The first time I breastfed in public was more than ten years ago. My daughter, Lila, was two months old. At first, I fed Lila at home. I didn’t go out much, and when I did leave the house, I stayed close to home so I could rush back for feedings.
This is absolutely no way to live, so I decided to take a leap, leave the house and roam free.
For the first few hours, Lila slept in a carrier against my chest while I wandered around Brooklyn. I felt the sunshine on my face, had real conversations with other adults in the world outside my bedroom. It was lovely. When Lila began to wake, I turned my sights to home. She struggled and moaned; I hastened my gait. She began to cry, and I accelerated to a trot. When her screams hit a crescendo, I had to make a choice: Break into a full run or find somewhere closer to feed her.
That right there was the moment I decided my sanity was more important than hiding my boobs, so I found an empty bench at the nearest park and settled Lila on my breast. It’s not easy. Babies wiggle. I needed two hands to latch, and out flopped my boob for all to see. Most averted their eyes, but one woman hairy eyeballed me and scowled to express her discontent.
I became more adept at breastfeeding, but the disapproving looks never went away. Yes, some were supportive, but too often the general sentiment screams “Go to the bathroom. Go home. Go anywhere, just don’t do that in front of me.”
Ten years later, my second child Charlie was born. Now, I’m living in northwest Argentina. Thankfully, Argentines don’t give a damn if you breastfeed in public. In fact, they expect it.
Soon after Charlie’s birth, I met a friend for coffee. When Charlie started crying hunger, I scrambled to find a private space. The place we chose, normally quiet, was inexplicably packed with women drinking coffee, kids running around like maniacs, not a single empty area.
“Should I go to the bathroom?” I asked my friend.
She looked at me like I was nuts. “Just do it here,” she shrugged.
“It’s ok in public?”
“Claro. Your baby needs to eat. What else would you do?” She was incredulous. It never for a moment occurred to her that there was another option.
Since then, I’ve been breastfeeding in public with wild abandon.
A short list of the places I’ve brought out the boob in the past three months:
We went to the Registro Civil in Salta to register Charlie’s birth. It’s what all babies born in Argentina must do to prove they exist. “Da la teta!” the woman at the office commanded so he would be distracted while she took his fingerprints. So give him the tit I did.
I boobed him at the pizza shop in Tigre as we chatted with a man beside his brick oven about whether New York or Argentina has better pizza. “Best in Argentina,” I told him but didn’t mention that NY pizza will always win with me.
That chichi cafe in Buenos Aires that reminded me of something you’d find on the Upper East Side? Yep. I breastfed at my table while a woman at another table sat drinking tea, one side of her shirt up, her little girl taking nips whenever she felt hungry. The couple with her were probably her parents, but who knows, could have been a job interview.
In the line at immigration where we stood with five hundred others waiting to renew their visas.
At a friend’s dinner party. I moved to the couch to be more comfortable, and the two women at dinner joined me for a chat.
At a lawyer’s office.
Meeting with an architect to go over plans.
At a wifi cafe.
In the car.
At the park.
In short, anywhere I need to go, baby comes with me and eats when he needs to eat.
While Argentina may have its problems, breastfeeding women are not among them. Women aren’t sequestered or sent to bathrooms. There’s no judgment. I never find men staring at my swollen postpartum breasts. They give me the privacy I need even while in public.
I am not entitled. I do not believe the world revolves around me and my baby. Believe me, I have no desire for you to see my breasts. I do, however, understand that babies who breastfeed grow into toddlers who want to run. Those toddlers become children who express themselves loudly and with great abandon no matter how many times you remind them to use their inside voices. But bit at a time, we teach our children that ultimately, we must live in harmony with other people and respect the needs of others. This is what I’ve taught Lila, and it’s what I plan to teach Charlie.
It seems those of you who believe that every breastfeeding woman must stay under cover and out of your way could use a bit of that lesson yourself.
(photo: javi_indy/ Shutterstock)