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Breastfeeding in Public: Baby’s Gotta Eat!

The punim says, 'Just had boobies at the playground'.

The punim says, ‘Just had boobies at the playground’.

I was reading that, in some places in Africa, if you’re out in a public place and your baby starts to cry, you had better stick a boob in that baby’s mouth in about two seconds.  If you don’t, people will assume that you’re carrying around a stolen baby!  In lots of cultures, it is pretty normal for woman to walk around topless.  A little breast exposure is like, ‘Um, who cares, boobs have a very important function: to feed babies‘.  In fact, it’s very common, in many cultures, for woman to have their bosoms flapping in the breeze… But, to the contrary, in that same culture, exposing the knees and thighs… well, you may as well be walking around naked!  Europeans are pretty liberal when it comes to body parts… I’ll never forget the time when I was backpacking through France and these German girls who were staying in a large room hostel room with us, were sort of just hanging around naked.  They had just showered and were casually getting dressed… slowly…  Ok, I was only 17 years old and had not been to uni yet, but I still remember being in a bit of shock!

Body image is very much determined by the society you live in.  Right now, in western countries, slim is in…. but not too long ago, having a bit of chub and curve was considered sexy!  In India, a lot of the celebrities would seem ‘chubby’ by our standards. So, what is different?  It’s not really the people… you will always have skinny, curvy, tall, short, etc… It’s just that culture’s perception as to what is considered acceptable.

Alright, but let’s get to the point here: Breastfeeding in public.  I took Margo to this indoor playhouse today, called Imagine That.  It was stinking hot outside, right from the start this morning (and I’m talking the 4:30am morning, when Margo woke up).  I wanted to do something in the air conditioning and knew that I would probably want to avoid the shopping centres at all costs since it’s so close to Christmas.  We dropped Art off at work around 9:30 and went directly to the playhouse.  It was a really awesome place!  Margo loved it (except for when Santa made an appearance… we think that guy is cool… but  a little scary too).  I loved it too.  It was cool.  It was clean.  It was cheap ($8.50), I had a bathroom where I could take Goldie to do her wees if she needed it.  There were other woman there who had babies and they were breastfeeding their babies, and I even saw a few other baby wearers!  There were benches and chairs everywhere for the parents, so all I had to do was sit there and laugh and giggle with Goldie and Margo was busy playing.  Well, laughing and giggling with a four month old soon turns into slobbering and drooling, head slumping, fists in the mouth, bird mouth on a rotating head that starts turning into your chest looking for food.  Ok, no worries, there are like 800 woman and children here.

Imagine That Playhouse!  Cool air con on a not so cool day!

Imagine That Playhouse! Seeking indoor refuge from the blazing heat!

I told Margo where I was sitting, sat down on a bench and started feeding Goldie near a woman who was also feeding her baby.  Except, she had a little shawl to cover up what she was doing.  Oh… I thought… that’s a little strange, 99.9% of the people here were either woman or children.  The .1% was the guy dressed up as Santa Clause, but he was off in another room taking pictures with the kiddies.  She was not a nervous first time mother feeding a newborn either.  Her baby looked to be about 2 months old and it certainly wasn’t her first child.  Oh well, I thought, maybe she’s got a messy eater, like mine!  I finished feeding Goldie and we kept playing.  We spent about 2 1/2 hours there.  As I was looking around, I noticed that all the mothers who were breastfeeding their babies were all covering up!  I was happy to report that there was a lot of breastfeeding going on of young babies… but I kept thinking how weird it was that everyone had to cover up.  I mean, even if you had never breastfed a baby, surely everyone has seen a breast at some point, especially if you’re a woman (duh, your own)… and anyway, you can’t see much of anything once the baby is on there…  And, if you’re stealthy and practiced, you can make it so that nobody can really see a thing.  Again to mention, these were not first time mothers.  Having said how weird it seemed that all the mothers covered up, I certainly turn the other way, if I can and I must confess, I DID cover up ONCE!

One time, when Margo was about 2 weeks old and we went for a walk.  We sat down on a bench and I covered her up with a muslin cloth.  Look, Art even got  a picture:

Haha, look, I was even using a stroller!!!  I think that was the last time before it got locked up for about 2 years!

Haha, look, I was even using a stroller!!! I think that was the last time before it got locked up for about 2 years!

But, I felt so stupid and it took me a few weeks to figure out why!  1) Because I was pushing my tiny newborn baby around in a stroller, when really she was a pipsqueak and I could have easily been wearing her in a wrap.  2) The reasons she started to fuss was not because she was hungry, but was because she wanted me to pick her up.  3) Everyone knew what I was doing under that muslin shawl, so why didn’t I just take the darn thing off and let my baby get some fresh air!  Oh… the perils of a first time new mother!  It only took me a few weeks to get myself sorted:  baby wearing, breastfeeding in public sans shawl, elimination communication in the bushes, etc.  With baby #2, I now feel like I have it down to a science.

