Sticky Situations | Public Breastfeeding

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We moms are all supposed to be on the same team, right? But what about those times when you catch another mom giving you a sideways judgy glance – whether it’s because you just let your toddler eat a cracker off the floor or your preschooler is getting bullied by a bigger kid and you step in to reprimand the offender? In this series we’re talking about these sticky situations…the ones where you feel like you might be breaking some sort of unspoken rule – if only you knew what it was! Help us solve these tricky questions in the comments – sound off with your own opinions and let’s get some discussion going!

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When I became a mother for the first time everything was new to me. From changing diapers in public places, to letting my child eat food off the ground, and learning playground etiquette– I was unaware of all of the ‘taboo’ behaviors I would surely one day exhibit. Now, as a mother of two, most of my parenting insecurities have faded… all but one- the judgmental glares and ‘helpful advice’ in response to me nursing a baby in a public place.

Many of us have heard at one time or another ‘breast is best’ {and I am in NO way wanting to get into an argument into what way is best to feed YOUR child, because YOU are the parent and YOU decide what works best for you and your family} and I made a decision after each of my children were born to breastfeed, I set small goals (make it to 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, a year… so on) and was fortunate enough to have a great experience with it. HOWEVER, I never in my wildest dreams was prepared for the awkward interactions that were to come my way in response to how I fed/feed my babies.

Even last week (with almost 2 years of nursing under my belt- and thinking I had a thick skin) I was shook up again by my apparent lack of knowledge in the breast feeding etiquette arena. I live across the street from a playground- in fact you can see it from our kitchen window. For us, this means daily trips to go sliding and crossing the bridge- spending hours running through the grass and flying kites. It is also a place where I inevitably have to feed my 6 month old daughter. Although I prefer to nurse in the comfort of my own home with nothing covering her sweet face, sometimes she just has to eat. I am modest-I cover myself up {less for the comfort of others and more for my own privacy}. But that didn’t stop that lady from ‘educating me.’ With her, “Oh well, isn’t that something… when I had MY children I found it to be inappropriate to nurse outside of the home. You may want to consider a bottle for when you are out in public.”

ENTER…. My jaw dropping to the ground.

I honestly only want to do what is best for my children, I want to feed them if they are hungry. But I also don’t want to be looked at as this crazy woman who is nursing her baby on the playground and breaking all kind of unspoken (or sometimes loudly spoken) rules.

Do we really want to be encouraging all moms to feed their babies however they see fit, or are we only comfortable with our preferred methods? Is it unrealistic to want breast and bottle feeders to just encourage one another to keep on doing the best they can do? Would you feel better if I pumped a bottle to give my daughter so you didn’t have to consider what she may be doing under that nursing cover? Or will I just get more negative feedback but from a different crowd by giving her a bottle??

Ugh… What’s a mom to do?? I want to just let it roll off my shoulders like other ‘helpful’ advice I have been given, but this one always gets me riled up. So tell me pretty please what should I do? What ARE the RULES about breastfeeding in public?

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Jess Fischer is a Phoenix native who is happily married to her very best friend Lukas. She has two beautiful babies (15 ½ months apart!!) her son Parker and her daughter Piper. She has a love for most things domestic- be it cooking, sewing, crafting, or gardening although she has never enjoyed cleaning (oh well!) She loves saving money and views it as a game that she is constantly trying to win. She enjoys spending time with her family above all else. She recently started her own business and loves keeping friends and family up to date with her life on her family blog.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t let her get to you! 🙂 Babies need to eat whenever and wherever they happen to be at the time! It is completely normal and natural. Keep reminding yourself of this! I have two children now ages 8 and 3. The idea of pumping milk just for outings and dealing with bottles on outings sounds like a recipe for early weaning to me. Leaving pumped milk for daddy or a sitter on occasion is practical, but every time you go out of the house? Whose needs are more important anyway, your babies or a strangers insecurities. I’m trying to imagine having someone say that to me. That would be shocking! I would probably be so surprised I wouldn’t say anything! Then think of all sorts of responses once I got home…like “why on earth would I want to do that!”

