I have seen SO many posts and heard countless stories of people being jerks to breastfeeding mothers, shaming, glaring, shouting … online. Which is shitty and it should not happen, but I can testify that it is possible to publicly breastfeed without any issues, and I don’t want mamas to be anxious all the time based upon the anecdotes of the internet.
I believe 100% that it happens and we all should be working towards teaching awareness and tolerance and all those good things. But, I have never experienced it. I’m currently nursing my 3rd baby. Baby #1 nursed until 2.5, #2 nursed for 13 months (and I tandem fed for the first few months of her life), and #3 is still in the squishy EBF phase. Consequently, I have nursed all. over. the. place. In over a dozen states, I’ve breastfed in churches, a mosque, and synagogues. I’ve fed my babies on planes, trains, and automobiles (not while a car is in motion, obviously, because kids need to be in car seats). In retail and entertainment establishments of every variety … and (thank God) have only encountered support and kindness from strangers.
I don’t wear nursing covers, though I do like to wear scarves or shirts that give me enough stretch or fabric to play with so that I can control how much skin I expose. But my primary concern is my baby’s preferences, and there have definitely been moments where a thrashing baby caused a momentary glimpse of boob I wouldn’t typically publicly display. I don’t worry about it, though. I used to, but I have enough to worry about, so I’ve eliminated this as a source of concern based on experience up to this point.
Again, please understand that I don’t want to minimize the reality that many nursing parents have to deal with all sorts of shenanigans from loved ones and passersby. But I do want to provide testimony that it’s not all bad, because I was years into my breastfeeding journey before I realized that I didn’t have to be “on guard” all the time, that nervousness surrounding the potential for strangers giving me a hard time about feeding my kid (a) was unwarranted and (b) served no purpose (even if someone had given me a hard time).
I am just here to reaffirm to any humans with breasts who want to feed their baby that they can and should do it where and when they want — and to add that they don’t need to fear harshness or judgment from people who might notice. It is possible that a person will have a problem with the choice that we make to feed our children, but that problem belongs to that person, and not to the nurturing parent sustaining a precious life.
I’m not immune to judgment and I’m perfectly aware when it happens — I’ve felt the judgy side-eye of a stranger as my toddler tantrumed on the mall floor and been asked by a stranger at the park if I knew my kid was going up the slide (yup). I’ve grown much more confident in my parenting abilities, but am still acutely aware of the vulnerability of parenting in public. For many, I know it can be crippling, especially regarding a sensitive topic like breastfeeding since it is a task with which many parents have a complicated relationship.
I have experienced many a good samaritan offer to open a door, pick up something that I dropped, or otherwise offer a helpful hand when they see that I’m multitasking. I have had more than a few fellow breastfeeders approach me to ask which baby carrier I’m using and ask for a recommendation. I’ve had passersby of great diversity strike up conversation to tell me a story about their experience with breastfeeding that typically involves offering me props and some warm fuzzies.
I have had a few people make me feel slightly uncomfortable when they walk up to me and look at my baby and gush about how beautiful she is, staring at her while latched, seemingly oblivious to the fact that while they stare at my nursing kid’s face they are also staring at my boob. But if I’ve got to have a problem, I’ll take that one.
Public parenting is rife with enough opportunities to stress, so I hope my little ray of sunshine will inspire a few more of us nursers to relax, enjoy, and attend more exclusively to the needs of our kiddos without worrying what the rest of the world is going to say.
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