Now that there is a baby #2, I don’t have as much liberty to time my feeds so that they happen in private places, like I did with Margo.  Almost every time we’re out at the playground, in the shops, etc. I have to feed Goldie.  I probably do try to go to a quiet place, mostly because Goldie will get distracted if there’s too much going on.  The boobs come out whenever they need to, but it’s not like I’m not running around like a topless lunatic.  In fact, if there is a clean and quiet parent’s room, I will almost always use it!  I don’t know if they have them in America, but where we live in Australia, they have quite a few nice ones in the shopping centres where we go.  They even have a low sink with a mirror that I can take Goldie to use the toilet.  Bwahaha, beware of the sink (I clean it out afterwards).  If I can, I feed her in the car, as I will admit, Goldie is a sloppy eater and there is a LARGE chance that we will make a little mess.  The car is the best because we have a little potty/change station in the back of the wagon.  But, it’s summer, and even in the shade, the car can get way too hot!

I mean, when a baby’s gotta eat, a baby’s gotta eat.  You can’t just explain to your baby that in this particular society that they have been born into, that people have these weird conservative ideas about breastfeeding in public.  Well, you can, but they’ll probably just start crying.  Just today, I was at the playground for the umpteenth time, Goldie squawked, I gave her boobs, nobody batted an eyelash, everything continued as usual.

Margo goes soaring through the air!

Notice in the background, Margo goes soaring through the air!  Glad she learned to swing herself..

The other day we were eating our favorite vegetarian restaurant, Govinda’s.  It was PACKED in there.  It’s a tiny place and we were in the middle of eating.  Goldie wanted boobs, I gave them to her.  We all ate, (Goldie ended up with a little veggie curry on her head), there was no fussing, nobody had to listen to a screaming baby, I didn’t have to go run and sit in the car and hide.  I actually didn’t even think about how naturally I just whipped out the boobs in a public place until afterwards in the car ride home.  I remembered how a friend of mine in America was telling me that she was asked by a restaurant manager to stop feeding her baby where everyone could see it!  She was with her two other children and husband and they were all in the middle of eating.  One thing that I have learned, is that when everyone else is eating, the baby wants to eat too!  It always seems to happen.  Anyway, my friend couldn’t go to the car, she wasn’t about to upset the whole family and get angry and leave the restaurant, and well… the baby had to eat… so she had to go into the toilet!!!  Feeding a baby where people go to the toilet?!?!  That is so yucko!  I would have asked the restaurant manager if he would like to eat his dinner in the bathroom.  Come on America!

I’m so curious to hear from people their experiences with breastfeeding in public, whether it’s you doing the feeding, or just being around mothers who are doing it.  There a lot of people form all over the world reading this, it’s interesting to know what the world’s views are on feeding babies in public!  Speaking of feeding babies, I better go to bed and snuggle with mine, she’ll be wanting some soon :)

About katesurfs

Kate is an American living in Australia who accidentally stumbled into a passion for blogging. She is a high school science teacher by profession, a yoga and meditation teacher, trained through the Art of Living Foundation, a surfer, a vegetarian, and a health conscious mother of two.

16 Responses »

  1. I used to be a typical American ‘omg cover them up’ gal…then I became all crunchy in the UK and admit pretty much the entire northwest of England has seen my boobs. Evolet has a knack for popping off a feed just as I am talking/interacting with someone, even for just a moment. And especially if they are male. I don’t even want to think about how many times I have had to say ‘sorry about the boob shot!’ :) I can honestly say they are like elbows to me now, like ‘whatever’ in terms of exposure. I am grateful I am in Europe, the States are totally backward abt this stuff. They act like its a disease instead of the most beautiful, natural thing in the world.
    PS Goldie is lookin a lot like momma! Love the shot of Margo on the swings, too funny!

    Reply
    • Margo has just learned to swing by herself, she flies on that thing! My girls did the same… ‘Oh,,, something’s going on… ‘ POP! Off comes the mouth, milk sprays everywhere before I can quickly plug it up with something, usually my shirt… ewww! Like elbows… I like that!

