breastfeeding

It’s Totally Okay To Feel Uncomfortable Breastfeeding In Public

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mother-breastfeeding-infantI think by now it’s pretty clear that Mommyish as a whole is pretty “pro-boobies anywhere” when it comes to keeping your kid fed, and I’ll gladly add my voice to that position. You should be able to feed in public comfortably and without stares and without people harassing you. I’d also like to add something else to that conversation, and that’s that if you don’t like breastfeeding in public or feel uncomfortable doing it at the DMV or doctor’s office or in an Olive Garden, that’s okay too. I know I certainly hated it.

I can’t really put my finger on why. It’s not that it felt dirty or immodest or shameful or rude. I certainly didn’t feel weird when other people were doing it. To me it just felt, well, private. Even at home with my husband I tended to excuse myself to the bedroom, not because he or I would have ever minded, but because I needed the quiet space to get it done.

On the rare occasions that I breastfed in public, I was never harassed, and for that I feel extremely grateful. In fact, I was complimented for my efforts on two occasions, and while I know it sounds whiny, I’ll say it anyway; those two positive comments made me want to crawl into a hole. They made an already uncomfortable situation unbearable.

The first was at college. I was waiting for my husband to get out of class, didn’t have a bottle on me, and the hallway was empty, so we got down to business. Right as I was smooshing my mams into prime latching shape, a fellow student passed, did a double take, and smiled widely. “Hells, yeah. Good for you, Mama!”

Okay. One, I hate being called something that isn’t my name, unless it’s food related. My husband calls me mustard. It’s awesome. Two, I was glad for the support but felt like she was misreading me. I wasn’t fighting the power. I just wanted to feed my baby alone. Still I smiled back at her and fist bumped her when she came close.

The second time we were out with my inlaws at a country restaurant with bathrooms so dirty I swear I saw a single herpe climbing the walls, so out came my boobs, as inconspicuously as possible under a pink flannel blanket.

An elderly couple across from us came over to thank me for being brave enough to breastfeed in public, telling me no one had the right to bother me and letting me know that I was doing the best possible thing for my baby.

I turned extremely red because for one thing, I definitely wasn’t brave enough to feed in public. It was the less terrifying of two options at that particular time. For another, we basically supplemented with breastmilk. My child ate formula most often, so I felt like a hypocrite and a coward.

I immediately tensed up, my daughter could sense it, and she started screaming and thrashing, so of course the cover came ripping off. I remember feeling kind of embarrassed, and then a little angry, and then like a douche for feeling angry because they were just trying to be nice. Again I smiled and thanked them and they went on their way.

Now that I’m done breastfeeding, I think I finally get it. When I see a mom out in public trying to juggle a baby and a cover and a diaper bag I immediately want to support them. To give them a knowing smile or a thumbs up or really anything to let them know it’s okay.

The only thing that keeps me from doing that is remembering how awkward it felt when it was me.

One day, breastfeeding women will be invisible in the best possible way, I hope. It’ll be like tying your shoes or reading a book or any of those other innocuous things that you see people do in public. It’s only because so many women are shamed out of doing it that both of those women felt I needed their support. Once that stops, it won’t be any more remarkable than feeding your baby crackers or a bottle.

Until then, though, it’s completely okay if you feel a little weird doing it. I will try my best to not make you feel weirder.

(Image: Iakov Filiminov/shutterstock)

35 Comments

  1. Valerie

    October 9, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    I totally hear ya. I did get comfortable eventually (as one is forced to with a nursing-addict baby who refuses a bottle) but if anyone ever said anything to me, I would have felt super weird and self-conscious.

  2. Guinevere

    October 9, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Totes agree.

  3. Katherine Handcock

    October 9, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Absolutely agree! I was always comfortable nursing in public (well, after they got past the total newborn stage where you had to manhandle the little sucker to the thing they were supposed to be sucking). But if you’re not, no one should give you a hard time. It’s just a preference.

  4. LadyClodia the Modest Rat

    October 9, 2014 at 5:09 pm

  5. Boozy Shark Lee

    October 9, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Thank you, I never wanted to admit this but today I will. I felt weird nursing in public. I did a few times out of desperation but it never felt right. The only people I nursed in front of at home was my mom and husband and both were there when I gave birth. I didn’t like using a cover so I went into our room if anyone else was over.

  6. ChickenKira

    October 9, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    In Australia (well, in Melbourne at least, I don’t know about anywhere else) a lot of places, mostly shopping centres have parents rooms that feature breastfeeding cubicles with curtains you can close, some have just plain chairs some have super comfy chairs (the one near me has recliners, freaking awesome) as well as a kitchenette to heat up formula or baby food, and often a little play area for any older siblings (or toddlers who want to play after food). There are usually couches out in the open too for parents who just want to sit in peace and don’t mind being a bit more public within the parents room, or want to keep older kids within eyesight.

