NOTE: This post is not judging anyone’s feeding options. If you chose to bottle fed, and that is what works for your family, I totally support that. What this post is doing is try to highlight the need to protect the rights of those who want to breastfeed. And the need to still have an World Breastfeeding Week.
World Breastfeeding Week
I have spent 10 out of my 13 years of motherhood breastfeeding. And counting.
I have breastfed in my twenties, my thirties, and my forties. I have breastfed at home, at restaurants, parks, hospitals and planes. I have breastfed in the US, Spain, Mexico… I have breastfed newborns, and three year olds. I have breastfed while pregnant, and while having a miscarriage. I have breastfed hungry chompers and reluctant nurslings. Once, I even breastfed a baby who was not mine.
Of course, none of those things make me an expert, but they make me a veteran.
And as a veteran, it pains me that, in 2020, World Breastfeeding Week is still necessary. Just this week, ironically World Breastfeeding Week itself, I read from a mom who was shamed for breastfeeding her baby in a public pool in Illinois. In case you don’t know it, it was not the mom who was breaking the law. The one who was doing something illegal was the pool manager who shamed her.
The first time I saw someone breastfeeding
It had to be my sister. I am sure that I must have seen her, since she is older than me, breastfeed her children. After all, I was only 13 when my niece, her oldest, was born. But I do not remember her doing it. Maybe I wasn’t at all interested back then. Based on conversations we have had regarding my extended breastfeeding, I don’t think she loved it, or did it for long. She probably was even going into a different room to do it, alone. I don’t think she had any support, either. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember much. Maybe it was just her choice, and that is fine.
The Swedish mom and the sandwich.
My first true memory of a breastfeeding woman comes from college. I was a sophomore in the University of the Basque Country, in Spain, and I saw this Swedish exchange student breastfeeding her four month old baby while she was eating a bocadillo de tortilla (Spanish omelet sandwich). Back then, to me she was a wonderful martian because that was something you didn’t see in public. Much less in a bench in the corridor of a University.
By now, there are few things I haven’t done with a baby latched to my breast. And there are few places where I wouldn’t nurse. I have, I do, and I will nurse in public for as long as my baby wants. I have been lucky. And I like to think that so have my kids. But back in 1999, that mom was a unicorn, in all her Scandinavian glory.
Undecided while pregnant
Despite my previous unicorn sighting, I didn’t decide to breastfeed while pregnant. I had been so focused on getting the birth of my dreams that by the time I had to make a decision that dream had been completely derailed, and I was babyless and crying in a hospital room, not knowing how my newborn, who had been whisked away to the NICU, was doing. Anger and instinct overwhelmed me, as I requested a pump and real food. Pumping was the only thing I was able to do for my first born for the first six days of his life, and pump I did. Actually, it didn’t feel like a decision at all. It just happened.
My choice was met with reluctance by the stronger female figures of my family: my mom and my sister. I heard it all. That women in my family don’t have milk, that it was a nuisance, that bottle feeding was easier… Luckily, my aunt chimed in. She breastfed all three of my cousins, and also reminded my mom how the two of them would bring my grandma her “breastfeeding stool”. They remembered. Which means they had to be two or three years old. So, with my aunt’s support, and my late grandma as a role model, I kept going at it.
Breastfeeding in public
Being the social butterfly I am, not breastfeeding in public was out of the question. It was not an if, it was a how. I will never forget the first time I did it. I was with our lifesaving (that is quite literal) postpartum doula. We needed some baby supplies, and while we were getting them, the baby started to cry. I wanted to go back home, but she convinced me to instead go to a Panera.
We ordered lunch for us, and I fed the baby. I was a nervous wreck, fighting with the nursing bra, a summer scarf that I insisted on using to cover myself, and a fussy baby. But I did it. And soon enough, I gained enough confidence to ditch the scarf. That summer I nursed my newborn at restaurants, parks, the Social Security office, a few planes and the US Embassy in Madrid, among other places. I also nursed him while cutting my steak at a Spanish restaurant to my brother’s amazement.
Sadly, in all the years I have been a nursing mom, I have heard endless stories of moms who were doing what is just natural. Luckily, I live in Illinois, which, along with many other states, has laws that protect breastfeeding mothers.
Per Illinois law, a mother has the right to breastfeed her baby, with or without a cover, anywhere she can be in public.
A mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding; however, a mother considering whether to breastfeed her baby in a place of worship shall comport her behavior with the norms appropriate in that place of worship.
This little paragraph means that the mom at the pool had the right to breastfeed her baby then and there. Indeed, it was the pool manager who broke the law when he asked her what she was doing, and broke the law again when he asked her to go to the bathroom or somewhere else to feed her baby.
Keep fighting and nurse on
Stories like this make it necessary to keep holding World Breastfeeding Week. They make it necessary for us to keep talking about it, to keep complaining to keep supporting each other. To keep fighting for our babies’ rights. To nurse on.
6 things to do to successfully (and sanely) breastfeed your baby
- Take care of yourself. Among other things, that means to sleep and eat well. Someone else can take care of the rest. And if that’s not the case, it doesn’t matter. At this point, your baby doesn’t need you to look like a model. Or for your house to be fitting a decoration magazine.
- Feel free to ignore comments from family and friends regarding your baby’s weight, the sacrifice you are making, what you should be doing, how in your family women have never had milk, and the likes.
- Nurse wherever you are. You should have the right to do so, and in many US states you actually do. There are laws that protect you from anyone telling you not to. Illinois is one of them. And get out of the house! Lives goes on. And babies like to be outside (except if it’s January in Chicago).
- Be patient. It takes time. There will be nerve racking situations/days, but also very funny ones (spraying, anyone?).
- Let daddy/other mommy be part of it. There are many ways for them to participate. For example, they can burp the baby, change the diaper (hehe), be by your side… You can even pump so they can give an occasional bottle. That’s just fine.
- Ask for help if you need it. There are wonderful groups, lactation consultants, doulas and friends out there. Reach out to them. La Leche League or Breastfeed Chicago are just a couple of the many you can find.
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