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Mother’s situation: Do I need to cover up?
I am breastfeeding my baby and, after a challenging start, it’s going really well and I’m so glad I kept going. Sadly, not all my friends and family are on board with my decision. While I feel really proud of my achievement and pleased at how well my baby is growing, as well as at how close it makes us, members of my family (my mother, sister, father-in-law), and one of my friends have made negative remarks. They say I should take a bottle with me instead of breastfeeding when we are in restaurants or even at relatives’ houses. My husband does not want to upset them and talks about how my breastfeeding makes people feel uncomfortable. I am always discreet and feel hurt that they think responding to my baby by meeting his needs could ever be a bad thing. But I do not want to alienate anybody either. I feel very confused!
What have other mothers done when they have met with these sorts of reactions from family and friends?
Congratulations on all the hard work you have put into nursing your baby. I am sorry that you are not feeling supported.
It may be helpful to have a conversation with your husband privately and explain to him how you are feeling. Getting together with other breastfeeding families might help. My husband was a bit on the fence about many things until we went to an LLL conference together. When he saw other mothers nursing older babies and toddlers, and heard about other families co-sleeping and parenting in a similar way, it helped him see things in a different light.
You are helping to normalize nursing to all of your friends. Hold your head high and soak up those moments with your baby for they are fleeting. If anyone questions you, you might say, “This works so well for our family.” No explanation or excuses needed. Then change the subject. After a few times, I bet they move on.
Lindsey Okemos, Michigan, USA
Join your local La Leche League group. My critical extended family eventually stopped making comments by the time my third baby arrived. Breastfeeding just wasn’t up for discussion, so I nursed my babies discreetly and didn’t engage them on the subject.
Ruth Auchterlounie, Otley, Yorkshire, UK
I am sorry to hear those closest to you have made negative remarks about your wonderful achievement, when you should be proud.
It is a difficult one: you don’t want to antagonize family and friends with your choices, but it is important they give you the space to make your own decisions.
For me, it is really important to have my partner on board. Being completely honest with him and expecting a good level of support in turn helps me stay galvanized when others are critical. I can be confident that we are raising our son in the way we have agreed is best for our family. My partner is pretty good at coming up with a one liner, or a distraction if a particular comment has left me stumped!
With those who feel uncomfortable, sometimes a quiet one-on-one chat can help them understand, but if you know characters who just won’t, or perhaps you simply don’t feel like justifying your choices, then I would continue as you are. Breastfeeding is often discreet so I don’t think you need to cover up any further (doing so often attracts more attention!). Sometimes we eat a family meal with everyone round a table and if my son needs to feed, I may go to sit on a sofa, so I’m not directly in front of that ‘uncomfortable’ person.
I’d recommend patience: once the members of your family see what a lovely baby you have, they won’t feel the need to be so critical if faced with the evidence of what a good job you are doing.
Lorna Smith, London, UK
It’s so hard when you care enough to want to please everyone. But as a mother, that’s no longer your concern. I’ve been in this position too. I avoided going to disapproving peoples’ houses whenever possible. If I did have to go, I’d ask to use a spare room when my baby was hungry. I felt that was the courteous thing to do.
However, in public or in my own home, I fed my baby the way I was comfortable. Other peoples’ opinions are exactly that, just opinions. My loyalty is to my baby. If you avoid seeing them, they may think about how they have made you feel and learn some tolerance.
Talk to your husband so you’re on the same page. His loyalty needs to be to you and he needs to show that when interacting with relatives.
With my first baby, my mom was really awkward about my nursing. She never really tried very long to breastfeed my sister and me, and I think it made her feel bad that I was persevering when she hadn’t. Now I’m nursing my second (after nursing the first for over a year and a half), she’s totally cool with it. She loves me and my children and understands that her insecurity and discomfort was hurting our relationship.
As blunt as it sounds, your priority is your baby (and your own emotional health matters too). Everything else is secondary.
Sarah Marquez, San Antonio, Texas, USA
Some members of my extended family see breastfeeding as unnecessary and consider a bottle the easy option, involving no embarrassment. Most of the time it’s a case of their embarrassment and by giving their opinion on how I meet my baby’s needs they are offloading their own insecurities on me.
I don’t breastfeed in front of my extended family. I go to another room. If they joined me in that room, then I’d expect some respect from them. I have always found being discreet wasn’t enough for them, leaving me open to criticism.
Be proud of your huge achievement.
Laila Sarfraz, Leeds, Yorkshire, UK
I nursed my daughter for 14 ½ months. At first, I covered up and always felt awkward. I felt as if I were drawing attention to the fact that I was nursing and it made me super self-conscious. It took a few months for me to learn that how others responded and viewed my nursing habits was not important. What was important was that I responded to my baby and met her needs.
Tobra Crownover, Norman, Oklahoma, USA
I would carry a map with me, pull it out, open it, and say, “Here, show me on this map where I asked for your opinion?”
But you may prefer something more tactful!
Nursing in public gets easier with experience. Start out nursing in a location that is full of families with babies. You are more likely to see other moms nursing in family-friendly areas. Nursing next to other moms can feel very powerful and build your confidence.
Avoid feeling exposed by knowing how you look while nursing. Start by practicing in front of a mirror. Put on the clothes you plan on wearing and nurse your baby in the position you feel most comfortable, sitting in a chair or standing. Many maternity tops are loose and can be lifted or adjusted easily. Start with a nursing or a shelf-bra tank and pair it with a loose-fitting shirt. Wearing flowing, batwing tops allows you to lift your top shirt easily. The nursing tank will keep your belly covered, as will your baby’s body. There are also nursing tops that do not require a tank, as they have layers of fabric that can be pulled or lifted for access.
