There is so much beauty in breastfeeding–from the awe-inspiring transformations that the glorious female breasts undergo during the process of lactation to the way a tiny head looks when nestled against Mom’s soft, warm skin. Breastfeeding stirs up many emotions and deep feelings of love, comfort, and safety. There is truly no connection stronger than the one a woman feels while she is nursing her child. It is an empowering experience, to know that you have the ability to nurture, nourish, and sustain another person with the milk that your body has worked so diligently and selflessly to provide.
Unfortunately, just as many women do, I discovered very early on, as a young breastfeeding mother, that not everyone views the suckling experience in a positive light–and not everyone sees the beauty in the maternal breastfeeding relationship.
When my oldest child was born nearly 15 years ago, his exclusive breastfeeding was not always met with glowing favor. As a matter of fact, some family members were a bit uncomfortable with the notion that my son was nursed around the clock–and publicly. Finding support was very important, and I was very fortunate that my husband (known affectionately as Mr. S) shared my views on breastfeeding. I also had a wonderful lactation consultant who made me feel fantastic about my decision to nurse, and my son’s pediatrician was a staunch supporter of breastfeeding, encouraging me to do so for a minimum of six months.
I was certain that breastfeeding was the right decision for us; my son was absolutely thriving, but even so, I noticed how difficult it could be to feed him in public. Because of personal preference, and out of respect for others, I used wraps and shawls to cover myself, and my son and I became quite good at “discreet nursing”, but, somehow, people always seemed to realize what was going on beneath those shawls, and would either blatantly stare or avoid eye contact completely.
They didn’t seem to understand that there was nothing strange or unusual taking place beneath that shawl. They didn’t seem to understand that my son was eating.
I experienced two uncomfortable moments as a breastfeeding mother. Once was at a shopping mall when a woman removed her child from a bench where I’d sat down to feed the baby. As she hurried her child off, practically dragging him by the arm, her shopping companion asked why she had moved and the woman replied, in a stage whisper, “I think that woman over there is breastfeeding.”
The second occasion occurred in a restaurant. The table across from us was occupied by a family with two teen-age girls. As I was preparing to feed the baby, the girls began to stare and giggle. Their mother seemed to be growing increasingly uncomfortable and did her best to hush them. The older of the two girls finally snorted and said, “Gross!” before putting her menu up as a barrier.
I had no clue that my son’s version of dining out would be so offensive to another’s sensibilities.
As comfortable as you are with breastfeeding, those sorts of moments can cause a lot of discomfort, and even force you to question your decision to publicly nurse; I think people would have been a lot more comfortable if I had slipped off to a bathroom to feed, but I chose not to do this. My son did not have to eat in a cramped unsanitary environment; this was not about others’ level of comfort. It was about his comfort–and my own.
Breasts have become so sexualized that we sometimes forget their true purpose.
To have the priviege of sustaining and fulfilling another’s needs through the bounty of the giving breast is empowering, emboldening, and a blessing in a woman’s life.
Embrace it joyfully, and never forget the beauty of your breastfeeding relationship.