Monday, April 20, 2009

How to be Comfortable Around Breastfeeding

I recently learned that there is a monthly breastfeeding carnival and thought I'd join in this month. This month's theme is "How To." As the day continues I will edit this post to link to the other posts in the carnival. Welcome April Carnival of Breastfeeding readers!
Would you believe that while I was pregnant with my daughter, I wasn't comfortable around breastfeeding moms? It seems strange to think about now, but I wasn't. My experience with breastfeeding was little to none. My mom didn't breastfeed my siblings and the one time that I saw a woman breastfeeding when I was preteen, it was my neighbor across the street breastfeeding her toddler on her porch. While now I'd like to go find her and say, "Good for you!" at the time, my opinions where shaped by my parents: that it was disgusting and gross to breastfeed in front of other people- and especially a child who could talk.

When I was pregnant, I discovered lactivism by reading stories of women breastfeeding and their being "asked to leave" establishments or receiving rude comments. I came to understand that expecting a child or a mother to leave to cover up is to segregate them from their friends, family, and society in general. This is discrimination. But I still was uneasy around breastfeeding moms. I got over that- and this is what I did.

  1. Be around breastfeeding moms. This is probably the single most important step. I started going to LLL meetings and to a playgroup when I was pregnant. Even in Margaret's early days, I was still nervous being around breastfeeding moms, but the playgroups helped. As I saw their confidence, mine grew.
  2. Question why I was uneasy. I knew intellectually that breastfeeding wasn't obscene, wasn't indecent, wasn't wrong, yet I still got emotionally tied up. In my mind, I tried to approach those feelings. Is it because I was struggling with my understanding of modesty? Am I still sexualizing breasts? Is it because I am uncomfortable with my own body and breasts and their function and I'm imposing my own discomfort on the breastfeeding mother next to me?
  3. Eye contact. Like a friend of mine said, "It's like when you're with a friend at an ATM- do you try to look away when they put in their pin or do you continue facing them in conversation?" I was afraid that the mom would be nervous if I was looking at her. Would she be uncomfortable if her baby popped off and I saw a millisecond of nipple? I realized something though: if she's comfortable to be breastfeeding in front of you, then she's comfortable with whatever you might happen to see, so just keep talking and enjoying yourself. Would you turn away if she was handing the child pieces of fruit or crackers?
  4. Become a breastfeeding mother yourself. I know there are lots of people who can't do this step, but it was helpful. A lot of times when people are uneasy around breastfeeding, I know their opinions will probably change if they get the chance to do it themselves. Sometimes experience is the best teacher. Learning what it's like to be on the other end helped me be comfortable in my body and in my breasts and has helped me be comfortable with other moms' breasts.
It's not hard, but yet there seems to be so many invisible mental barriers. It took me some time, but I did it and I know you can do it too.
Photos taken by McKay, featuring Emily, Ruby, Margaret and me. And isn't Margaret just the epitome of good position? Don't worry- she was well supported. That girl can nurse upside down.


  1. Awesome post and pictures!

  2. I love your photos, you and your friend are so relaxed and natural.

    Most of us start off uncomfortable nursing in public-- me included.

  3. Your BF posts are always excellent! Thanks for another! I shared it on my Facebook profile! :)

  4. I'm really shocked that you of all people were ever uncomfortable around breastfeeding! Great post. Being a mother changes you in so many ways, this is just one of them!

  5. I love this! I never knew how to be around breastfeeding women for along time either. My family had pretty negative views of it and some of them still do. Even after I became a breastfeeding mom it was easier for me to breastfeed around others than to be around another woman who breastfed. Weird hey? Over time and by spending lots of time with other bfing moms it got much much easier. Thanks for your great post!

  6. I just had this very conversation with my sister, who is single. She asked why I wouldn't use a Hooter Hider and I said that I wasn't going to debate it with her. If/When she has babies, she can try to nurse with a cover. If she can, fine. But I suspect she will find, as I did, that the covers are basically useless if you are a) trying to manage a difficult breast/baby; b) you have a child who likes to grab.

  7. Great post! I was also uncomfortable around breastfeeding, until I did it myself. Which is fine. Something that is unknown and involves a part of the body that's considered 'private' will seem sort of odd if you're not accustomed to it.

    I think that the important thing is that someone's discomfort does not obligate the nursing mother to do anything differently. If everyone could just acknowledge that, I think the world would be a much easier place to breastfeed.

  8. I agree that it just takes practice and exposure to be comfortable around breastfeeding moms, but you know what I've been most impressed with is how my husband is SO comfortable around breastfeeding women now. He is great, he doesn't act weird or try to look away. It makes me proud-- I've even noticed that people who use to be uncomfortable around me breastfeeding (ie. my dad) are more comfortable around breastfeeding now!