    • Thank you Susan!! This is exactly how I feel, my little ones needs far outweigh the insecurities of myself and others. She needs to eat when she is hungry and I guess I will just go on doing what I have been doing! Seriously though, after I picked my jaw up off the ground and went home I still couldn’t believe that the whole event had taken place. At least I have a pretty good sense of humor and am able to now sit here and just think about how silly the entire interaction was!

  2. Oh my goodness, I am all riled up FOR YOU! I can’t even believe people, are you serious? I’m sorry, but who does she think she is to correct YOU? Have your opinions and your judgements, fine- but keep them to yourself. If someone is parenting in a way that makes me uncomfortable (or I don’t agree with) I walk away, or ignore them, sheesh! I am never uncomfortable about nursing women, and I feel like I need to be an advocate for public nursing! However, I do think that modesty is important, and you can tell the difference between the women trying to be modest and the ones that aren’t. On the other hand, if the baby is screaming and freaking out, and you can see the mother is having a hard time, I don’t even care- she needs to feed that baby! I think our generation is slowly bringing back breastfeeding from the previous one that made it inappropriate and uncool, but we still have a long way to go. Next time you see her, I would just completely expose both breasts to make her REALLY uncomfortable so she will just leave, lol!

    • Its funny, because I think we all have our opinions on what each parent is doing and what we would/would not do ourselves, but to feel totally comfortable to say something like that to someone you don’t know…WOW I could not have been so bold. You should know that I literally cracked up when I read what you said, “Next time you see her, I would just completely expose both breasts to make her REALLY uncomfortable so she will just leave, lol!” HAHA, I would die laughing at the idea of even attempting such a thing! You are so funny, I am so thankful that our generation is working so hard to make breastfeeding normal again!

  3. WOW! The nerve of some people. I agree. Aren’t mom’s supposed to encourage one another? Having a son who nursed every 90 minutes or so the first 12 weeks of his life and suffered from reflux, I would never have had time (or energy) to pump before leaving the house with him. Plus then you have to bring ice to keep it cool. It was my decision not to give him formula before that time so giving him a bottle in public was not an option for me. You can feed your child whenever, where ever and however you feel is best. Susan makes a great point when she says, “Whose needs are more important anyway, your babies or a strangers insecurities. ” I will definitely be remembering that the next time I run in to a situation like this!

    • Oh I can TOTALLY relate with the nursing every 90 minutes!! My daughter did that too, she didn’t have reflux but she is just a frequent nurser. I don’t know where anyone finds the time to pump!! I love that you said, “You can feed your child whenever, where ever and however you feel is best.” I think that as moms we need to remember this and then encourage each other for doing so. Not one parent decided what is best for their child without a great deal of thought and consideration, we should stand by them and their decisions because it is the best that they can do for their little ones!

      • When I was preparing to go back to work I tried to store up milk and failed miserably at it. He was still nursing so often so I would pump at night after he would finally fall asleep. Moms already don’t get enough sleep and to have to worry about missing even more sleep just to pump so that strangers don’t feel comfortable when you breastfeed in public?…no thanks! I tried pumping for my son but wouldn’t have done it for a stranger’s comfort! Sure you could give your child formula in a bottle in public but to suggest that to a nursing mother is like telling a mother who is using formula that she should be breast feeding instead. Either way it is rude. I really struggled with switching to formula when I went back to work. I already had the guilt of having a stranger care for my son so I could go to my job but on top of that I felt like I failed in the nursing department. I don’t feel that way now but my point is that mom’s have enough to worry about. They don’t need strangers adding to that. During this challenge (and I mean it, I was DISTRAUGHT over the nursing) my mother told me, “Megan, you are going to feel guilty your whole life about decisions you make for your children-even when they are the right ones. Please don’t dwell on this one. ” She was right! Sorry for the wordiness of this post-but I hope it helps someone!

