There is a lot of buzz right now surrounding the topic of breastfeeding in public. I don’t exactly know why there is so much buzz, since I don’t think it is much different than eating a snack or drinking from a water bottle in public. But there is buzz. My baby and I struggled initially with breastfeeding, but eventually we hit our stride and it has worked out well for us. She gets hungry, my breasts get full, she eats, she empties them, we watch Netflix, we nap… everybody is feeling pretty good.
I have found breastfeeding in the privacy of my own home to be very comfortable, but for some reason I was terrified of having to feed in public for the first time. I fully support women breastfeeding in public, I lost every shred of my modesty during childbirth, and I live in extremely liberal San Francisco. If there was ever a perfect candidate living in the perfect city to feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, then surely I was that candidate. So why did I still find it so daunting?
When I really thought about it – which, coincidentally, I do most of my thinking while breastfeeding these days – I identified two sides to the breastfeeding debate: on the one side is the shaming of women who nurse publicly; and on the other is this sort of glorification of it. It became apparent to me that I really don’t fit into either of these categories. I don’t shame, nor do I idolize, the women who breastfeed in public. I simply believe breastfeeding in public to be, well, normal.
When I searched the hashtag #NormalizeBreastfeeding, it was full of tweets, photos and posts of women being praised as martyrs for breastfeeding in public. But in the process of glorifying this topic, I think it actually isolated women like me from having the confidence to nurse publicly. As I looked at hundreds of images of well-dressed women, discreetly and effortlessly nursing their content babies while enjoying brunch with friends, it felt like the equivalent of looking at magazine covers featuring seemingly perfect women and believing them to be “normal.” If this was what “normal” breastfeeding in public looked like, then I simply would never measure up. Our society really is quite good at finding ways to make women feel isolated, even from something as absolutely basic and instinctual as feeding our offspring, whenever and wherever it needs to happen.
I think that the main reason I was so nervous about feeding my baby in public was because it ultimately felt like a no-win situation. I didn’t want my public nursing to be met with condescending stares, and I also knew that a photo of me and my baby would never make the #NormalizeBreastfeeding highlight reel. But in the end, I conquered my fears and nursed publicly. I had to pull out my entire breast because my baby fidgeted and fussed trying to latch on, my outfit and nursing cover were horribly mismatched, my sister fed me spoonfuls of ice cream, and I ended up with a huge, wet milk stain on the front of my dress due to milk leaking from my babe’s mouth as I held her in an incredibly awkward position. My baby was satisfied, nobody stared, and it was the farthest thing from brave or glamorous; but when all was said and done, it felt pretty normal.