I used to get uncomfortable around women breastfeeding in public. It’s not that I found it unsanitary or offensive. I just didn’t know how to act. Should I give the person lots of space and privacy? Should I carry on as if nothing was happening? What if—God forbid—my eye accidentally landed on an exposed breast?
I supported a mother’s right to breastfeed in public. But it made me cringe when someone actually did. I hated how awkward it made me feel. And that “First Kid, Second Kid” commercial? I hated that, too. OF COURSE THE WAITER’S STARING AT YOU, I wanted to yell whenever it aired. YOU HAVE YOUR BOOBS OUT AT THE OLIVE GARDEN.
Like they say … a baby changes everything.
Here’s what they don’t tell you about breastfeeding: it’s hard. I’m not talking inconvenient or messy or occasionally painful. It’s all of those things. But it’s also about not being able to sleep after 21 hours of labor, because you have to stay awake and pump. It’s about spending 10 minutes trying to get a good latch, 40 minutes nursing, 20 minutes pumping, and then starting the whole process all over again. It’s about doing this 24 hours a day, every day.
It’s about letting your newborn suck tiny beads of colostrum off your pinky finger, because that’s all you have. It’s about watching your baby lose 10, then 15 percent of his body weight. It’s about heated discussions with your lactation consultant about supplementing with formula. It’s about taking eight foul horse pills of fenugreek and thistle at every meal.
It’s about not being able to leave the house, because you can’t pump enough milk for a single feeding. It’s about sobbing in a ball on the kitchen floor because you spilled three-quarters of an ounce.
It’s about letting your dinner grow cold on the dining room table, because the baby is suddenly starving. It’s about getting kicked and punched in the chest because he’s frustrated by your letdown.
It’s about dragging a 20-lb. breast pump to work and back each day, and being called “unprofessional” for not concealing its purpose. It’s about hiding in the corner of a conference room with your shirt off, praying no one walks in. It’s about washing breast shields in the office sink.
It’s about waking up at night with a fever and chills, because you didn’t get to pump that day. It’s about cracked nipples and aching backs. It’s about not being able to hug your husband, because you’re too freaking sore.
And don’t get me started on the difficulties of nursing covers.
I don’t regret my decision to breastfeed. I’m thankful I was able to get my supply issues resolved, and I love every moment spent with my son nuzzling my chest. But breastfeeding has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And it continues to be hard.
Now when I see a woman nursing in public, I know chances are good she’s struggled with many of the same issues. Latch problems. Supply problems. Letdown problems. Scheduling problems.
Maybe her father-in-law disapproves of breastfeeding. Maybe her newborn just had laser surgery for a lip tie. Maybe it’s the first time she’s left her house in eight weeks.
Breastfeeding is one of the best gifts a mother can give her child. So with all of the things that can make it a challenge, public perception shouldn’t be one of them.
Personally, I’m still embarrassed to breastfeed in public. I park my car at the far end of the lot and feed my child in the car, because I don’t have the guts to do it at the Olive Garden. I’m still afraid of what people like the old me might think.
But when I see another woman nursing in public, I know now what to do. I smile. I feel grateful that she’s braver than I am. And I thank God that perceptions change. Even mine.