The incident has once again sparked the breastfeeding conversation: how should we breastfeed, where, for how long, why, etc. It is surprising how many strong opinions there are on this subject, and how varied the opinions are, even among mothers.
This isn't the kind of debate I usually enter into. I really think you need to do what you're comfortable with. If you want to cover up, leave the room, nurse until your kid is in elementary school, or not breastfeed at all, each mom gets to decide what she's going to do on her own. I certainly have my opinions on what works best, and there are some things that others moms do that seem a little weird to me, but even if I don't totally get where they are coming from, I know they love their child and are doing their best--that's all I can expect of them.
There were many things I didn't understand until I became a mom. One of those things was breastfeeding. I didn't get why people were so passionate about it, or why they would fight so hard to not have to use a cover or leave the room, or even be able to talk openly about breastfeeding without feeling like they were being scandalous or offending someone. Breastfeeding advocacy groups talk about "normalizing" breastfeeding. By that, they mean they want to make breastfeeding so commonplace that it's a non-issue, so you wouldn't bat an eye if you saw either a mom giving her toddler some cheerios or if you saw her nursing that toddler. The idea of normalizing breastfeeding means that these heated conversations would no longer be necessary--moms are going to feed their babies wherever and however they need to, and it will be totally normal, like breathing.
If you don't understand why people feel so passionately about normalizing breastfeeding, I'd like to share my perspective as a young mother.
Breastfeeding is hard at first. It's really hard. I cringed as my son learned to latch, chomping down and rubbing me raw while we both figured out how to do this thing. Just because it's normal and natural doesn't mean it's easy. I cried every night when my son woke up to eat for the first several weeks. I wanted to quit, and I did end up supplementing with formula for a few months because I felt like I couldn't keep up with the demand on my body and time. I'm thankful for women in my life who encouraged me to keep going because it would get better, and that it was worth it. I probably would have quit if not for them.
Hormones are raging during those first few weeks, even months after giving birth, and sleep is rare and broken. Many women experience baby blues or full-on postpartum depression, and most experience some level of anxiety while they are figuring out the humongous life change that comes with having a baby and no longer being able to put yourself first. It takes courage to leave the house with this brand new being that you are responsible for, not to mention all the supplies that need to be packed just in case there is a diaper blow-out or a crying fit or a spit-up disaster. It's a physically, emotionally, and mentally draining time.
Do you know the last thing these women need to be worried about? Whether they are offending someone else while they feed their baby in public. She is doing something so good for her little one, and it is hard work. Maybe she is trying to cover and having trouble figuring it out, or maybe her squirmy little one likes to look around while he eats, or maybe a stranger seeing a bit of her skin is the least of her concerns when her new baby is hungry. Let her be. Don't make her job harder.
Thankfully, breastfeeding usually gets a lot easier. My son and I got into a good rhythm around 3 months, and it has definitely become something special. He's at the age now that he's eating a lot and drinks cows milk like a champ, so nutritionally he doesn't need to nurse, but he'll continue for a little while longer for the nutrition and the comfort. As little ones start to get older, they go through all kinds of changes. They are growing by leaps and bounds every day. Their brains are taking in information constantly, and they are learning how the world works. They go through times of pain while they are teething. They go through growth spurts and become bottomless pits. They become overwhelmed and overstimulated by new situations. They become lonely when mama has had a busy day. It's really nice to have a constant resource in breastfeeding. I'm glad that while he's going through all these changes, I have a way to make him feel better.
Do you know the last thing I need to worry about when my child is overtired and throwing a tantrum at the mall? Whether or not you're going to be offended because I didn't take 30 precious seconds to fish around for my nursing cover before soothing him. Please don't make me feel like I need to haul my screaming 30 pound 16 month old through the mall to find a dressing room to nurse him. I've done that, and it was so stressful. People were looking at me like a mother who couldn't control hr son, my son was flying off the handle because he doesn't understand why mommy isn't giving him the thing he wants, and once I finally settled him down, I was shaking from the anxiety of it all. Yes, in hindsight, I should have just fed him and not lot anyone else's opinion affect what I do, but I was an insecure young mother and I was trying to not stir the pot. I didn't want to take a stand or test the limits of propriety or make a point about how things should be. I just wanted to feed my baby, and I didn't feel free to do that.
There are a lot of things on a mama's mind. Try as she may, she has to quiet worries all day long. Please don't be one of the worries. Whether you think moms should use covers in public or remove themselves entirely, or if you are totally fine with her letting "the girls" hang free, please support her desire to put her baby first. I, personally, am more comfortable wearing a nursing cover, but it doesn't always work out. Let's encourage a conversation that makes women feel empowered in this regard, instead of embarrassed. Let's remember that motherhood is a difficult transition, whether you have one child or twenty children, and judgement from others doesn't make the transition easier.
Breastfeeding doesn't have to be a big deal. Whenever we try new things, whether it's learning to walk or our first day of school or learning to drive or having a baby, there's going to be some trepidation. New things are scary, but new things can also be beautiful. Let's give moms a beautiful place to learn this new skill, encouraging a whole generation take pride in their ability to care for their children.