Sometimes Nursing Really Sucks

I never imagined that becoming a mom would hinder my ability to enjoy life as I knew it BK (before kids). So when my oldest daughter was about four months old, I bundled her up, popped her in the Baby Bjorn and headed to the Upper East Side for her first trip to the Whitney Biennial. It was an incredible day, lunching with my girls from college and checking out a couple of fabulous baby boutiques en route to the museum. After waiting in a line that curled around the block, my friends and I finally gained entry to the museum and were free to explore just like old times. The only difference was that unlike old times, I now had a sleeping baby strapped snuggly to my chest. No big thing, I figured.

But she was a tiny and powerful thing indeed. And when she woke up and attempted to devour her entire fist (in between frustrated squeals of hunger), my fantasy of freedom came crashing down. Within minutes, my long-awaited trip to the museum had turned into a quest for a quiet place to breastfeed. I knew how to feed J-Jo in a way that didn't allow others to see even a centimeter of skin, so everything seemed fine once I found a bench that was somewhat out of the way – I was relieved, the gallery goers were obliviously swirling around me and J-Jo could finally have lunch. But that still didn't stop my friends from asking "don't you think you should, uh, do that in the bathroom?" All I could think was: I know you didn't just say the bathroom. You want me to get up and go feed my child in a public hotbed of e. coli and possibly even chlamydia? Oh hell no. Rosa would have been proud.

I felt sympathy towards the nursing mother who was recently forced to leave a Delta Freedom Airlines flight because she refused to cover her child with a blanket while nursing discreetly. The flight attendant might have thought she was just doing her job, but she was preventing a mother from doing hers. I know the challenges a parent faces when stuck in public with a nursing baby who happens to be hungry. J-Jo was the type of baby who figured: why should my parents buy Similac when I can get breastmilk for free? She hated bottles and spit out plastic nipples as if we were trying to poison her. It didn't matter if I had pumped first, she wasn't trying to hear it. Her screams sounded so tortured, strangers glared at me with fingers positioned on their cell phones – two seconds away from calling C.P.S. But these glares weren't nearly as piercing as the looks I'd been shot on the random occasions I gave into those cries and begrudgingly began breastfeeding in public.

Considering the amount of flesh flashed in advertisements and music videos, the social stigma attached to breastfeeding just doesn't make sense to me. Not when the average American has been exposed to more of of Mariah Carey's boobs than a random nursing mother's. But despite scientific evidence that breastfeeding has a host of health benefits for a baby the stigma still persists. We live in a culture that sets aside an entire month and designates a color for the fight against breast cancer, but ignores evidence that women who breastfeed beyond thirty-six months can significantly lessen their risk for the disease. I'm not exactly an attachment parent but the statistics – plus the evidence that breastmilk boosts a baby's IQ – was enough to make me a believer.

What do you think: Should breastfeeding mamas get the boot? Or does this society have a warped view of womanhood?


Yolanda said...

Breasts exist to make breastmilk. Period. It's ridiculous how sexualized they are considering their purpose is nursing babies. I've been very blessed in the nursing in public dept- my first son was born in Seattle where I actually got dirty looks when I tried to give him a bottle of expressed milk lol.

I feel so awful for that woman on the plane. My sons have nursed from coast to coast literally and I've never once had an issue. I am a sling wearer though so both had a privacy shield(except for those waving around arms and legs as they got older). When my eldest was 5 months old we flew to Hawaii (just me and him) for my brother's wedding. I was placed next to another mother with a newborn and we had great conversation and nursed our babies for the entire 6 hour flight. I must be a rare situation but I've had flight attendants compliment me for bf, bring me water, and care above and beyond for me and my little ones- I'm greatful to have never run into a negative experience and hope no one has to endure such treatment again.

Aly Cat 121 said...

I've also always nursed my 3 babies in public MANY a time. I never even thought twice about it, whether we were out to eat, on an airplane, park, movies, etc. I'm from Cali so I don't know if that makes a difference. I do know that most states have no mandates AGAINST nursing in public and I also think it's illegal in many to "boot" women who wish to nurse in public places.

Altho, I must say I've always had a receiving blanket over my shoulder when doing it, so I don't know if that makes a difference.

Dee said...

Cosigning here. I have nursed all three of my children from babyhood into toddlerhood, in public without incident. In airports, foreign countries, on military bases, at football games...etc,etc,etc. I think in most cases, people didn't even realize what I was doing, heh. In my state, wherever a woman has a right to be, she has a right to breastfeed. It saddens and enrages me when mothers are harassed for doing something as simple as feeding their children! The oversexualization of breasts, and of women in general in this country, is quite out of control. And yes, I'm a little bit crunchy. ;-)

Nerd Girl said...

I nursed Lovegirl for the 10 months that I was able to. I never received any rude comments from the general public while nursing -- I really don't think most people knew what I was doing. And believe me, I nursed her everywhere -- from IKEA to airplanes to church. I too, always used a blanket while nursing, but honestly I think if push came to shove, I'd nurse without one before I'd let my child just holler from hunger.

