04 August 2012

World Breastfeeding Week: Nursing in Public, Part 2

Continuing our examination of different mindsets toward breastfeeding in public.

Those who support breastfeeding, but are made uncomfortable by seeing it in public.
- If this is the mother, no sweat.  Not everyone is comfortable nursing in public, and that isn't wrong; feed your baby in the way that makes both of you comfortable.
- If this is another person, why might they be responding this way?  It could be either of the reasons discussed in the previous post, simply to a lesser degree.  Perhaps, too, the nursing mother seems uncomfortable or unsure of herself:  If the mother is giving others the impression that she is uncomfortable being seen while she breastfeeds, it stands to reason that people who pick up on her discomfort will be made uncomfortable themselves, and may carry this discomfort over into interactions with other breastfeeding mothers.
- How can this mindset be addressed?  If the mother is uncomfortable nursing in public, she obviously doesn't have to do it.  In fact, forcing herself to breastfeed in public when it makes her uncomfortable will likely spread the discomfort to those around her, and her stress may make the baby fussy, increasing her discomfort at being in public... it's a downward spiral which isn't good for anyone involved.  More private places to nurse are almost always available; they are not usually as convenient, but if they make it easier for mom and baby, then they are worth it.
If other people seem to be uncomfortable, but not antagonistic, with a mother breastfeeding in public, chances are good that a simple effort to be discrete will be enough to lessen their discomfort, and they may well be willing to dialogue.

Those who consider it normal, natural, and nothing to be ashamed of.
- If this is the mother, her baby is surely grateful for her willingness to feed him whenever he is hungry.  Be aware of the possibility of different mindsets in those around you, though; breastfeeding should always be about the good of the child, not done for the sake of making a point to those who disagree with you.  Also, the fact that breastfeeding is nothing to be ashamed of does not mean breastfeeding mothers should throw discretion to the wind: breastfeeding is not a modesty issue, but women who chose to breastfeed flagrantly in public for the sake of some political point risk making it one.
- If this is another person, thank you for not looking down on mothers who are trying to feed their child as best they know how.  Care should always be taken the other direction as well, being sure to avoid looking down on or pressure mothers who choose not to breastfeed in public for any reason.
- Addressing this mindset:   Discretion.  For the nursing mother, discretion means being aware of the sensibilities of other people, and refraining from wantonly displaying more skin than necessary during breastfeeding.  "Necessary" varies from mom to mom and baby to baby, and isn't something that anyone else is in a position to judge, but it is important for the mother to be thinking about when nursing in public.  For others, "discretion" is much more circumstantially defined.  For example, if a mother is nursing in public in such a way as to avoid drawing attention to herself, discretion means allowing her to do so, while in a situation where a mother expresses her intention to go breastfeed in private, discretion means not making a big deal out of how you don't mind her staying.

I know that I haven't nearly addressed all of the possible motivations behind each of these mindsets.  Do/did you breastfeed in public? (Or, if you don't have kids, does it bother you?)  Why or why not?

1 comment:

  1. I did nurse in public. Andrew didn't like the nursing cover, so I did a lot of practicing and dressed for nursing modestly. Usually that meant grabbing a zip-up hoodie so I could lift my tee and unzip my jacket. Then I could block the rest with Andrew's head. I nursed in public because it was convenient. Since Andrew was a spring baby, going to sit in a car in 90degree weather wasn't really an option when I was taking an afternoon trip to the mall. No one ever made a comment about it to me, so over time I never felt like I shouldn't do it.