        • Oh Megan, what a WISE mother you have! She is so very right!! As mothers there are so many decisions we have to make and right or wrong we will always wonder if we did right by them. One thing I have been learning is: Kids are pretty hard to mess up, you really have to try HARD to mess them up. They adapt well, they bounce back, and they still love us dearly. My heart aches for you that this was such a challenging time for you, it is so hard to long to do something that just isn’t going to work for you or your family. But you did great! You are doing what works best for you and your family and you now have support to offer to others who have gone through this painful struggle. What wisdom you can bring to others who are dealing with this same difficult transistion.

          • I agree, child are resilient! It would be difficult to REALLY mess up your children when your intentions are so pure for them. I look back on things that I put so much thought and effort into and now ask myself WHY?! Even though it seemed like it at the time, most of the things that I thought would life altering for my son really weren’t even close to the importance I placed on them…at least not in the long run.

  4. I had to laugh when I read this because when I was at Desert Ridge at the playground (not splash area) a couple weeks ago, there was a mom nursing a baby with no nursing cover. And actually, I was shocked! This wasn’t a small neighborhood park – we were right outside barnes and noble with tons of people and there she was whipping it out.

    I think, with everything in life, there has to be a balance. As a mom who has both bottle fed (Maddi) and nursed (Isabelle and Sophia), yes, bottle feeding is more acceptable in public. However, as a pro-nursing mom, I believe you need to be discreet. When Sophia was 8 weeks old we took a family vacation to California which included trips to LegoLand and the San Diego Zoo. With an 8 wk old, I was still nursing every 2-3 hours so that meant many frequent stops for the family so that I could feed her. However, I didn’t just find any old bench, plop down and nurse – I did my best to find a quiet corner away from people and used a cover. At LegoLand, there was actually a nursing station with rockers and everything. Every mom had their own little private room.

    So, I guess when it comes to breast feeding in public – it’s absolutely ok (and becoming more and more supported like Carrington said!) but I don’t think that gives moms a license to just “whip it out” where ever they are. A lot of places offer more private areas to nurse, and while it may be inconvenient to go to them or use them, that’s what they are there for. As for parks and other “open areas” – I usually try to find a quiet spot away from other people and use the stroller as an addition “shield”. In my opinion, not being sensitive about others views of nursing in public and being blatant about it can be just as disrespectful to others as they are being to you.

    • Its really interesting, because I would NEVER feel comfortable enough to just ‘whip it out’ but I do feel comfortable to nurse anywhere, if I can cover myself up. But you bring up a great point, many of the things that I do in respect to nursing are based off of my own securities/insecuities, and not because I want to be ‘sensitive about others views of nursing in public’ and I DO agree with you, being blatant about it CAN be just as disrespectful to others as they are being to you… however, I think there does {like you said} need to be a balance. I can’t ALWAYS be worried about the thoughts/opinions of others everytime I need to feed Piper, there are just those times when she has got to eat right then {even if it means I am having to nurse her while walking around at the Zoo, I do what I need to do} but there are plenty of other times when YES there are more discrete places to sit and nurse and I do look for those first when I have the option to do so.

      But SO very cool that LegoLand has a nursing station!! That is awesome!

    • Nursing your baby is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide. It is not disrespectful to others to feed your baby. I understand some people perhaps are not used to it, have not been around it much and therefore feel uncomfortable seeing the back of a babies head and their body in a position that you realize that they are nursing and sometimes you may even catch a glimpse of a woman’s breast when latching and unlatching occurs, but that is the observer’s issue and they can simply look away if they don’t like looking at it. I don’t see how it is disrespectful to sit down and nurse on a bench. If someone walks by or is hanging out there and they see the mother and they don’t want to see it, they can just look away. Pretty simple. Versus hunting for a place to hide to nurse with a hungry baby with perhaps older children in tow-not so simple. Shame about nursing is a common problem in our culture and contributor to premature weaning. It is important to be considerate about everyone’s needs and feelings. At the same time, sometimes when there is a discrepency between people’s needs and feelings, one person’s needs and feelings outweighs the others. Sometimes you can’t please everyone and you have to decide who are you going to please? Your baby or a bystander? I think a babies needs usually come first for most things. For the baby, feeding is a priority and genuine need. For the observer at the park, it is simply a preference, bias, opinion, a want-not a need to be “shielded”.