Nursing your baby in his carrier is another way to nurse on the go, moving or stationary. A ring sling has a tail that may be used as a cover over your baby’s head and may have a pocket to carry items like a diaper and wipes. You can wear your baby using the familiar cradle hold that you are probably comfortable with from nursing at home. A soft-structured carrier that holds your baby upright ensures that your baby’s head covers your breast as he nurses, some have a cover on the top if you want to cover your baby’s head while nursing. Your hands will even be free as you walk around.
If you are more comfortable nursing while covered, there are many options. You can use a baby blanket over your shoulder, wear an infinity scarf, or even use a wired apron-style nursing cover.
Having a prepared response for comments can alleviate anxiety. Sometimes just meeting someone’s eyes with a confident stare, or even a smile, can stop unwanted comments.
Most states have laws protecting nursing mothers. Know your rights. Concentrate on your baby’s face. When you are talking with other people, meet their eyes to let them know it is all right to look at you.
Remember when other breastfeeding mothers see you nursing in public, you are helping them build their confidence as well!
Darcy Smith, Oklahoma, USA
If I were at someone’s home who was uncomfortable with our choice to breastfeed, I would kindly ask which private room I might use. If they were at my house, depending on who it was, I would go to our bedroom or the nursery: not out of shame but because babies pick up on stress and negativity. If a third party is uncomfortable, I just remove myself for the time being.
Colleen McGuire, Denver, Colorado, USA
I am a mother of four and all but my last baby have been formula-fed. I remember seeing mothers nursing when my daughters were young and wishing I could have breastfed longer. Now I’ve been breastfeeding for nine months strong, if someone asked me to cover up, I would honestly hand them my cover and ask them to eat with it on their head and see how they like it! All with a smile on my face!
Jaran, Noble, Oklahoma, USA
It has been my experience that breastfeeding takes a network of support especially when it isn’t the current norm. By nursing our babies in public we are doing our part to change the world back to its normal state, showing other mothers that it is okay to nurse on demand and by that simple action giving strength to another mother to do so too. It seems that over time we have lost our sense of what is normal.
It must be frustrating to not have your family’s support. Listening to my own motherly instincts tends to help me figure out questions that come up in my own journey. I believe in you and your ability to make the best decision for you and for your baby, and your best decision may be quite different to mine. Thank you for breastfeeding your baby!
El Hubbard, Oceanside, California, USA
I am a 24-year-old mother of twins. The only person I ever saw breastfeeding in my family before me was my aunt, who inspired me to breastfeed my girls. They are now six months. During Thanksgiving, our first big, family holiday, at my grandmother’s, my two-month-olds were passed around like hot potatoes and after half an hour they had both had enough. We took bottles but they didn’t want them. They wanted ME. Breastfeeding is so much more than JUST feeding a baby and a lot of people don’t get that.
I removed myself from the chaos, found a quiet guest room, and happily tandem nursed my girls until they were calm enough to go back out to everyone. I personally do not like breastfeeding in front of family, but that is MY choice. Breastfeeding is not a one-size-fits-all matter. If people can’t agree with your choices, they’re the ones alienating a mother who is trying her absolute hardest to nourish her baby naturally.
Brittany Mueller, League City, Texas, USA
My mother-in-law (who did not breastfeed) kept telling me, “Always keep a bottle in the car.” I just nodded but never did. My own mother told me to never give a bottle. When Christmas came, we had to be at my brother-in-law’s on time, so gave our baby a bottle on the way, which led to my baby refusing the breast. It took me nearly two months to get my baby back on the breast. Now family members will not touch on the subject of breastfeeding, and I do as I please.
To have people you love criticize you for doing something you love is really tough.
Rafaela da Silva, Brooklyn, New York, USA
I was the first breastfeeding mother I know of in my family and people did not understand. I began by calmly inviting questions and educated myself to answer them, sprinkling good tidbits of information about how amazing breast milk really is. I would be very understanding about their discomfort because I myself was uncomfortable too before becoming a breastfeeding mommy. The result was that the future babies in my extended family have all been exclusively breastfed.
Tammy Gibbins Bridges, Oceanside, California, USA
I felt alienated and I went to other rooms to feed while visiting relatives. It sucked. The hubby would have supported what I chose either way but I wasn’t strong enough to get out there. Be stronger than I was!
Connie Bird, Wolfforth, Texas, USA
I’m not really concerned about what other people think about it. In fact, I’m more worried about whether I’ll be cold or hot! For me, bottles are not the right solution because my supply would suffer and I already struggle with that.
Carrie Thomas, Grapevine, Texas, USA
I found nothing ever shows anyway and my baby is always happy and calm nursing. Once people noticed that, they stopped giving me a hard time.
Veronica Hendrickson, USA
Mother’s new situation: Am I making her clingy?
My two-year-old is still breastfeeding happily but is not happy to separate from me. She is fine with daddy and her older siblings if I am away for a couple of hours, but she will not stay at anyone else’s house for any length of time without me, even grandma’s. Everyone tells me that breastfeeding is causing her to be clingy and that I need to wean her. At first I simply ignored them, but I hear this criticism so often that I am beginning to doubt my own inner voice that tells me she is not ready. All her peers are starting preschool in the next few months and I am feeling under pressure and wondering what I should do for the best. How have other families faced a similar dilemma?
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