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  2. I live in Washington State, USA, and I’m happy to be able to say that in our state we have laws which protect the rights of a mother to breastfeed her child in public. Here’s a link to a page about that: http://www.breastfeedingwa.org/wa_leg My first child was born back in 1995, and I was *so* nervous about breastfeeding in public! I finally decided that I drew less attention to myself and what I was doing if I didn’t wear a nursing cover. One of my favorite situations to think back on is when we were visiting a church one Sunday morning. I had gone into the nursery to nurse my baby (he was my second baby). The room was at the back of the church, and was just a tiny room, more like a “cry room” (a place one can take a crying baby to calm them during the church service). Anyway, after church people kept coming in the room to say hi and welcome me to their church; they were glad we were visiting! And there I was sitting in the rocking chair nursing my baby and no one batted an eye. lol That’s pretty uncommon for a church, btw. Here is a link to an article that came out recently about breastfeding in church: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/december/breast-feeding-in-back-pew.html

    Anyway, I love your blog post! :D

    Reply
    • What an awesome church you found! You would think all churches would be places where people would be stoked that woman were using what God gave them?! And, that all woman would care and feed their babies just like Mary had taken care of baby Jesus. But, yeah, I can understand where they’re coming from, sometimes can be a bit conservative on some fronts. I love that article! It’s so so sweet. There is also a very beautiful story about Moses and how his mother was able to breastfeed him even though she had given him up in a last ditch effort to save his life.

      You’re lucky to live in Washington state! A friend of mine just had a baby there and she was telling me all the cool stuff you have there! She lives in Seattle, she was like, elimination communication classes, cloth diaper classes, ayurvedic doulas and on and on! I spent a summer teaching sailing on Orcas Island, what a magical place! And, yes, I definitely think it draws more attention to have a cover on than to just be natural about it!

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  3. great to meet you yesterday!
    It’s funny, Saskia needed a feed after a while being there, and I noticed there was a grandmother a few steps away who kept looking at me while I was breastfeeding. Saskia was doing her regular gymnurstics, and I think the grandmother was wondering what was going on and if I really was breastfeeding. Eventually she stepped closer and leaned in and said, ‘it’s so funny how they do all those contortions!’ Lol.

    I had a hooter-hider that I used a few times in the early days of breastfeeding. Not so much for me, but for when we were at family events and there were uncles and grandfathers etc. who felt uncomfortable. But in an effort to normalise breastfeeding, I eventually stopped being so considerate and started whipping out the boob whenever and wherever, uncovered, regardless of who was around. Some people don’t know where to look, and I find it kind of entertaining and a little bit amusing observing how different people respond when I breastfeed in front of them!

    Reply
    • Haha! Yes, I know, they don’t know where to look. I mean, I don’t actually cover up, but I will turn away, or if I have a spare piece of clothing (like the tail of a ring sling works perfect), I do cover up a little, like if there’s some dudes around. I was at the library today (trying to cool off) and this 10 year old boy was like, totally staring at me… sigh… I guess he had never seen it before? By the way…’hooter-hider’!!! Hilarious! I’m calling it that from now on!

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  4. By the way, Goldie’s arm up the top of the page there is the cutest chubby little arm I have ever seen! Gah! So cute.

    With my first I was a cover-up gal. But I wasn’t really crunchy then and was still feeling my way through motherhood. I also hated breastfeeding, and would prefer to pump and feed a bottle while out in public to feel more comfortable.

    This time I have no qualms about it! I think my most pro bf-ing in public is having the little munchkin breastfeeding in the sling while pushing a trolley round coles with a toddler in it. Most people probably wouldnt even realise I had a boob out, unless you saw me adjusting to begin with :-)

    Reply
    • Oh, you should have seen the rolls on her sister’s arm! I used to call her king crab arms! I know some of my friends in America who do a lot of pumping and feeding in public that way. Gosh, I am just far too lazy and disorganised to ever think about that! I guess with only one, you would have a little more time. That’s awesome to just feed on the fly, like in Coles. I used to do it all the time with Margo, I would do it while she was in the Ergo, even when she was well over a year old, she was such a boobie girl. This Goldie is a little different. For her, boobs are for food only, and only when she’s really hungry. Plus, she’s such a messy eater, whenever I feed her, I need an army of towels and need to make sure there are no innocent bystanders! It takes like 120% of my concentration (not easy when you have a toddler saying, mum, look at me, look at me do this… blah blah blah).

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  5. Lovely post! I’m with you – I don’t cover. When my son was little and I used the Maya wrap I would drape the tail of it over him if he fell asleep while nursing, just to keep the light out a bit. Other than that I’m not terribly modest about it, anymore! :)
    Your girls are so cute!

    Reply
    • I use the tail of my ring sling,,, but it’s usually to clean up the mess… Goldie is such a messy eater! Lucky for you, you live in a slightly more ‘crunchy’ part of America. When I was visiting home in America, for some reason, I can’t remember if breastfeeding in public was awkward. I was just carrying on like I always had in Australia… I wonder if I shocked anyone? I didn’t even notice!

