Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Melissa Clark Vickers, Huntingdon, Tennessee, USA
Photo: Esther Edith
We all know that breastfeeding a baby can be done anywhere—and babies don’t stop and consider where they are when their need for mom or her milk arises. And we know that mothers and babies breastfeed in many places, and in many situations, and in many configurations, whether in public, in a corner, with a little breast showing, or under a cover. The “how” really doesn’t matter—the important thing is that the needs of the baby are met.
The other thing we know from shared experiences is that breastfeeding in public, regardless of how it is done, is likely to generate comments and looks that range predictably from the “thumbs-up” smiles and words of encouragement, to the disparaging looks and comments that often make the news.
We asked mothers to share their stories of breastfeeding their children in public, and received a lovely collection of stories that illustrate that range of responses—but most are heart-warming and affirming:
Becca McCormick: I was nursing my eight-week-old at a historic site while using a nursing cover. The tour guide stopped the tour and told me that I couldn’t “do that here!” I was too upset to argue. I was later told that the guide believed nursing was a violation of the “no food or drink” policy. Even using a cover, I wasn’t safe from harassment.
Jane Rupert: I felt sad and cross when a woman in the store said, “Cover yourself up!” as she walked by. I was breastfeeding my eight-month-old who was sitting on my hip, otherwise he’d have been screaming the place down, but I had to get the groceries.
Katrina Soper: I fed my toddler at an environmental fair and a young mum came up to me and said, “I was going to wean my four-month-old, but now I’ve seen you still feeding I’m going to carry on.”
Jenny Thompson: When my daughter was just a few weeks old we went out shopping, predictably she needed a feed while we were there. I was a little nervous as it was still early days, but found a bench, sat down and started to feed her, hoping no one would notice.
After a couple of minutes a mum with a child in a buggy (he seemed huge next to my tiny newborn) sat down next to me. She didn’t say anything at first, just lifted her baby out of the buggy and latched him on.
We sat and chatted for a few minutes before going our separate ways, but I’ve never forgotten her or her support through the first feed away from home.
Barbara Childs: When my son was a few weeks old I went out for a meal with my parents. I adjusted my sling and had him latched on for most of the meal. At the end of the evening my dad said, “You see, you don’t need to keep feeding him all the time, do you?” He hadn’t realized his grandson had been nursing and quiet for about two hours!
Ellie Walton: While out at a soft play venue, we decided to grab some food in the pub next door. There was an elderly couple sitting across from us. We ordered our food and BOOM my little dude starts to kick off. I unbuttoned my shirt and gave him some boob. After I finished, my friend took my little boy for a wander round the pub. The elderly lady came over to me and I thought, “Oh no, here we go.” She took my arm and said, “Thank you!” I asked her, “What for?” “Thank you for breastfeeding here: it makes me so happy to see women out and about feeding their babies. Back when my children were young, about 40 years ago, I hid in train shelters or toilets and hardly left the house. I’m so glad you can breastfeed in public. I wish I could have done.” She asked how old my little boy was and I told her he was one last week. “Well done you!” she said, “You’re doing an amazing job. Keep going!”
I’ll never forget that woman and it’s the first time anyone has said anything positive to me while I’ve been breastfeeding out and about. It was just what I needed to hear today! Whoever that woman is I would love to thank her. I’m feeling positive.
Rachel O’leary: I was nursing my toddler on the Tube in London [the London Underground trains] because his screaming would have been even more embarrassing! An older woman sitting beside me leaned over and spoke gently to him: “You hungry? You have your food, don’t let nobody shame you!” After that, I was never nervous again.
Anne Gaskell: I sat on a bench in the shopping center quietly nursing my baby. An elderly lady came to sit beside me and shortly afterwards her husband took up the space on the other side of me. They conducted a conversation above my head.
“It’s great to see a baby being fed naturally isn’t it Bert”
“Yes Eileen, lovely”
Both turned to me with a big smile.
Amber Ziring: I once chatted with a friend’s extremely conservative father for 20 minutes and just as he was leaving to socialize with someone else, my daughter finished up a marathon nursing session. He looked startled, and began apologizing profusely for intruding. He simply hadn’t realized I had been nursing the whole time we chatted. It was lovely.
Barbara Higham: When I was feeding my baby at the library while choosing books with my four-year-old, a lady asked me if she could take our photograph for a local community feature about libraries. I don’t know if or where it was ever published, but I liked the thought that she wanted others to know that breastfeeding mothers were welcome.
The take-away message from these shared stories? There’s something about a breastfeeding mother and child that stirs deep and wistful memories of days gone by and becomes a visible role model for other mothers wondering if it is “okay” to do that in public. The ripple effect is undeniable, and if we’re lucky, it will reach and affect even those who react negatively.
Sometimes change comes in baby steps—or baby sips.