  9. This is a very nice post. I actually have the opposite problem. I love breastfeeding, and I normally don't care about doing it in public. I am dreading an upcoming experience and I'm not sure how I will deal with it.

    I am going on a long trip this summer - 2 hours flight, then 5 hours in layover, then 13 hour flight. I know nursing will be a big part of keeping my 6 month old happy and secure during this crazy trip. But I am so afraid of getting yelled at or having strangers complain to me at the airport for breastfeeding in public. I really don't know how I will react.

  10. this made me also think about how we treat those who say they're uncomfortable with breastfeeding in public.

    (I honestly can't remember seeing women breastfeed before I was doing it myself. Maybe this was a self-selecting thing, because I was the first of my friends to have a kid? I know my mom breastfed (my littlest brother is 14 years younger than me), but I don't remember it being a big deal.)

    Anyway -- my point is that we (I) sometimes get really impatient/scornful of those who are "uncomfortable" about public nursing. (I'm thinking of how I felt when Barbara Walters was talking abt the woman next to her on a plane breastfeeding). And yet if women/girls who presumably plan to breastfeed themselves in the next few years are uncomfortable in the presence of breastfeeding before it is something they do themselves, then we need to cut other people, especially men and boys who will never breastfeed themselves, some slack.

    I'm not saying this sort of awareness campaign isn't a great idea (it is), but the wonderful honestly of Heather's and yours needs to accompany more understanding of those who are still in the uncomfortable camp, and who may, by virtue of never breastfeeding themselves, always remain so.

    I think we may be guilty of a bit of double standard here -- saying my discomfort is/was okay, but yours is prejudicial, irrational, and unhealthy. (and if I am the only guilty one, I do apologize).

  11. I think those are great tips! :^)

  12. @Heatherlady Your comment reminded me of this Hathor comic.

    @Iluska Ikeda I flew last summer when my daughter was 4 months old. I totally got the, "If your baby cries I will KILL you" eye from the guy across the aisle from me. At the end of the flight, he told me that I had a very quiet baby. I was lucky that on my first flight, I was next to a college-aged woman who was studying nutrition and on the return flight I was next to a 9 year old girl- so neither of my neighbors were very likely to give me any hassle about breastfeeding. I'd recommend reading the posts in PhDinParenting's nursing on an airplane series which is a very thorough look at tips for nursing on a plane and also a run-down of various airlines' policies.

    @Jane I think that if someone is exposed to breastfeeding enough, they'll no longer bat an eye. For some people it's 3 exposures, others 30, others 100, but eventually, it'll turn into no big deal. I think that when you become a breastfeeding mom, the number of and duration of exposures to breastfeeding increases substantially and that is why you get more comfortable. I do think that any man can reach that point even if they never breastfeed themselves- it might take a while, but it will happen. All the time, when I receive negative reactions to the idea of NIP, I remind myself that maybe this exposure won't get them to that point, but they're closer.

  13. I enjoyed this and am sharing it on FB right now!

  14. how do you participate in the carnival?? Who organizes it?

  15. Darn it! I was going to write about the nipple shield, but now I see Motherwear beat me to it!! Connor was on that thing for 4 crappy months. It was awful, especially if I forgot to bring one while we were out.

    I wish I had contacted an LLL leader instead of listening to the hospital lactation consultant. My breasts were so full that it made my nipples flat, and all they needed to do was let me pump a little first!!! Could have saved us a lot of misery.

  16. I love this post -- and would like to share it w/some friends & family some time, they could use a few pointers.

    When I was pregnant with my 1st child, I was lucky enough to "fall into" a group of crunchy, extended-nursing, home birthing, sweet mamas. Looking back, they grounded me and helped shape my view of mothering and nurturing, for which I'll be forever grateful.

    I've weaned what I think will be my last child now, but hope to point other women to your blog. It's great stuff!

  17. Any tips on how to be brave breastfeeding around people who think you should cover up? I've been shunned by my own family (as far as bf around them) and it's totally crippled my confidence.

  18. Lisa C- Maybe I'll post a "How to" on that, too. I definitely have breastfed in front of people who are uncomfortable with it, especially my family. Essentially, I just made it clear that if they weren't comfortable and wanted me to leave/cover up, they weren't going to get any visits. I also had a back up plan when I went to visit them. The public library is right across the street from their house and though I didn't ever need to say/do this, my plan was, "If I can't breastfeed here, then I'm going to the library where I know my rights are protected."

    And I should stop before I use up all my material for a blog post. ;)

  19. This is too good, you are really giving a lot of confidence to moms that are shy or hesitant to breastfeed their children publically.

    Nicole using Avent Isis these days


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