Thursday, September 22, 2011

Four years and four months: Revisiting NIP

Two things sneaked up on me:
Alrik is now four months old, and I didn't even realize it yesterday on the day.

My blog is now four years old, and I missed the blogiversary date by a mile.

In honor of both, I'm revisiting an article I wrote September 22, 2007, when Mikko was just about this age. (Yes, I started my blog at this age in my first baby's life — I'm still kind of surprised by that for no good reason. I was thinking parenting all the time — why not write about it?) Since I once again have a baby nursing all the time outside the house, I present my very first time writing about how I breastfeed in public. I think it's still pretty apt. I've tried not to change anything substantive, though I have added notes. Because if there's one thing my articles need to be, it's longer. Can I get an amen?

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. {Four years in, and breastfeeding a four-year-old and a newborn, I still have had no one challenge my right to nurse wherever I want to. I keep thinking I'm due…}

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. {Couple notes from the future: I still don't use a nursing cover or think they're necessary, but I can understand why some mamas use them, and that's fine. Also, I'm not always "discreet" when I breastfeed in public, and I think that's fine, too. Discretion is in the eye of the judge, yes? And I want the judge of my breastfeeding appropriateness to be my child, not random strangers.}

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 {this is a very convoluted parenthesis}) 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 {I eventually decided what I was gonna do was upgrade to some decent bras that actually fit, but I still appreciate that there are less expensive ones out there for those who need them}), 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.

{I'm about half and half for doing this method versus pulling both shirts down from the top. If I'm somewhere where people are looking at me, I prefer to keep my chest covered, so if I pull down from the top, I'll use a burp cloth or my hand or my sweater to cover the top of my breast. Again, I'm not pressuring anyone else to do so, but I also defend my own right to do what makes me feel comfortable. I found that I tend to be more discreet with a newborn and loosen up more into the toddler years, which perhaps seems backward. It might be because newborns nurse so dang frequently and for so long, whereas when Mikko was a toddler and nursing in public, it was often just a quick pit stop, so I didn't feel like going through the rigmarole of adjusting my shirts. Or maybe I just get blasé after awhile?}

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 just … you 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 shirts 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 hope you realize I realized even then this was a silly reaction. Just keeping it real, folks. I'm much less squeamish about nursing in a mei tai now and do it a lot when I'm on the move. But I still prefer to cover up top when I do. Or — and I can't be the only one, right? — I'll just hold my baby in arms, sans carrier, in the cradle position and nurse as I walk. Makes me feel kind of like a milk truck as I cruise around with my baby latched on. I always wonder if people know what's going on or if they think Alrik's just sleeping. This only works when they're on the lighter side, of course, which in hindsight is probably why I didn't do that with Mikko. Funny nuggets o' information: Alrik is on the large side at four months — a couple weeks ago, he measured 26 inches long and 15.3 pounds, and he's wearing size 9 month clothing. Mikko at the same age was about 25 pounds and was wearing 18 month clothing. Hee hee hee. He was such a freak; it cracks me up now. Ok, back to NIP.}

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.

{Well. I still agree.}

What are your best tips for nursing in public? What has and hasn't worked for you?


Gaby @ Tmuffin said...

Your tip about wearing a tank top under shirts is awesome. I do that every day of my life now. The cheaper, the better, because the straps are stretchier.

Here's another tip: If you use a moby or a stretchy wrap, tie it on before you leave the house, and wear a shirt that pulls down from the top (or that unbuttons). When you need to nurse your baby, take baby out of the wrap but keep the wrap on. Then pull down your shirt and pop out your boob. The wrap will cover the top of your boob and/or baby's head so you won't feel so exposed!

Laura said...

I just love this post... I laughed and laughed! Every. Single. Time. I try to cover up, it's disastrous... so I don't. Except today because I was in a strange position and had a very attentive audience of a prepubescent body. :)

Momma Jorje said...

I have definitely done the cradle carry nursing while walking around shopping. I found it a little more exhausting, but generally it was worth it to get the shopping finished!

Momma Jorje said...

Oh, also... I'm not very discreet either! I nursed Sasha at a Company Christmas party (with booze). It cracked me up when I saw the Senior Manager (known to be a bit of a dog) do a double take! lol

Unknown said...

I'll give you an amen! Also, I really appreciate your use of the phrase "boobal region." =D

Anonymous said...

This makes me smile to read. I was practically militant the first year of Libra's life, adamant about breastfeeding him in public without any Hooter Hiders or cover-ups, because We Had The Right, Dammit. While we were in the hospital I didn't even bother wearing shirts or bras, and at home I usually just wore a nursing bra if the weather was warm enough. The first time my father came to visit his first grandchild I opened the door for him with Libra latched on.

I'd found that, like you, the things that made me feel weird about breastfeeding in public or in front of family or friends were the things that made me feel like I had something to hide: the time my mother tried to tuck a blanket over Libra and me at a salon; any time I got rude stares (and I did get them, but thankfully no one said anything, not even the waiter who was Very Surprised when he realized I did, in fact, have a boob out to feed my infant).

Thanks so much for sharing this.

Annalia said...

I also do the tank/t-shirt combo for my almost 5 month old and it totally works! I always NIP and have yet to get hit with any comments (Ive only gotten comments from family). And when I cover up seems to be the moment everyone sees my nipple. Oh well.

I would like to know if anyone has tips on nursing without a pillow in public. I've been using the "my brest friend" (horrible name) at home but nothing seems to help when I want to quickly feed -- I've tried a towel, purse, etc. with no luck. Any recs?

Richard Elzey said...

Great to read some of your blog Hobomama... great url by the way.

I'll stop in and say Hello every now and then.

Good Luck,

Lauren Wayne said...

@Annalia: There is a My Brest Friend travel pillow, but it's inflatable — I'd only think it's worth the trouble to inflate & deflate it if you're settling in for awhile, so the "quickly" part of your question doesn't apply. When looking up that one, I found this Peek Away Travel Nursing Pillow — it's pricey, but if you look at the other images and see how it works in use, maybe you could finagle something similar yourself — a flattish pillow that folds in half to prop the baby up enough.

Just so you know, though, here's what I do, and it's free: Cross one leg over the other. I know, it's fancy. I then prop the baby and my arm up on the higher leg. If I can manage it, I'll position myself somewhere where I can prop the lower foot onto something (like a stool, curb, chair rung, etc.) to make my crossed thigh even higher. And know that it does get easier the longer you practice and the bigger your baby gets — eventually, you won't notice the difference between having a pillow and not.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Richard Elzey: I love your site's name! I'm enjoying poking around there — thanks for stopping by. :)

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