    I formula fed, so I left the cubicles for breastfeeding mothers and sat on the couches, but you know what, I just went in there for the peace. My kid was a really distracted eater, and yes, while the kids on the little playground was a distraction, it was nothing compared to attempting to feed her out in the food court or whatever. Also the one near my mother’s house had a television so I sat there, fed my kid and watched some Ellen and that was pretty cool.

    Anyway, my point is, breastfeeding cubicles = awesome, especially if they have recliners.

    • SunnyD847

      October 9, 2014 at 5:32 pm

      Parents lounges were great when my daughter got in a phase of whipping her head around at every little sound. Not only was she exposing my breast to everyone but it HURT!

    • alexesq33

      October 10, 2014 at 7:38 am

      my daughter now does this with the bottle – she gets herself try to straighten her out before feeding her. I don’t see how she can swallow like that, but she seems to manage…

    • leahdawn

      October 10, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      My friend had to actually stop breastfeeding her son for that exact reason. He was so distractable and couldn’t sit still even as a baby. She was not surprised at all when he was diagnosed with ADHD, he was hyper from day one!

    • the_ether

      October 12, 2014 at 3:51 am

      My three week old has already started doing this 🙁

    • chaoren92

      October 9, 2014 at 7:34 pm

      Thanks for your idea, I will suggest the local supermarket.

    • Gangle

      October 9, 2014 at 7:49 pm

      Our shopping centres have brilliant parents rooms. Plus, just down a short street in our CBD the ABA has the best parents room. Super comfy chairs, a kitchenette for heating food/bottles and making yourself a cup of tea. I have no problems with breastfeeding in public, but sometimes it is just nice to be in a quiet space.

    • Amber Leigh Wood

      October 9, 2014 at 9:15 pm

      We have them in Queensland too

    • the_ether

      October 12, 2014 at 3:50 am

      I’ve been pro-boobs-in-public for a long time, and assumed that when I was breastfeeding I would have no need of parent’s lounges except for nappy changes. Well, I’ve got my first baby now, and while I have and will continue to breastfeed in public, it is awfully nice to know that after my kid wakes up crying for a feed while I’m waiting in line at Woolies, there is a quiet place for me to go and decompress while I feed them.

  7. SunnyD847

    October 9, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Yeah, I never minded feeding in public, but I certainly didn’t want extra attention on me. Just ignore it – unless someone else is hassling a breast-feeding mom in which case you should tell that person to STFU.

  8. Jennie Blair

    October 9, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    But but but the extremists on my facebook say you have to so that way the world knows they are for nothing but baby food…..

    • Gangle

      October 9, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      I HATE that attitude. I am a bit of a breastfeeding advocate, but I hate that ‘all or nothing’ crap that some people go with when it comes to breastfeeding. My feeling is that there is no external reason why you should feel too scared to breastfeed in public – it is perfectly normal and legal – but at the same time you should do what feels most comfortable for you. That can mean anything from not using any cover to using a cover to sitting in your car to not feeding in a public space at all. Whatever feeding choices a mother decides on, the most important thing is that she feeds her baby and that both she and baby are happy, comfortable and healthy.

    • Victoria

      October 10, 2014 at 1:39 am

      The extremists say a lot of things with super misogynistic implications…

  9. LocalMom29

    October 9, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    Excellent post. I think this is all part of being pro-choice/pro-woman, right? To be clear: I am in no way equating breastfeeding with abortion. My point is that a woman is entitled to do what she thinks best with her own body, and any feelings she has about it are valid and should be respected. Theresa was a little uncomfortable breastfeeding in public – totally cool. She’s not passing judgment on anyone else’s decision to breastfeed (or not), or how/where/when to do it. Her body, her decision, her feelings. Good for you, Mustard!

  10. Frannie

    October 9, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    I had to nurse this weekend at the state fair. I had a cover, I found a bench off the beaten path in a shady spot, and I still felt totally exposed and uncomfortable. I hate nursing outside of the house. I support exposed and covered breastfeeding 100% in other women, but for me I am just way too shy to feel empowered by it.

  11. EX

    October 9, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    I felt pretty self conscious about breast feeding in public with my first. Now that I am on the second round of this I have clearly run completely out of fucks to give. Maybe it’s the chronic sleep deprivation, but whatever discomfort I had is gone now.

  12. Cindy Ailey

    October 9, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    I was more comfortable nursing in public when I was out and about alone, not with my husband. He was way more uptight about it than I was, always trying to adjust the cover, and hovering over me like it was some sort of secret mission. I was like “chill out dude, you’re making me nervous.” If I was alone, I would just feed my baby, no big whoop.

