I am sitting in an overstuffed chair at the back of the thrift store, nursing. I’ve nursed in public since day one, all over the place, in many different settings, and never had anything but positive reactions. At first, I think this is another one, as the lady leans over and tells me that she nursed her four children. I smile, one breastfeeding mama to another, but she continues. “You can get them to do it under a blankie if you keep trying.” And then she leans over and proceeds to talk to my daughter, distracting her, leaving me pretty exposed. If she was trying to embarrass me – well, it didn’t work.
My smile never falters, because I belong to a number of pro-breastfeeding groups on Facebook, because I’ve read any number of stories about mothers who were shamed or asked to leave or told to feed their children in bathrooms. I know the law, in Washington and Oregon. I know that I have every right to do what I’m doing. “You were lucky,” I tell her coolly. “Mine ripped the blanket off the first time I tried it.”
This is true, and I decided at the time that a quietly nursing baby without a cover was a whole lot more discreet than a baby fighting to get the cover off. Of course, when she was younger, she’d latch on and stay that way until she fell asleep. Now, she’s likely to pop off and smile at anyone who walks by. I wish she’d let me cover her, not out of modesty (I keep a burp cloth handy to cover myself when she’s not actively eating) but because she’d be less distracted with a blanket over her head. I can’t blame her, though; I wouldn’t want to eat with a blanket over my head either.
As if to prove me right, a few minutes later, another woman stops to tell me how beautiful the baby is. (We get this a lot.) She’s at least a minute into the conversation before she actually realizes that I’m breastfeeding, and she apologizes for distracting her.
New mothers are bombarded with the message that breastfeeding is the best choice for baby, but a social commitment to breastfeeding means an acknowledgement that mothers need to go places and do things, and that babies aren’t particular about when they get hungry. A newer mother, a younger mother, one who was more easily shamed, might have decided that nosy old woman was the last straw, and breastfeeding was just too hard. (Breastfeeding IS hard, and it takes a lot of time and dedication, and if you decide not to, that’s fine too. Feed your baby however you’re comfortable. But shaming by nosy passers-by shouldn’t have to be part of your decision matrix.)
An appropriate time to offer a breastfeeding mother suggestions about how she might go about breastfeeding: right after she asks you. Otherwise? Leave her alone. She’s busy.