It seems like horror stories about women's awful experiences with public breastfeeding are always going viral. This happens so often, in fact, that I was honestly intimidated to breastfeed my newborn in public for the first time. I feared that, much like the upsetting accounts I've heard, a judgmental bystander would verbally attack me, or, at the bare minimum, I'd find myself at the receiving end of disapproving glances. Not that I care so much about what others think of my choice to breastfeed, but I want the act to feel loving, not stressful.
I'd managed to nurse my baby at home or in my car in a parking lot for the first few weeks of his life, with only my husband around. Fearing backlash, if we had to go out, I'd carefully schedule the trip around my breastfeeding schedule.
I rationalized that they weren't staring at me to see if I was going to whip my boob out, so why shouldn't I feed my son when everyone else was eating, too?
But one recent evening, we planned to go out to dinner with some family who had come to town to meet our son. Although I tried to time the reservation to coincide with when I needed to feed him, we hit traffic en route, and once we arrived at the restaurant, we ended up having to wait longer than expected to be seated. I looked at my phone nervously, knowing that with each passing minute, it was more likely my son would become cranky and want to eat. But instead of rushing through the meal to get home to breastfeed, I worked on not worrying and being present in the moment. It was a lovely night with great company, and I didn't want to miss it.
Soon after I finished my dinner, my son made it clear he was ready to eat. NOW. I decided the car was too far away to walk to in time. Besides, the truth was, I was sick of hiding out to breastfeed. It had become inconvenient and isolating.
I glanced around the outdoor patio where we were eating. Groups of seemingly jovial diners were engaged in conversation and good food at several nearby tables. I rationalized that they weren't staring at me to see if I was going to whip my boob out, so why shouldn't I feed my son when everyone else was eating, too? I doubted anyone would even notice if I started breastfeeding.
Still, it felt awkward draping a thin blanket over my shoulder and undoing my nursing bra in a public place. I had to fiddle around a bit to get my son to latch on, while also making sure my breast was obscured from view. I'll admit I was sweating a bit and feeling pretty flustered. But once we settled into the feeding session, I did my best to chill out and not focus on what other people might be thinking. A visual check around the patio proved no one was even looking at us. No, scratch that. One woman shot me a warm, understanding smile. Other than her, folks were far more interested in what was happening at their own tables.
Right around the time I had to switch sides, the waiter came over with the check. With my son still feeding under the swaddle cloth, I informed him I planned on paying, so he leaned over to review the bill with me on his iPad. And guess what? He was very professional, keeping a safe distance between himself and my baby on my boob. He maintained easy eye contact the entire time and made the exchange quite comfortable and pleasant.
After I'd finished feeding the baby and paid for dinner, I pulled up my clothes and removed the blanket. As I gently burped my son, I noticed a few other friendly smiles from around the room being directed our way. People were noticing how little and sweet my baby was, not judging me for breastfeeding in public. What a relief!
I wish I hadn't worried so much about breastfeeding in a public place. I know way too women have bad experiences and that there are people who will judge us, but I think the more we do it, the more normal it will become. I'm so glad that I had a positive experience, but I also don't think I should really have to feel glad. It should be a comfortable and easy thing for all mothers to do without fearing judgment, so if my story encourages just one fellow mom to feed her baby wherever she needs to, then that's a start. I'll be the one giving you a knowing smile from across the room.