I have nursed a child for a combined 10 months of my life — about 7 months with my first, and I’m 3 months in with my second. And it wasn’t until recently that I nursed in a public place. In fact, I nursed in two different bars last week (don’t worry — they were family-friendly establishments, and it was early in the evening), both times in mixed company with family members, friends and strangers around. When I’m in, I’m all in I guess.
This may seem like no big deal to you experienced nursing moms out there. But for me, this is a BIG freaking deal. And here’s why. My first child came by emergency C-section a few weeks early (he was breech and had no amniotic fluid around him when they checked during my last scheduled ultrasound). He wasn’t taking in enough oxygen and his heart rate was too fast, so off to the NICU he went right after birth, where he was fed my breast milk through a tube for the first five days of his life. We both then spent the next 10 days in the hospital working on developing a breastfeeding relationship so he could get good enough at eating to come home. It was a bumpy start to say the least. He never really got great at latching, and he fell asleep at the breast almost immediately every time we tried to nurse (requiring a team of three people to try to move his arms, tickle his feet, support him and keep the nipple in his mouth). He was pretty lazy about the whole eating thing in general. I supposed I can’t blame him since his stomach was filled every three hours for five days with absolutely no effort from him. Despite hours of support every day from lactation specialists, my little guy barely nursed well enough to gain a measly ounce of weight so he could finally be released to go home on his 15th day in the NICU.
Needless to say, nursing was not all kittens and rainbows for us. Our nursing relationship was difficult from day one until he weaned at about seven months. I spent many of our nursing sessions in tears out of pain (his preferred method of milk extraction was more of a chomp than a suck) and frustration (why was something that was supposed to be so natural so hard for me? How could I be such a failure as a mother already?). I read all the Facebook posts and magazine articles and blogs about women who were harassed for nursing in public and how women shouldn’t be forced to the bathroom or the car or the closet to feed their babies. But at the time, the concept of nursing in public seemed so completely foreign and unfathomable to me. I dreamed of having a baby that would simply latch and suck quietly and contentedly in a comfortable chair in a dark room at our house. I couldn’t begin to imagine attempting the feat of breastfeeding in public. It wasn’t about the embarrassment of flashing a boob — it was about the embarrassment of other mothers witnessing how bad I was at nursing my baby. This, of course, meant my schedule was completely tied to being somewhere quiet and comfortable and private every three or so hours for my entire life outside of work. It was difficult, and it definitely led to some depression and resentment.
Lo and behold, baby number two comes along a couple years later, and my whole nursing universe changed. He was big and healthy and hungry. I was able to start nursing him as soon as I regained consciousness after my C-section (had to be put completely under for this one — a long story … ), and he was happy to suck and suck and suck. He roomed in with me at the hospital, and by the time we went home two days later, I knew we were going to be fine. Of course, I had the normal cracked and excruciatingly painful nipples for the first couple weeks. It took some time to figure out our comfortable positions. But we were a team and things were clicking. Now, for the first time, I could contemplate nursing in public.
For the first few months, there wasn’t really much of a need. I nursed in the car a few times out of convenience (always when the car was parked, of course), but most of our outings were close to home and easy to time between feedings. But then I went back to work. And my schedule became more cramped, and my desire to fit in a social event here or there increased as I rejoined the land of the living. So we started to occasionally go out for dinner after picking the kids up from daycare. And that’s how the opportunity to nurse in public came about. The baby had his last bottle at daycare a little earlier than usual, so he was hungry about 30 minutes after we got to the bar where we were meeting friends for dinner. I got bold. I pulled out my Udder Cover, stuck the baby underneath, and fed him. Hooray!
Well, sort of. It was hard to get into a comfy position on the bench along our table and it was really loud and the nursing cover made it hard for my little guy to aim his mouth. So after a couple attempts that weren’t super successful, I took him home to feed him. But I got another opportunity at dinner a few nights later at yet another family-friendly pub. And it went much better that time. Practice makes perfect, right? Well, at least it makes progress. I gave my order to the server, chatted with my brother-in-law who was sitting next to me, and munched on my burger all while feeding my baby. Finally. This was how it was supposed to work. I felt like a super hero. And no one so much as gave me a funny look.
So here’s what you should take from this story:
- Your experience nursing one child will not determine your experience with future children.
- You can take small steps to work toward gaining enough confidence and comfort to nurse around others if you’re currently unsure about it.
- Most people won’t harass you for doing it — in fact, most people probably won’t notice.
- It’s okay to take your children to bars if it helps you maintain some tiny element of a social life!
Was nursing a second child a totally different experience from your first? —Jessica