This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Nursing in Public hosted by Dionna and Paige at NursingFreedom.org. All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public ("NIP"). See the bottom of this post for more information.
Four Sips of NIP
There was never any question I would breastfeed my children. I nursed until I was two and a half, as did my siblings. My husband and his siblings nursed at least a year, so he was comfortable with the idea. When it came to nursing in public, though, that’s where we differed.
I’m not a modest person, having spent hours in my bathing suit when I was on a swim team, so it never occurred to me to nurse until a blanket or shawl. I have no problem with them but, as I honestly told my husband, “Do you really think I am coordinated enough to juggle a blanket AND hook up a newborn?” My husband maintained there was something sexual about nursing. As usual, I gave him A Look and told him he was crazy.
Now, six years and four kids later, my husband is used to seeing my shirts in various states of disarray in public. The only time he bats an eye is if I don’t have a baby or toddler with me!
My first real chance to NIP came when my oldest was six weeks old. We packed up our new little family and headed on an eleven hour road trip to visit my husband’s grandparents and attend his aunt’s wedding. Along the way, I nursed in the car at various truck stops and, once, next to a milk truck. I was slightly amused.
Shortly after we arrived, we had to attend a rehearsal dinner for the people in the wedding and out of town guests. Adam’s grandmother enjoyed holding her new great-grandson (and late husband’s namesake) but right as the buffet was being served, Baby Joseph needed to eat. I wasn’t sure how my husband’s more conservative extended family would respond to NIP (and not wanting to nurse in a metal folding chair), so I looked around for a comfortable yet secluded place to nurse. A group of couches were lined up in one corner so I stole my baby back and headed over, instructing my husband to make a plate for me.
As I settled in and put my feet up, I heard someone come up behind me. I braced myself but it was the sister of the bride. She leaned over and said, “Oh! You’re breastfeeding! I think that’s great! I nursed my twins in public too but I had to drag a chair into the bathroom so I could nurse them at the same time. I would nurse one on each side. “I laughed and she said, “It’s wonderful that you are nursing. Keep up the good work!”
The whole wedding was wonderful but that, for me, was the sweetest moment. I was a new mother, just getting my feet on the ground and having a little cheering section meant the world to me.
When my son was two years old and my daughter was six months, my parents convinced up to take a family vacation to Branson. My brother was joining the military and they wanted all of their children, grandchildren and sons-in-law to get together for one last “hoorah” before he left for basic training. What was supposed to be a quiet trip to Branson to see the Dixie Land Stampede ended up being one of THOSE trips that go down in family lore, right up there with the Thanksgiving from… you know.
Three-fourths of the way to Branson, we smelled something that no parent ever wants to smell- poop. My son, in the middle of potty training, had had a massive diaper leak. Massive. All over everything, including his Blankey.
We stopped quickly to wash him off and clean up as much of the damage as possible. My husband suddenly and brilliantly decided that Joseph needed a new car seat (for his car… yup!), so we drove to the nearest K-Mart to pick one up.
By this time, I was hot, sticky and covered in sweat. Camille, our six month old, had been acting hungry for awhile but now she was screeching, complete with a pterodactyl head bob at my chest. Leaving my husband, son, a new car seat, pull-ups and a Matchbox car in the checkout line behind a woman trying to convince her teenage daughter to pierce her tongue, I headed out to the van to nurse.
I was sitting in the back with all the doors open, enjoying the cool breeze, when I heard a man say, “Ma’am?” Very coolly, I responded, “Yes?” wondering who this stranger was and why he was talking to me.
“I’m sorry, I was talking to someone else,” he replied politely. I smiled and went back to nursing Camille.
A moment later, the gentleman turned his head around and peered at me in the backseat. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell earlier. I am very sorry."
I thought that he thought he had disturbed Camille nursing so I said, “Oh, you weren’t yelling! Don’t worry about it! I was just sitting here nursing the baby. You didn’t bother us at all!”
The man turned beet red and started tripping over himself with apologies even as he was running for the K-Mart door. “I am so embarrassed! I didn’t realize you were doing that! I thought you were enjoying the cool breeze; I didn’t see the baby! I’m so sorry!”
I began reassuring him. “Don’t worry about it! I nurse anywhere; it’s not a problem” but the poor guy was already in K-Mart, completely embarrassed, I’m sure.
I was laughing when my husband and son returned to the car. Between the blow out, the mother in the checkout line and the man running away from me nursing my daughter, I was ready for a hot shower and cold drink… in the order!
When Georgie was six months old, our family of five ventured out to Cold Stone Creamery for a mid-summer’s treat of ice cream. Of course, as soon as we got there, Georgie smelled the ice cream and thought he needed to eat. I chuckled at the appropriateness of nursing in an ice cream store and sat down to nurse without a second thought.
I calmly sat, not paying much attention to anything, when I realized I was being stared at. I quickly checked to make sure the baby hadn’t unlatched but, nope, he was still nursing away. My belly was covered by my larger-than-average-nursling… and then I heard it.
“Some people think they are all that and that they’re the only ones that exist. … I mean, I’ve got boobs and you’ve got boobs but we don’t feel the need to show them off…”
I looked up, surprised to see a group of adult women pointing at me and staring. Georgie chose that moment to finish nursing, so I closed up shop and took the ice cream from my oblivious husband. I was confused- I was nursing my son discreetly in a public place where both he and I were welcome. What was the problem? Or, moreover, what was their problem?
My husband told me later I should have said something to them but I’m glad I didn’t. It would have only added fuel to the fire. Three months later, Georgie was weaning due to my new pregnancy and I was giving him a bottle of formula in public. I was at the receiving end of a nasty comment proving ya can’t win for tryin’!
A friend and fellow mother of four once told me, “My first baby got milk but the rest of them got milkshakes!” It’s very true- I never nurse sitting down anymore and, in public, I have to be ready to jump up and run after the toddler, taking a nursing baby with me, jiggling all the way.
Cole was mostly bottle fed for the first two months due to his tongue tie. Within a week of it getting clipped, he was nursing at the breast. A month later, however, he still sometimes has trouble maintaining a good suction and drawing the nipple into his mouth. Helping him do this, complete with the occasional breast compressions when he needs it, is not a discreet affair.
Recently I took the children out of town to visit my family. In the car, Cole suddenly decided he was hungry and needed to eat NOW. This was a problem in the middle of the highway with no rest stop in sight. I pulled into the first one I saw and nearly jumped out of the car, pulling my sweaty and red baby to me.
Before I got the other children unbuckled, I had Cole nursing in the sling, sniffling and looking at me forlornly. With one hand, I held him steady and with the other, I unbuckled my three other children. We were walking up to the restrooms when laughter greeted our ears.
A man, his mother and son were sitting at a picnic table watching us. He was smiling, laughing and said, “I have four children too and I remember those days. Cherish it.”
And I do. Before I can blink, my NIP days will be over and I will be the mother leaning over the back of the couch, telling a new mother what a wonderful job she’s doing. I’ll be the person in the parking lot spying another nursing in the back of a van, enjoying the cook breeze and the woman thinking the, yup, an ice cream parlor is really the best place to give milk to your baby on a hot day. When the days grow longer and it is my grandchildren’s turn to take a sip in public, I’ll have stories of my own NIP days to tell them.
Welcome to the Carnival of Nursing in Public
Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit NursingFreedom.org any time to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.
Do you support breastfeeding in public? Grab this badge for your blog or website to show your support and encourage others to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the rights of breastfeeding mothers and children.
This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following days:
July 5 - Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World
July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child
July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.
July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives
July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It