Images and text by Wambui Njuguna
Letʼs talk about breastfeeding. In public. Letʼs see…I breastfeed on buses and in planes; in airports and at bus stops. In bookshops. In the fitting rooms of department stores. On picnic chairs at hardware stores. My baby has been latched on when Iʼve had to board the bus and pay my fare; I had to use my teeth for this one, gripping onto the towel and my sweater so that I didnʼt flash the bus driver. Heck, I even breastfeed while walking down the street. Only for short distances, but still…talk about multitasking. My ability to get my baby to latch on, (pretty much) anytime and (mostly) anywhere, all started after a harrowing six-minute bus ride home. My baby woke up. Hungry. I had him wrapped up in my hug a bub, all nice and snug. But it didnʼt do much good when he started howling and shrieking like nobodyʼs business. And no amount of anything did any good. He just needed one thing and one thing only. Milk! I felt horrified. I did my best to comfort him, distract him, will the stop lights to change faster. In fact, quite the opposite happened. Time s l o w e d down. The lights just changed back to red as the bus driver eased down on the brakes. The distances between bus stops stretched out ceaselessly. Was it really only a six-minute bus ride from the bus terminal to my stop? The silent, stoic passengers on the bus tolerated it amicably enough, but I swore not to let this sort of situation happen again.
So if it means whipping out a breast so that my baby can eat, then I am a poster-child for breastfeeding in public. This doesnʼt have to attract attention, mind. One doesnʼt have to get all-heeey-Iʼm-taking- a-boob-out-now. Not if thatʼs not your natural, brazen, God-given stilo. And if it is, more power to you babe! You are brave and fearless. But just as brave are the quiet, stealthy ones; the ones who can negotiate a hungry baby into a proper latch, all without skipping a beat in the conversation. While your world as a new mama may have changed, for those we encounter in public, their worlds often have not. Ar least, unless they have become mothers as well, not in the way our worlds have changed. We shouldnʼt, and we donʼt expect, for the wide world to drop everything and shuffle around to fit our need to feed any place and time. What we do hope for, and expect, is a bit of flexibility and tolerance. After all, itʼs either that or a screaming baby and a stressed-out mother…take your pick!
From my experience, Scandinavian countries are generally open, tolerant, pro- breastfeeding societies. In Finland, more specifically, even it someone might not like it much, nor know where to look should a wayward, errant breast, a milk-laden torpedo, present itself, people will usually leave you with space to do what you need to do. They much rather prefer their peace and quiet unshattered. However, for breastfeeding mothers who might encounter more resistance to breastfeeding publicly in other societies and countries, here are a few tips to help both you, and your public, establish a happy compromise.
1. Be prepared.
There have been some major advancements in nursing wear as of late. Hell, you can even look and feel downright sassy and stylish. Nursing bras, tops and dresses of all sorts are available. Invest in them! Here is my breastfeeding nightie du jour (ha ha) with thick, adjustable straps and clever clasps. Never mind that itʼs usually covered with milk stains and let-down. Thatʼs just the way it goes. It comes out easily enough in the wash!
Practical. Comfortable. And with just the right amount of Va-va-va-voom to enjoy your ʻAi Mamiʼ curves!
2. Be discreet. Or not.
3. Be fearless.
If you still feel squeamish about baring the boob in public, join a support group. If your neck of the woods has a La Leche League chapter, hit them up to meet up with other like-minded mamas. There are also plenty of sources online which provide inspiration and courage. I particularly like the badass breastfeeder and the way they confront the notion that women ought to cover their bodies as they breastfeed. That itʼs an attempt to control a woman, or that it perpetuates the over-sexualization of the female body, when a woman is told she must cover while breastfeeding. Choosing to cover or not is an individual choice, but just the fact that their are mamas out there taking it upon themselves to neutralize and reduce the stigma attached to nursing, freely and unencumbered, in public, well, kudos to them. I also find this sentiment, found on cheerfullyimperfect.com, to be helpful:
I am just feeding my baby. Thatʼs all. I am not trying to make a statement or a public display. I am not standing up for my rights to nurse in public or showing off how successful I am at ʻnaturalʼ parenting. I am just feeding my baby…thatʼs all it is. Itʼs not about you. Itʼs not about me. Itʼs about a hungry baby filling up his tummy.
Whether your reasons are purely practical, or whether you are a champion for the mission of creating a more tolerant, pro-breastfeeding in public society, we all benefit from content, well-fed babies. And letʼs remember that this is what it boils down to in the end: the babies.
4. Get creative.
Sometimes, when my baby is fussy, disoriented or too tired to eat, I employ the old bait and switch method which I call the Copenhagen Switch-Up. If my baby resists latching on, I have him suck on his pacifier for a bit to calm down. Then I will take it away, before he notices, and quickly offer him a breast. It works quite well, usually. I discovered this techinique when we went to Copenhagen (hence the name). Baby Sesam was pretty fussy from the trip and wasnʼt eating so well. Whatever gets the milk in and down. Thatʼs the main thing.
5. Work as a team with your baby.
You need your baby as much as your baby needs you. This means you both have to be comfortable and ready to do the damn thang. An ideal situation will have you sitting (or lying) comfortably, feeling safe, calm and confident. Practice a few times at different baby-friendly gatherings, such as postnatal yoga, or something similar, which will have other mum and baby breastfeeding teams. If this feels good, you can branch out to more public and mixed spheres.
If all else fails, relax. Breathe. Smile and keep your sense of humor and perspective. Chances are most peopleʼs attention is so fixated on their mobile devices, they wonʼt notice much else of whatʼs going on around them in the non-virtual, non-editorial world. Getting used to this whole stop, drop and feed scene. As one midwife encouraged me, “Let the milk flow. And the honey too.” I thought that was a perfect, midwifey thing for her to say!
To submit your breastfeeding story, please visit : iamnotthebabysitter.com/breastfeeding-story-submissions