When I was pregnant, I was nervous about breastfeeding in public. But I figured that I could always run to a nursing room to bare my boob in private. Little did I know that nursing rooms don’t just magically materialize anywhere, whenever you need one. You could be taking a peaceful stroll with your sleeping babe in the park when she suddenly wakes up ravenous, yowling for milk. Unless you want to feed her in the park’s public bathroom – and I certainly don’t – there’s no sheltered place to nurse other than out in the open.
Breastfeeding is a beautiful, arduous experience. As any breastfeeding mum would tell you, it takes a lot of work. You’re literally feeding your baby the sustenance of life from your own body. This is something to be proud of – not to feel embarrassed about. Yet many women still do when it comes to breastfeeding in public.
Doing it for the first time
The first time I breastfed in public, I was queuing in the hospital and didn’t want to risk missing my number. So there in the waiting room, I tried as discreetly as possible to nurse Chloe. My anxiety rose with each undone button and I held my breath until she latched under the nursing cover. My face was red and I was afraid to look up, certain that I’d meet judgmental, disapproving stares. A few minutes passed before I risked glancing around, only to find that nobody seemed to mind. They were too preoccupied with their own sick, runny-nosed children to pay attention to what I was doing with mine.
Not all eyes are not on me
That’s the thing about public breastfeeding: I’ve found that usually people are busy doing their own thing so even if you feel like all eyes are on you, that’s hardly the case. A passerby or two might have a double take, but I’ve yet to encounter any rude admonishments or shaming to the tune of, “You should cover up” – although I’ve heard that some mums were unfortunate enough to experience it.
To prepare myself for ignorant remarks like that, I came up with an automatic response to put any disrespectful strangers in their place. That way, I wouldn’t have to fumble for a reply on the spot. My go-to line was, “It’s my right to feed my baby anywhere, in public or private. If you don’t like it, look away.”
Exposing too much? Not exactly
As Chloe grew bigger, she stopped tolerating the nursing cover hanging over her face. She often got very sweaty underneath, and I felt bad that she had to eat in discomfort. After all, nobody asks adults to eat with their heads under blankets. She’d wriggle and grunt until she pushed it off, making a big scene that called even more attention to us.
Initially, I was nervous about the extra exposure. But actually, not much was exposed because Chloe’s head covered most of my breast. She nursed peacefully and quietly without anything hanging over her. After a few times, I grew accustomed to it too, and happily breastfed her when we were out. It was much more convenient than lugging around a cooler bag with bottles of expressed milk and a heavy thermos to heat them up.
With some practice and the right mindset, anyone can survive breastfeeding in public.
You’re not doing it to put yourself on display; you are a mother who needs to feed her child, and what could be more natural than that?
By Jenny Tai
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