  5. My first response to her would be that I pump alot at work to keep up with the demands of taking her to childcare, I am certainly not going to subject myself to it more than I have to!! It’s not pleasant! At any rate, I’m like some of the other ladies here and I try to find a corner tucked away where it’s nice and quiet and comfortable. I also use a nursing cover. This is more for my own comfort and for my daughter’s than anyone else. We spent pretty much the whole weekend at Phoenix Comic Con so that meant alot of nursing in public with alot of people milling about. I didn’t have any issues with it. There was one time when I had to nurse at Matsuri Festival and this older gentleman got uncomfortably close to me as if he wanted a peek and asked me what I had under there, meaning my cover. I just gave my husband a glance like, get him away from me! I’m rambling now, but I say, do what you have to do and feed that baby according to the decisions that you have made in the best interest of your child and poo on anyone that tries to stick their nose where it doesn’t belong. haha

    • Oh its super uncomfortable when people get really close to you… especially men, I mean honestly what do you think I’m doing under there?? LOL.

  6. maybe (and a BIG maybe) if nursing was just about food. . . . but it is soooo much more than that. There are many times I’ve considered a hooter hider to give E a bottle. Just so he could be closer to me.

    I could think of 100 things to say to her but it would have been later that night and not in the moment. LOL

    • Oh I love that, just so he can be closer to you! You should do it 🙂 The ONLY thing I like about the nursing covers is that they are less distracted and can actually focus.

      Oh I still can’t think of anything to say to her, I am just STILL not that comfortable talking to strangers, lol- I thank my parents for that one.

  7. I’m sorry you had to experience that! If children weren’t so impressionable, I’d advise you to flip this lady the bird. But alas, that would be highly inappropriate. Instead, let it roll off your shoulders, smile vaguely, and forget her. (And in AZ, I believe its against the law to harass a nursing mother in a public space…) 🙂 People can’t seem to resist giving their input, thinking their way is the best way. As you said, you have to do what works for YOUR family. Remember why you chose to breastfeed. In the end whatever the reason, that is all that matters.

    Personally, I loved the convenience of breastfeeding. I had to start pumping within 3 weeks of B’s birth. I hate my pump. So much now that we are done, I’ve shipped it off to my sister in law. When I did nurse in public, my focus was always on B. If I was given looks, I wouldn’t have noticed.

    And most Americans can be so silly, when my Dutch grandparents visited us last year my grandfather wanted to know what my hootie hider was for and why I was hiding under it. He said it seems to actually draw more attention. Women in the Netherlands nurse in public uncovered, like downtown, outdoors on the restaurant patio! Such a cultural difference! 🙂

    So just keep doing what you’re doing so other mothers can be inspired to nurse and to nurse in public.

    • Oh the joys of our American culture… not. Ha! I really think everyone just wants everything to be sterile, predictable, measureable, and the same for every person, it just isn’t possible. I have heard that before of the Netherlands, sounds lovely 😉 But how funny that your grandfather noticed the truth about hooter hiders, they in fact DO draw more attention to the fact that you are nursing, its silly really. I wish it were more culturally acceptible to nurse anywhere here!

      AND, yes breastfeeding is so very convenient. Nothing like being able to just wake up in the middle of the night and nurse your baby, I can not imagine having to wake up in the middle of the night to make a bottle. Women who formula feed deserve a special award for all of the extra steps and hard work that they have to do!

