my own mind. I try not to be paranoid about it, though, because then I stop focusing on my child and what he needs and just on these strangers and what they perhaps want, and I realize how silly that is! But maybe it will become more & more normal, and then it won't be a big deal.

melodie: Love the shoplifting analogy! Perfect. And, no, I didn't figure you were a criminal.

michelle: No kidding. Cover his head?! He would think it was either a hilarious game or torture, depending on level of tiredness. Either way, never mind!

mom on the go: Yeah, ours just turned 2, so we'll see if this still works even a few months down the road. He gets pretty intent on eating for several minutes at a time still, which lends itself to success.

Roxanne Beckford Hoge said...

Bravo! Nursed my four everywhere, in lots of countries, planes, trains, automobiles, and more. Have to say, most challenging? Nursing twin infants in public -- the only time I retired to a lounge because I needed a lot of time to get everyone situated. But by the time they were 6 months old, we were in line in Customs at home in Jamaica, and I had one in a sling, my hubby had the other, and both were hungry. And tired. And it was HOT. So I put the other sling on in the opposite direction and -- ta da! -- I could nurse two babies and walk and talk. Did that for the next three years. :)
Nursing a toddler is why my girlfriend Shannon warns people to learn from her mistake -- she refered to nursing as "boobie" -- cute at home with a baby just learning to talk. A tad attention-getting with a very tall, very verbal toddler!

Kate Wicker said...

"My best tip for nursing in public is just to do it." AMEN!!!

Amanda said...

What a wonderful post, and carnival topic. I nursed my son until he was 31 months. Very often in public! I just grew thicker skin and learnt to look people in the eyes when they looked at me. That always made them stop staring.

The Poor Husband said...

For a hilarious breast-feeding in public story, please check out
It gives a great account of some of our experiences while my wife was breastfeeding our children.

Hope you enjoy.

Treatment Shop said...

Thank you for sharing this. Looking forward for more of your update soon.

Sarah said...

I'm nursing my two year old daughter. I plan to just keep doing it until she's done. One thing I enjoy about nursing an older child is that her head is now big enough to mostly hide the view of my breast. :)

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