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  6. Love the post! :) Ive got two questions for you! Here is the situation, I’ve got a 3 weeks old little girl and I am about to take her to town for the first time.. Ive not been at all out with here cause I am scared of the breastfeeding in the public at the moment. Where I have over active let-down there is only one position where Isabella ( my daughter) doesnt choke, cry, etc. and that is the australian hold where I am laying down and she is on top. Im also having too much milk so when feeding her, lets just say it can get really messy, running from my other breast and Isabella spitting and going of the nipple when she cant handle it. So my question is, how to you do it where Goldie is a messy eater? I really need some tips! :) And another question is actually about babywearing, I am having her for the first time now in a sling.. like a moby wrap and it is pretty tight so I get concerns if she is actually able to breath probber in it.. Any idea of that? does it always feel tight or should I loosen it up a little? :D
    -New time mommy :)

    Reply
    • Oh yes… the messy eater.. I would give yourself some time. A lot of cultures say to take it very easy the first 40 days, or six weeks. Some say to not even leave the house. You’re still recovering and even though you feel like running around, once you get out there, you may feel more tired than you think you are… Tired can equal stress with a new baby. The baby is still very sensitive to stimulation too at this age. I’m not sure what a trip into town entails… but if you’re a little hesitant, just wait a few more weeks to go. You’re still establishing breastfeeding and getting used to having a baby! Also, when you do go, make sure you can go with your husband, that way he can help you with whatever you need. The mess just happens…. As for the opposite breast leaking, you can get some heavy duty breastpads, or you can actually use the heal of your palm and press hard on your nipple. I don’t do this every time, only when I’m in public and I don’t have anything in case I leak, if you do it all the time and you’re very full, it can cause a bit of mastitis. I just use a hand towel or baby blanket or whatever I can get my hands onto. One end for the opposite breast and the other end of the towel to quickly plug the milk from spraying everywhere when the baby pulls off. We have gotten less messy over the weeks and months, it will ease up a bit!

      It’s hard to say how tight you have the wrap… but, since it’s a stretchy wrap, chances are, it’s not too tight, and it’s not too hard to breathe. Just use your judgement, if you can breathe, chances are that she can also breathe easily. You want to make sure that the wrap is tight enough so that she is not sagging, and that she is upright and you can kiss the top of her head. Hope that helps :)

      Reply
      • I was already in the town when I saw your reply.. :) It actually went great! the sling was way too tight in the beginning, so that one was fixed at first opportunity. We survived! :P Then she just slept the whole trip, except when it was about time to be fed, then we went to the library. I expecially picked to go to the shopping center for that reason that they have a really nice library there where I have seen breastfeeding moms before.. I had some help from my husband to hold her while I got comfortable lol.. and then I just leaned down into a sofachair and yeah it went great. She could actually half lay on my stomach, simular to how it is at home :D.. I was not covered at all. Had a nursting bra on.. took down my tank top and out went the boob and Isabella latching on like she does it best… Playing a little bit with the nipple first and taking her time lol… I had the thought of what you had experienced with the kid staring at you.. Well the first one coming close to where I was sitting was a 12 year old boy, he looked at us sitting there for 1 sec and then just carried on looking for a book. Right away I had the thought; this is so normal, nothing different about this and I didnt notice at all afterwards if people were staring or not.. Then in the middle of the feeding she took a pause like she usually does, so I can change her diaper and she can use the time to pee in the open air. ( she is going to be great in EC ;) ) Then I found out that the shopping center actually has a nursing room where parents can sit down in quiet and nurse. Also facilities for changing diapers, with sink and everything. Wow i was impressed.. so there I finished with the second meal and then off on the road again. But thanks for the tip. I’ll go after that if I can breath in the sling, then most likely so can she :D.. It has worked so far :).. About the messy part, I am sure I’ll stop worry about it.. I guess having stains on your shirts are a part of being a mom :D..

      • Awesome to hear! Yes, those parents rooms can be great, if it’s a clean one. I usually use the car, but it’s warm where we live. If we were living somewhere cold, would be more inclined to use them more often. Funny about the kids when they see you! It always happens to be the awkward pre-teen boys that see me! Oh well. Breatfeeding in public IS normal! Can’t wait to hear more on how she’s doing with EC :)

  7. Love the blog Kate! I remember when Ari was 4 days old I took him to the baby expo and was walking around breastfeeding him. I figured it would have to be the most accepting place for public feeding so I took advantage of being there to get confident.
    I have covered a couple times but it was more so Ari wouldn’t get distracted just as milk would be let down. Happened once and milk just went everywhere!!!
    You blogs are so great. Keep it up. Xo

    Reply
    • Oh yes, I also have shielded their eyes before, because unless they’re starving and exhausted, any distraction is like, ‘What… what’s doing on overrrr… there?’. Off pops the mouth and if you’re just starting let down, oh, you’ve got a terrible mess! I remember hearing when you took Ari there, crazy woman! I wouldn’t have wanted to leave the house after popping out a 9 pound baby! ;)

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