I would love to share pictures of me breastfeeding my children with you today.... but I can't.
I can't because I never had pictures taken of me nursing my babies. I never took selfies or had anyone snap a picture of me breastfeeding and I surely didn't have a professional take beautiful pictures. I was too embarrassed.
That's right. I was EMBARRASSED to breastfeed my children if there was anyone around. I was so self-conscious that I hid pretty much every time I fed my first baby outside of my private living room. When people came to visit, I excused myself to go upstairs and "feed the baby". If I happened to be out at a restaurant or store, I would go to the car if she needed to eat (sitting uncomfortably in the backseat squished between the car seat and the door) or I went to the dressing room or a corner of a waiting area. I used a nursing cover until both babies were old enough to hate it (which was by about 4 months, by the way) and struggled during a feeding to keep everything covered. I was so worried that someone would see me breastfeeding and be offended.
My hesitation didn't come from my family (my mother breastfed all four of her babies in the 70's and 80's) or my husband (who was very supportive). My hesitation came from other people. The people who wrinkled their noses the few times I tried it or the friends who commented about women 'whipping out their breasts' and how 'gross' it was to see it in public.
"Just stay home." "Go somewhere private." "Cover up!" "What's the big deal with scheduling around your baby's feedings?" "Why can't you just put a blanket over his head?" "Nobody wants to see that!"
Those are only a few of the things I heard (and continue to hear) about breastfeeding. For me, it was very isolating to continually have to hide and/or cover during every feeding. It also made it much harder to continue nursing past the newborn stage. My days consisted of trying to learn how to be a mom, care for my child, feed my child (It wasn't easy for me either - we had a LOT of issues in the beginning and it took a lot of energy to succeed!), and then to have to worry about scheduling trips out around her feeding schedule and where I would go if I needed to feed her while we were out? It put a lot of undue stress on me as a new mom. It just seemed so much easier to pack bottles of formula than deal with all that stress. I nearly gave up. And I'm sure that part of the reason I didn't breastfeed either of them longer was because of the hassle and stress I felt.
But here's the thing: Breastfeeding is a normal, natural part of motherhood. And women should not feel as though they need to hide every time they feed their baby. PERIOD.
I am promoting breastfeeding during World Breastfeeding Month because I hope that by doing so, more people will be come comfortable with SEEING the nursing relationship between a mother and her child. Hopefully, my photos can open some people's minds to the idea that breastfeeding is not something that should constantly be covered up. It is NORMAL. It is not lewd. In actuality, you see a heck of a lot more breast at the beach (or at a frat party!) than you do when a woman breastfeeds their child. Might you see a little areola? Perhaps. Do you not want to watch? Then don't. Are you an adult and can handle it? Most likely. Which leads me to another point. People say, "I don't want my children to see that. What will I say?" You say exactly what the truth is. "Mommy, what is that lady doing?" "She's feeding her baby, honey." and leave it at that. If your child is super curious and it makes you feel uncomfortable, you can say, "Don't stare. It's rude to stare at people." I say that to my children all the time when we encounter people in public who look different, have a disability or have green spiked hair or are dressed differently. It's no different. People make choices and we should respect them.
So I will be posting some gorgeous mamas breastfeeding their babies (and yes, their toddlers). Because part of normalizing breastfeeding is normalizing all of it. Some women breastfeed for a little while, some breastfeed long into toddlerhood. Some use supplemental systems to help them - either formula or donated breastmilk. There is no right and wrong. Motherhood is all about making choices that are best for each of our children and our families. What works for one mom might not work for another. What works for one child might not work for another. By highlighting breastfeeding during World Breastfeeding Week, I am not saying that breastfeeding is the only way to feed a child or that formula fed moms and babies don't have a bonded relationship. But breastfeeding - and in particular breastfeeding in public - is something that needs to become less taboo. My goal is to show the beautiful, nurturing relationship between a nursing mother and her child because I never felt comfortable sharing that myself. And I want to help other mothers realize that they should always feel that they can do what's best for their child - no matter what!