I started writing this post last week. This is what I wrote:
I’ve been reading a message board thread about where mothers breastfeed and if there is any place that is unacceptable to feed your baby. Somehow the conversation drifted into a consensus that choosing to go to a private place or covering yourself while breastfeeding is an act of shame. Being ashamed of feeding our children. Being ashamed of our bodies.
I’m a fairly modest person. It has evolved over the years, but I was never a showy person, even as a teenager. I’ve always been more comfortable in long sleeves and long pants. It helps control my allergic reactions to just about everything and protects my skin without sunscreen. I don’t get overheated as I am always cold (I think when I was pregnant was the only time I’ve ever felt comfortable, temperature-wise). I am more comfortable when I am covered up.
For me, I prefer to find a private place to breastfeed, somewhere quiet without distraction. That being said, if the baby needs to eat, I think it’s appropriate to feed your baby anywhere it’s appropriate to bring a baby. I choose to use a cover. I’ve fed Adam in a busy waiting room and in a fast food restaurant. People will look and people will look away. All they’re seeing (or avoiding seeing) is a tent over my shirt and two wee feet sticking out to one side.
Do I have the right to feed without a cover? Absolutely. In fact, in Ontario I can go without a shirt (topless or if you’re aiming to be polically correct “topfree“) for any reason I feel like. (Though, there are times that I think when Gwen Jacobs walked around Guelph “topfree” nearly 20 years ago, perhaps the law should have been made that men keep their shirts on, rather than allowing women to take theirs off.)
I do have the right to breastfeed my child anywhere. I also have the right to be respectful – to others and to myself. If I express that respect by covering myself, I’m not denying any other woman her right to whip off her top. Our babies are being fed and that’s what matters.
* * * * *
A few days after writing this, I went out to lunch with my mother. It was a nice day so I suggested the patio of a nearby pub. When we were seated, we were the only people there. Gradually, a few other tables filled up with the local bikers and two ladies, one in her 70s and the other well into her 80s, sat a table behind and to the left of me.
Adam was and still is teething. Last week was particularly bad and he would have brief flare-ups of pain. I had fed him about an hour before but halfway through our lunch, he had a sudden flare-up. I took out my nursing cover, put it on and started to nurse. As any nursing mama would have guessed, he calmed down, nursed awhile and fell asleep. Happy camper.
But while I was nursing, I got the feeling that I was the topic of someone’s conversation. The bikers were all seated in front of me and could not have cared less about my draping and what was going on underneath. It was the women behind me. Despite the fact that I was covered and blocked by an enormous table that came halfway up my chest and a stroller between them and I, they had sussed out that some breastfeeding was going on and they did not like it. It was when I realized the disapproval in the air that I heard one say to the other, “Well, you could write a letter to the editor.”
Really now. REALLY. Do we really need to make this a community debate? Take it to the town level?
I think what bothers about the whole kerfuffle is due to my own modesty, I’m covering up. I’m making an effort to make myself comfortable and with that comes the understanding that it might make public breastfeeding acceptable to more people. And despite my effort, I’m still at the business end of some bitties’ tsk-tsking.
It bothers me because I’m damned if I do (tsk-tsk) and damned if I don’t (labeled “ashamed”). I’ve chosen the middle ground and get it from both sides. And the worst part: when my mother came for lunch today, she asked with concern, as I dressed the baby to go out, “When did you last feed him?” I told her he had just eaten but I wish I had said, “I fed him last when he wanted to and I’ll him next when he wants to.” Because until all this happened, that’s about how much thought I put into it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding with weaning foods until at least 12 months.
Are we supposed to stay home? Fit our lives around expressing milk with all the bottle and pump washing and engorgement and meticulously labeling (not to mention all while holding a fussy baby)? I’m happy to pump some milk so Thomas can enjoy feeding his son, but it’s not worth the trouble and discomfort so that other diners can avoid straining their necks to confirm that I am indeed smuggling a baby under that sheet.
I suppose there’s no easy answer. But really, babies need to eat and mamas can feed them – shouldn’t there be an easy answer?