    Also, whenever we went to dinner at his parents’ house, I would go in the guest bedroom. His dad was super uncomfortable with anything to do with “woman stuff.”

    • Picklejar

      October 9, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      YES! I will breastfeed in public all day long, and I will breastfeed in front of my husband all night – but never the twain shall meet. He gets so weird about it in public. He’s like the Guardian of the Booby – standing sentry over my exposed breast should the Gherkin unlatch for a split second.

      But I won’t breastfeed in front of my father-in-law, my stepfather-in-law, or my own father. Nor will I breastfeed in front of my male friends or my husband’s male friends. They don’t need to see my boobies – and I don’t need to see theirs. It’s mutual.

  13. AlbinoWino

    October 9, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    Yeah, I’m just a very naturally modest person. I don’t hate my body or feel particularly insecure about it. I just have never felt comfortable changing in front of other people my whole life. My mom always changed in front of me and loads of other people but I have liked my privacy since I was a tiny kid. So if I ever have a baby and breastfeed I imagine it will be much the same. People should do what they want but I’m not going to feel any guilt about doing it out in public all of the time.

    • chill

      October 10, 2014 at 5:24 am

      I’m with you. That’s fine if others want to breastfeed in public, but I never could. I’d rather sit in an uncomfortable car than do it in public. Thank god that after my babies started going to daycare at 3 months, which coincidentally was the same time they grew teeth and started biting while nursing, they preferred bottles, so I pumped the rest of the time. The end result was the same and we were all happy.

  14. lea

    October 10, 2014 at 12:05 am

    I get where you are coming from. While I am what I suppose you’d call a breast feeding advocate, and I generally boob my son anywhere, anytime, and without a cover (his preference as well as mine), I do get that positive attention can be as intrusive as negative. I prefer the positive kind to the negative (having been the recipient of both, though thankfully the positive far outweighing the negative), but I’d prefer no attention best of all.

    No one would congratulate you for feeding your 7 year old. “Hells yeah, mumma, you hand that child a sandwich, whoop whoop”.

    Breast feeding should be the same thing.

  15. C.J.

    October 10, 2014 at 1:01 am

    I was never comfortable breastfeeding in public. It doesn’t bother me if other people do. I would use the nursing rooms or the car or a bottle. I didn’t care if my female friends were around when I breastfed. If we had male friends over I used a cover. I never breastfed in front of my dad or grandpa, I would go in the bedroom or give a bottle. Neither would have said anything to me but I knew it would make them uncomfortable.

  16. Marisa Quinn-Haisu

    October 10, 2014 at 1:28 am

    I didn’t like the idea of breast feeding in public because I have giant fun bags that are hard to wrangle

    • candyvines

      October 10, 2014 at 4:26 am

      You need this guy:

      Edit – ugh, Disqus, why twice?

  17. The Kez

    October 10, 2014 at 5:12 am

    I was initially a bit anxious, but by the time I had my second kid I was more like, whatever. My only problem is the mum shaming by women (not this writer obvs) who say, I had 4 kids and I only fed them at home/under a blanket/in a dark room/never in front of my husband so you should too. Sometimes breastfeeding is magical and beautiful and private and sometimes it’s just getting the damn baby fed so you can get on with your day.

  18. Jen TheTit Whisperer

    October 10, 2014 at 9:27 am

    This is awesome. Just because you can (and should be able to) do something, doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable doing it. Not every driver is comfortable driving on the expressway. Can you BF in public? Of course. But if it’s not your jam, don’t (when possible). You’re not hurting the BF movement if it’s not your thing.

  19. Guest

    October 10, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    It’s totally okay to feel uncomfortable breastfeed at all.

  20. Kristen

    October 10, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Totally! I read a rant on facebook once about nursing covers. I love my nursing cover. My daughter sometimes tolerated it. When she didn’t, I NIP without, but usually somewhere out of the way, with as little skin showing as possible. I enjoyed nursing and I enjoy being out and about, so I learned to NIP but always did it pretty shyly. Everyone has to do what they are comfortable with!

  21. Litterboxjen

    October 10, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    I took my son for his first post-birth checkup earlier this week, and he decided he needed to be fed in the waiting room. I’d left the cover in the car, so I just did what I could to be discreet (as much as one can when dealing with a newborn and all that entails). There was a grandmother-type sitting near me who started talking to me about him and her grandkids, and I swear was staring at me the entire time I was nursing him (both when we were chatting and when we weren’t). It made me feel very uncomfortable, and I was glad when she got called into her appointment shortly thereafter.

  22. brebay

    October 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    Breastfeeding in public is like tattoos. You don’t have to like them or ever, ever want to get one, but you do have to leave people who do alone, no matter how “uncomfortable” they make your little sensibilities.

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