When my son and I started our breastfeeding journey together, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as far as reactions in public. (OK, as a first-time mom, I wasn’t sure what to expect, period.) Like everyone else, I had heard the horror stories. There were parents out there who were just trying to feed their kids and found themselves shamed, ridiculed and even kicked out of restaurants and other establishments for doing so. While none of my parent friends have, to my knowledge, experienced anything quite that dramatically awful, many of them have endured dirty looks from strangers that made them wish they’d just stayed home.
The first few times I breastfed in public, I was extremely nervous. But over time, I found myself getting over that. I may have just gotten lucky, but I found that most people didn’t respond in any way at all. Sure, it’s still not a “normal” part of our culture for a woman to whip out her boob in public to feed her kid, but it seems like most people at least understand that she’s feeding her kid and that it’s best to keep their opinions to themselves.
Yet despite all that, on the day of his first birthday, I still found myself worrying about possible breastfeeding reactions. We were in a crowded restaurant for his birthday lunch (avocado sushi, his favorite), and there was already quite a lot of attention focused on our table. Plus, he’s large for his age, and I tend to see more negative reactions to people breastfeeding older babies than younger ones. For just a second, I wondered if it might not make more sense to tell him he had to wait, then pack up, head home and nurse him there instead. But after he finished his meal and went through the indignity of being wiped up, he desperately wanted to nurse, and it was his birthday, and I wasn’t about to deny him just to make other people more comfortable. So I took a deep breath, and we just went for it.
And just like almost every other time I have nursed him in public, there was no reaction. Or, I should say, there was no reaction I was aware of at the time.
However, a few minutes later, when I paid the bill, I received the following note from the staff:
Breastfeeding can be such a fraught subject in our culture. On the one hand, new moms are under immense pressure to breastfeed, with constant “breast is best” messages from doctors and popular culture. But on the other hand, new parents receive almost no support when it comes to breastfeeding. We’re told that we should manage to breastfeed with little to no parental leave, limited pumping options and in a world that is, frankly, set up for bottle-feeding. Then we are told that if we “fail” (aka not breastfeed for as long as someone else thinks we should), then it is our fault. It’s deeply unfair. And on top of all that, many of us don’t feel comfortable and secure nursing in public, so we’re faced with choosing between denying our children nourishment and just staying home all the time.
No restaurant can stem the tide of all that, of course. However, motions in the direction of breastfeeding acceptance and support can and do help. On a personal level, I felt really touched when I read that note. It’s hard to overemphasize how powerful it can be, as a breastfeeding parent, to not only not be judged but to be outright congratulated for public nursing. It felt like acknowledgment of all the hard work I go through to feed him, work that usually goes unnoticed and unappreciated.
But that’s just me. The really powerful thing happened when I shared the note on Facebook. Even on my small friends list, it quickly racked up nearly 100 likes, and folks asked for a public version so they could share it on their own pages. People were really excited and happy to see breastfeeding supported in such a direct, no-nonsense sort of way. And much to my surprise, that excitement extended far beyond just breastfeeding parents themselves. In fact, a lot of friends who I may have assumed didn’t have any opinion on public breastfeeding liked, commented on and shared the image of the note. Giving folks the space to talk about it amplified the support and made me realize just how many people want to make public nursing safe and comfortable — for everyone.
And hey, we’ll definitely be eating there again.
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