I did encounter rude comments at work. When I'd open my office door after pumping, my boss would say things like "um, don't you think it's about time you just give your baby a bottle?" or "when are you going to stop doing that anyway?" I ignored her and continued to pump at work until I just dried up.

I did find out about 3 months after I stopped nursing that nursing in public was illegal in Mississippi all the while I was doing it. They (We?) finally passed a law last year that made it legal for breastfeeding moms to nurse in public.

It really bothers me that peopole continue to equate breastfeeding with some sort of sexualized "nastiness." Lil Kim is nasty. The videos I no longer watch on BET and MTV are nasty. A baby being fed and nourished is about as far from nasty as it gets.

Pebbles Flintstone said...

Isn't it a question of common sense, as in all things in life? I gauge where I am, the potential for interruption, etc. It involves the variables we as savvy women (who simply cannot whip out our breasts anywhere, anytime) usually calculate. I know it sounds obvious, but perhaps the rule can be so: if you are discreet, you should not be prohibited from this natural activity. I find it terribly hypocritcal that often the same "Pro-family" conservatives who are vehement about some issues turn up their noses at "public" nursing.

My question (#1) is--what do your husbands think? Mine (who blogs and is an author I must disclose; he has commented to your blog a few times) is nonchalant about it to the point of being detached! Therefore he's not an advocate, but he does make a good look-out.

Question #2, what indeed are the statistics that breastfeeding increases IQ? Who sponsored these studies and what were their parameters? I do it because I like it, I bond with my son, and he is happier. I don't do it to keep up with yet another buppy/yuppy trend. There is a lot of pressure out there to do it, for all the worng reasons. I think my son will have a good shot at either Howard or Princeton (mommie and daddies respective alma maters) with or without with breastmilk.

Mrs. J said...

Thanks for all of your comments, mommies (I thought it wasn't just me...).

Pebbles – Thanks for your comments, it's nice to "meet you", esp. after conversing with your husband here. I must say feel like I already know you two now, esp. after my husband (who's also a published author) told me that they've actually met before. Such a small, black, literary world isn't it?:)

As far as question #1 goes, he's a Friends School educated Philly kid whose parents met while protesting Vietnam. So considering that, it's no surprise that the man could care less. He's been nothing but my advocate through all my nursing days. He'd help position the baby in the beginning, and help me adjust that blanket over my shoulder if we were out somewhere. Just great about it, really.

To answer question #2, I actually never did much self-directed research into the clinical studies on nursing prior to having children. I thought breastfeeding would be the best way to feed them. My mom nursed, my aunt nursed and so I didn't really didn't consider it an option not to. The numerous IQ reasons were just a bonus as far as I was concerned (not conveyed in my somewhat glib comment, but that's the truth). I definitely didn't do it to be trendy and it sickens me to think someone would be that superficial. There's nothing trendy about nursing wear, that's for sure. Or admitting after weaning that your fave La Perla bra just doesn't fit the same (speaking for myself here, sadly).That should teach someone not to be so shallow! LOL

But to be more specific (and maybe I ought to cite more references in the future), A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that breastfed infants tested 5.2 IQ points higher than formula fed infants, for a comprehensive study involving 11 different studies and over 7000 children. And there are numerous studies supporting that DHA (or Omega 3 oil) which is primarily found in breastmilk is connected to human brain development.

But I'm not sure what has been proven now that DHA is added to infant formula. And we really don't know how socio-economic factors come into play with this. Are more educated moms more likely to breastfeed? Considering that we're not sure yet, I think the IQ link is bound to be revisited at some point.

Out of my three kids, I nursed our oldest the longest (until she was almost 2), one twin for one year and the other for about three months. Taking care of twins (oh yeah, and a three year old) was draining the life out of me as it was and the best option was to keep one on the breast and let MJ do bottles with the other.

I'm just glad I had a chance to bond with all of them through nursing, regardless of how long. And I seriously doubt that "who got how much of what and for how long" will make much difference once SAT time rolls around. But I guess we'll just have to wait and see.:)

Again, thanks for commenting –

Christopher Chambers said...

My wife ponders this stuff too much. LOL. I'm waiting for the kid be old enough to share a can of corne beef hash with his father--food of the gods!

Christopher Chambers said...

P.S. I wasn't breast-fed as a baby. I think my mother was caught up in the convenience of formula. This was, after all, the Rat Pack, Mercury Astronaut, go-go boots, Jetson's 1960s.

By any chance did your husband write a book in which an orange was prominent in the plot (and the cover art)? If so, he is a gentleman and a scholar and my idol...

Mrs. J said...

*sounding the alarm* Your guess is correct! He says hello.:)

Mother From Another Continent said...

My biggest problem was my youngest, who is now 22, used to smack.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

This culture has a warped view about breast feeding. It's part of nature.

It's funny we use sex to sell everything but are the most repressed industrialized nation on earth (and I would say the least sexy).

And you are right many public bathrooms are not that clean.

p.s. like your blog.