  8. I was never ashamed or trying to hide the fact that I was nursing but I still used a hooter hider. There were times that I sat on a bench in view of everyone and times that I felt more comfortable going somewhere more secluded. I did it for my own personal privacy AND so others wouldn’t feel uncomfortable if they saw an exposed breast in public. I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable if I saw someone’s breast while they were feeding their child but I am not going to be naive enough to think that everyone else feels the same way. And I can respect that. When I was pregnant I had all kinds of crazy and even RUDE advice and comments thrown my way. I think it has made me more aware of what I say to people and do around them because I don’t want my words or actions to be the cause of pain or discomfort. That being said, another reason I used the hotter hider, and I can see this opening up a can of worms too, was because I didn’t want MY bare breast being the reason YOUR child asks you why I am at the park with my boobie out. 🙂 Again, I do NOT think there is any shame in breastfeeding!! I wouldn’t care if my child saw YOUR breast and asked ME the same question but I would want to be sensitive to others’ choices just as I hope they would be sensitive to mine. And it is your choice as to when you teach your children that babies get milk from their mother’s breasts.

    But as a side note, a hooter hider is of no use when your MIL takes peaks under it so she can see her grandson nurse! 😉

    • Oh and to piggyback on this, I can’t tell you how many little kids 7 and under will come up and try to see what you are doing or even try to peek in to see whats going on under there. It is just so different to them. Little girls play with baby dolls and baby bottles, so many people use bottles its just what is known, I have known some people who honestly never considered nursing because they didn’t even know about it (if you can believe that, I had a hard time believeing it). But what a great thing to bring up- the issue of when to teach your children that babies get milk from their mother’s breasts. My Parker (he’ll be 2 in Aug) will tell me, ‘Nurse that baby Mama!’ When his sister is crying, and he often asks me what I am doing while nursing her and when I tell him he just says, “YAY Mama!” It is too cute. He thinks its great, we almost never give her a bottle and the last time I had to leave one for her (we were going out) he says, ‘yucky bottle, Piper eats Mama’s boobies’ KID YOU NOT! Lol, and that was purely from just having him observe what goes on with nursing, no prompting, no teaching, just pure observation. Its so funny what kids will pick up on.

      • Oh yeah! Other kids are totally curious about it-I have had a peeker one time too! By covering myself I felt like I did what I could. Peeking wasn’t part of the plan! haha It didn’t bother me but the peeker’s mom was mortified and very apologetic! 🙂

        That is so cute that Parker says that! I LOVE it! No 2nd baby in the works as of right now but we plan to be open about it with our Parker too. It sounds like plain observation is a good way to go about it and then just answer questions as they arise. I’ll keep that in mind!! Thanks!

      • Oh my gosh! I haven’t even considered the curiosity factor of little kiddos! I have 2 5 year olds and a 1 year old coming to stay with us this weekend. This should get interesting! haha

        Parker is so funny! I love it!

        • Oh yeah, get ready for them to want to look at what is going on. What I have found is that its usually girls who are most curious followed closely by any child who has never before witnessed breastfeeding. However all kids are different, they may have zero interest, may only ask once, or may want to sit next to you and watch everytime you feed your little Princess 🙂

  9. I can’t believe someone said that to you! Although, the older generations seem to have no problem saying anything and everything about how in their day, they would never dream to parent the way we are. I get it all the time. Breastfeeding is natural and yes, they do have laws in Arizona protecting nursing mothers. I am not uncomfortable nursing anywhere in public, but I do use a cover :). I don’t like to, but that’s how far I go with being considerate of others. People may not be used to it, but as a mother you have a right to nurture and feed your child wherever you are, whoever is watching. I’ve nursed on a Walmart bench, in restaurants, at church, and at parks. Someone at a restaurant asked to move tables (elderly people). It catches me off guard sometimes and makes me feel horrible, but only for a few seconds because I know I’m simply taking care of my child.

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