Breasts: Not just for decoration

Every so often I hear about something so unjust, so wrong that I want to devote myself to fighting against it, possibly for the rest of my life. And by “every so often” I mean “actually quite often – too often to let myself follow through”. I don’t fight those wars, except sometimes with an “entries that matter” blog entry.

Breastfeeding: It’s necessary to sustain life. It’s not particularly schedulable. If a mother wants to venture out in public for more than an hour at a time, she’s going to have to breastfeed out there, in the world. Yet it’s still technically illegal in many places around the world. And I admit I am one of many who are uncomfortable with public breastfeeding (whether it’s me or someone else).

To which, may I say, WTF?! Right now during the day Louisette needs to be fed every two and a half hours. A single feed takes up to an hour. So if I want to do anything without breastfeeding, I need to do it in under an hour and a half, including transport there and back. Imagine your life in 1.5-hour chunks. Could you even get to work and back in that time?

A part of me wishes I was the kind of woman who would just breastfeed in public any time I had to (without suffocating Louisette in a modesty blanket), and therefore help to open doors for other women to be able to feed their infants AND have a life. For our society (including, frankly, me) to feel comfortable with breastfeeding, we need it to happen, and happen a lot of times a day. But it’s not a fight I’m willing to join – for me, it’s just too hard.

Here are a couple of photos from Blue Milk of women I admire. I’m proud to say that the second is a politician feeding her kid in my own home town of Canberra. Thanks to her, Parliament House has now become an accredited workplace for the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

*Blue Milk is a feminist/parenting blog. Because of open discussions of sex, sexuality and violent sex, it is not safe for young or sensitive readers.

10 thoughts on “Breasts: Not just for decoration

  1. /shrug. Everybody makes their peace with their principles sooner or later. We don’t live in a perfect world, and we have to take care of ourselves as best we can, so that we can be available to take care of each other and our loved ones. If, for you, that means not breastfeeding in public, then that’s okay.

    • jaqbuncad: I don’t truly feel bad about it – more awkward than anything else. I imagine that I’ll get over it in time, like everything else that’s difficult about early motherhood.

  2. Here we are generally lucky enough that few are actually hassled about breastfeeding in public. In 4.5 years worth of breastfeeding, I’ve been questioned once, and congratulated many times.

    Right now you’re in the early stages of breastfeeding. It’s slow, getting her latched isn’t completely natural which makes it far harder to do without flashing nipple.
    The modesty element never bothered me. In Talia’s early days I butted up against having to pump every 3 hours, and whilst nursing in public isn’t generally frowned on here, pumping in public just isn’t an option (and wasn’t something I was going to be comfortable with). So I was stuck with finding parenting rooms and bathrooms to pump milk for my micro-prem in NICU. Sounds hygienic doesn’t it? But actually nursing in public has never bothered me, partially because I had to fight so hard to get to breastfeed at all, and partially because breastfeeding has always been ‘normal’ for me growing up so nothing to be awkward about.

    As breastfeeding gets easier and you both find your rhythm, the nursing sessions will get shorter and further apart (excepting the occasional nursing marathon for a growth spurt, expect one of those at 3-4 weeks, and another at 6, you’ll be tied to the couch for a day or two). Neither of you will have to think about how to latch and it’ll be quick and painless. Once you’re in that place you may find nursing in public more comfortable, and you can always start in quiet parks and at friends’ places rather than busy shopping centres. It’s all about practise.

    I do feel so lucky being in Australia that breastfeeding is generally accepted (even if not as prolific as I’d like). Some of the stories I’ve heard are pretty crazy though.

    • Pixie: It’s still very awkward, and poor Louisette tends to dope out within seconds of latching on, so I only get two or three shots at getting her to attach correctly. Right now I’m using nipple shields again (the pain was too bad, so I need a couple of days to heal up before going au natural again) and that brings awkward to a whole new level.

      • Completely get the challenge of nipple shields. I lucked out in not needing them, but wrangling an extra piece of equipment when one hand is holding the baby and the other is trying to squish things into the right shape? Yeah, not easy. It can take a few weeks to be completely free of the shield. Have you tried the cheek/lips/gum stroking trick to help her get her mouth wide open before the latch? It really does make it easier. It can also make a difference if you cycle through different holds; side lying, classic cradle, football hold and having her lie ‘up’ your belly like she’s crawling up to the breast because it shifts where the pressures of her mouth is landing. If you use the one position all the time you’re squashing your nipple the same way each time, changing it up can help. Have you spoken to a LC recently just to check in with how the latch looks and get a few more ideas for where you’re at just now?

        It’s hard work, and you’re doing a great job sticking with it through the pain. It’s already easier than it was when you started, hopefully you’ll get it all running smoothly soon. I wouldn’t be considering trying nursing in public until you’re feeling completely comfortable just with nursing.

        And all of this will pay off, it’s already paying off in the immune system boost you’ve given her and how your milk has matured her gut and all the good bonding that happens to boost her forming secure emotional attachments. I’m rather fond of this article on what babies get from breastfeeding for a few days, a few weeks, a few months or over a year: http://www.normalfed.com/Why/wean.html

      • Pixie: I won’t be giving up anytime soon. I knew it would be hard long before I started. We have our own pump now, so I’m using it obsessively to try and build up my milk supply.

  3. There’s a real difference between nursing in public and being a militant ‘right to flash’ campaigner. A woman sitting in a shopping centre breastfeeding doesn’t have to do it in such a way that every single person within 20 metres knows about it. For me, its always been surprising that people make such a song and dance about it – both those who are offended by it, and those who’s campaign strategy is so aggressive that the simple fact of a hungry child gets lost in the tidal wave of angst.

    Kids need to eat, and an exposed nipple that just happens to be there when you walk past wont kill you.

    • Ann: But WHAT IF it’s an EXPOSED NIPPLE of DOOOOOOOOOOOMMM!?!

      *ahem*

      Can you tell I’m checking my comments at 3:30am? I sure can’t.

  4. I found it helped to have another breastfeeding mum there, feeding at the same time. We both giggled with slight embarrassment, but I think the young guys walking past the cafe were more so. Do whatever you’re comfortable with & ignore anyone who takes issue with that.

    • Nic: So far I’m just not comfortable breastfeeding in public at all; I’m working on a kind of shoulder-high curtain rail so I can look down and see what Louisette is doing while being shielded from view (unless someone stands above me) – and also without smothering her. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I’m interested to find out. I’ll test it thoroughly at home before venturing out, naturally.

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