When I had my first baby five years ago, someone promptly gave me a hand-me-down cover for public nursing sessions.
Before I had children, breastfeeding in public was not something I had ever seen, thought about or experienced in any way. Being covered seemed the socially acceptable norm that a good mother should adopt and certainly a woman who was well-endowed, such as myself. So I fell in line.
The whole concept of nursing in public was a bit terrifying. My breasts had never been exposed in a public place before, and I wasn’t comfortable with anyone seeing too much of me. It seemed like women with more modest-sized chests could discreetly lift their shirts, easily get their babies to latch and stay that way and that the baby’s head would act as their cover. But for me, the experience was quite different.
When I nursed my baby it was rarely easy. The simple act of taking my large breast out of my nursing bra was like a tsunami crashing onto shore, not a gentle wave nipping at the sand. Unsnap. GALLUMP. Flesh everywhere.
My breasts, once large, were now filled with milk and out of control. They truly had a life of their own and half the time I didn’t know if they were in my bra or out, leaking or flung over my shoulder.
Having large breasts also meant I often needed to hold my breast in place while my daughter latched. If I moved slightly, the weight of my breast shifting would cause her to come unlatched. Without a cover I’d be completely exposed. But I found that trying to nurse a baby with my shirt pulled up, bra pulled down and a nursing cover over it all to be borderline insanity.
Breastfeeding with milk-filled boobs the size of melons and not being able to clearly see your baby is a little bit like playing some deranged version of pin the tail on the donkey… with an infant screaming at you. To be frank, it’s a ridiculous burden and one I wish I would not have invested so much effort in trying to perfect.
Inevitably, my daughter would cry, my milk would run down her face and I’d be sweating bullets in minutes. By the end of the whole debacle I’d be running to the nearest bathroom to nurse in private so no one would have to see my baby eat, or my monstrous nursing breasts.
Eventually, I abandoned the cover altogether, realizing that if I was going to leave the house with my child it would have to be only to “safe” places, meaning somewhere that I knew had a private area.
Of course my efforts failed more often than not. I would have to run an errand, or would run out of time between feedings and end up somewhere I couldn’t nurse. I vividly remember one day frantically walking around an outdoor shopping center with a screaming infant and a milk-soaked T-shirt, desperately looking for somewhere secluded to feed her. Or driving in the car, speeding home with my hungry baby screaming bloody murder in her car seat. When I look back, I’m shocked to remember even intimate family gatherings when I went into a back bedroom to feed my daughter.
It’s no surprise that my breastfeeding experience with my daughter was short-lived and my discomfort with public nursing was definitely a contributing factor; another being a rare-illness she contracted at eight weeks old that required a two week hospital stay to cure.
Had I been more confident in nursing in public, I would’ve asked for a lactation consultant and worked at keeping my supply up while my daughter regained her strength. But if I’m being honest about it, having a infant and being her sole source of nourishment was completely overwhelming at that point in my young life and breastfeeding in public was a huge part of those feelings of anxiety. If I’m being really honest, I was relieved to stop nursing when I did, at 12 weeks old.
When I look back at those early days of my daughter’s life, it perplexes me how I was once so fearful of public breastfeeding. But I’ve come to meet many new mothers who feel exactly the same. Breastfeeding a baby is a completely new experience, one that can be different with each child, and if we haven’t seen it done before, it can feel awkward or wrong or just down right inappropriate to do it publicly.
For me, having large breasts just added another layer of insecurity onto an already nerve-wracking venture. I felt my breasts were too big and conspicuous, too hard for passersby to ignore. If I were exposed, there would be my flesh in the middle of the food court at the mall or Starbucks. It would all be hanging out and I’d be waving my nipple in front of my daughter’s face like the cherry on an ice cream sundae while onlookers furrowed their brows and sweat ran down my back. I had certainly never seen a large-breasted woman like myself nursing her baby in public. If I had, I wonder how my feelings might have been different.
Four and a half years after my first go-round with nursing a baby, my son was born. I had long regretted that my daughter didn’t get to experience a more fruitful breastfeeding relationship with her mother. So I knew from the get-go that I would have to have a new approach if I was going to have more success with my son. I’d have to get comfortable, to some extent, with nursing in public.
It helped that my son was born in the summer, so I wasn’t taking off layers of clothing for each feeding, feeling stripped to my core. We spent most of our time in the backyard or at the pool and without layers, without an inconvenient cover draping over us, I could see what I was doing. I was more able to help my baby get used to my body and see what worked and what did not.
Having a well-established routine at home, where I spent early postpartum pretty much topless, made public nursing less stressful. After a few weeks of public breastfeeding, it became less and less frightening.
I also thought about my body differently as a 29-year-old mother of two, than I did as a 24-year-old first time parent. This time, it didn’t matter so much if someone saw my breasts, wondered why I was nursing in public, even sent a scowl my way, which they have (on occasion). My body was not an object for them to look at or not look at or critique. It was simply there to feed my baby. If people didn’t understand that, it was okay with me, mostly.
Five months later and I’m still nursing my son and I’m enjoying breastfeeding far more than I ever did with my first baby. I credit the success I’ve had this time, to nursing wherever he needs, but also to not caring what the greater public feels about me doing so, or what they feel about my body. On occasion, my nipples are out for all to see but now it’s more like “Oh well” then “Oh! The horror!”
No matter the size of my breasts, I’m going to continue to nurse my baby when he is hungry without a cover or a blanket, unless we happen to be cold. Breasts come in all shapes and sizes but having this wonderful nursing relationship with my son has made me appreciate mine in a whole new way.