Nursing in Public: A Little Story

It was November, just before Thanksgiving. As we walked down the aisle of the plane I felt nervous. This was my first time traveling with a baby. My 7 week old son, Thaddeus, was in my arms, content for the time being. About midway through the plane I saw an older women sitting by the window. The family in front of us took the aisle across from her. They looked nice. They had a baby girl who looked to be about 10 months old and a son who I guessed was 3 or 4. We had smiled at each other as we waited in line to board. I quickly decided that this would be a good place to nurse and we took the two empty seats next to the grandmother. I was worried that my son’s ears would hurt and that he would end up being that baby on the plane that cries the whole time and bothers everyone. I had done my research before hand and talked to my mommy friends. Everyone said that as long as the baby sucked and nursed during takeoff and landing he would be fine. The plane started to taxi out of the gate and I started to nurse. Thaddeus was having some trouble latching on. He seemed tired and uncomfortable already. Maybe his tummy was hurting. I finally got him situated and a stewardess came by. She leaned in towards me:

“Do you have something you can use to cover up?” she asked.

I was startled and a little disappointed. I thought that I was being fairly discreet already. I hated covering up - it made it so much harder. He usually didn’t get as good of a latch when I covered up and then my nipples would be sore. I stammered out a “yes” and asked my husband to grab a blanket from the diaper bag. A stressful situation just got more stressful.

I struggled to cover myself. Thaddeus came off the breast and cried. He wiggled around. He was so strong. I wrestled with him a bit while trying to hold the blanket and also get him latched back on. It wasn’t working. My husband held the blanket up for me and together we got Thaddeus nursing again. Soon he was asleep and we were able to relax a little.

On landing, I didn’t really even try to nurse him. It was too much trouble. I glanced at the 10 month old sitting across from us enjoying a bottle on her mommy’s lap. For a second I wished that I had pumped a bottle, but the one time I tried pumping I was miserable and it wasn’t worth the effort. We had Thaddeus suck on my husband’s finger during the landing, since he refused a pacifier. He cried the whole way down.

Once we landed Thaddeus was hungry. We went to baggage claim and I found a relatively quiet place where I thought I could sit and nurse. My husband left our bags with me and went to get the car seat and stroller which we had to check. I struggled with my screaming son. With the memory of the flight attendant fresh in my mind I tried to cover up a little, but that just made Thaddeus more upset.

A woman with a badge came and sat down in a chair not too far from me. After a few moments she leaned towards me:

“There’s a family restroom where you can nurse by the escalators.” She said as she pointed in the direction I had just come from not long before.

I am sure that she meant well. I am sure that she saw me struggling and thought it might be easier and more comfortable for me to nurse in a quiet place – maybe she was right. But, at that moment I didn’t want to struggle with my baby and my bags and wrestle my way back down the hall alone so that I could sit on a toilet in a public restroom and nurse my son. I wanted to calm and sooth him right then and there. Really I just wanted to cry.

Instead I stuttered out “thank you.” Picked up my bags, held my screaming baby close to my chest, whipped away a tear, and walked away. I got half way down the hall when I realize I really didn’t want to go to a family bathroom and nurse, plus my husband would have no idea where I went. But, I didn’t want to go back and sit by that woman either. So, I went to the carousel where my husband was getting the bags. Thankfully there were a few seats right by the carousel and I sat down there and tried to nurse for a second while my husband got the last bag.

This story isn’t really that bad. I have since this time heard stories about nursing in public that are truly outrageous.  This little story is really nothing to tell. I mean no one asked me to stop nursing or told me I couldn’t nurse someplace. In fact no one in my story is really negative towards nursing at all, but I can’t really say that they are supportive.

Now I am more informed. Now I am more comfortable with my right to nurse anywhere. Now I am more experienced with breastfeeding. I can nurse truly discreetly without a cover and I can use a cover much more easily now if I want to. My son is older and more experienced as well now. He can latch on without my help. Now I could handle a situation like the one I just shared with much more ease and grace, but then I couldn’t and it ended up being a very stressful experience for me. Then I wasn’t experienced at being discreet. Then I needed to be uncovered and able to see and help my son in order to get a good latch. Then I didn’t know my rights when it came to nursing in public.

I need the me of now to defend the rights of the me of then. My story isn’t that bad, but there are others that are. And I can totally see how even little experiences like mine could really start to get under your skin and cause you to give up all together. Before I became a breastfeeding momma I wouldn’t have thought twice about a story like mine, I would have thought no one did anything wrong. And it’s true, there isn’t really anything wrong about the flight attendant asking me to cover up or about the woman directing me to the family bathroom to nurse, but it also is something wrong about it. Personally I think it does feel like there is something wrong in our society when a momma feels uncomfortable and ashamed for naturally, freely and openly feeding her baby. I can see how if you had enough experiences like my little story and you didn’t have support from family and friends around you it would be easy to choose not to breastfeed at all or to stop earlier then you had originally planned. I can understand why “according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 70 percent of mothers start breastfeeding immediately after birth, but less than 20 percent of those moms are breastfeeding exclusively six months later.”

The choice to nurse or not to nurse is each mother’s personal decision, but wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a society where women really could freely make that decision. Where if they wanted to nurse they wouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable for openly feeding their baby whenever they needed to and where ever was most comfortable for them.

Here is a GREAT article with 50 Reasons for Breastfeeding Anytime, Anywhere.

What nursing stories do you have? What has been your experience with nursing in public? If you’re not a momma, or you didn’t choose to nurse your baby, how do you feel about nursing in public? What do you feel is appropriate and not appropriate?

Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany Stedman