Why I Nurse In Public

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, another post about breastfeeding!

When I was pregnant with Callum and first researching breastfeeding, I wasn’t sure how I felt about nursing in public (NIP).  You see, once upon a time I, too, thought nursing in public was a bit…odd.  What did I know?  I was just a early 20-something who had never actually seen someone I knew nurse.  I didn’t “get” why someone would need to nurse a baby in public, particularly without a cover.

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Love this twist on the International Breastfeeding Symbol. Learn more about it by clicking the image.

And then it was time for me to become a mama.  I can’t remember exactly when I became adamant about breastfeeding.  But as I read more and more, it seemed natural that one day I too would nurse on the go.  It just seemed so much simpler to always have baby’s food handy and ready to go – nothing to bring or plan for in advance.  I still couldn’t see myself nursing without a cover, so I bought a really neat poncho-like one.  I was set.

Then Callum arrived.  I was lucky to have no major issues at the start of nursing (aside from the normal newborn/new mama stuff).  And I really hate sitting around the house even when I have just had a baby.  So a week or so after he was born, I was ready to venture forth.  To be honest, I was a little worried.  What if he decided halfway through Target that he had to have milk?  Would I be able to do it?  I packed my cover and set out.  He slept the whole time.

In the following weeks we went out fairly regularly.  I think the first time I actually nursed outside of my house was in my car – but that’s as good a place as any to start ones NIP career.  Pretty soon I got brave enough to try nursing in a quiet corner of a store or in a restaurant booth.  And after a few attempts, I ditched the cover.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a cover if it makes a nursing mama more comfortable; it just complicated things for me.

Since then I’ve nursed lots of places – restaurants, parks, airplanes, museums, stores.  Between my two kids, I’ve spent something close to 40 months nursing in public (yup, toddler NIPing!) – and despite what I expected, not once in that time have I had anyone say anything negative.  Maybe I’ve gotten a few odd looks, but that’s about it.  Granted, I do live in an area where breastfeeding rates are fairly high.  And it’s more common in my circle of mama friends to see mama’s NIPing than not.  But still it’s been remarkably unremarkable.

So why does NIPing matter?

First, for many women NIPing isn’t unremarkable.  There are stories regularly in the news of women who are asked to leave or cover up while nursing despite laws that protect a mother’s right to nurse in public.   In conversations around NIPing, ridiculous comparisons to sex and even defecation are made (as in “those things are natural but we don’t do them in front of people”).  Although most nursing mothers show far less skin than one sees in the grocery aisle checkout, there is still this weird obsession of “I don’t want to see that” from some quarters.   Want to know where it’s acceptable to nurse in public?  Anywhere you’d feed a baby a bottle which pretty much covers …anywhere.

Second, if we want breastfeeding to be seen for the biological norm that it is (as in breastmilk is what human babies are biologically designed to eat), we have to see breastfeeding.  Aside from a few quick glances, I had never seen a woman nurse a baby until I did it myself.  And that’s a problem.  Breastfeeding is a skill that must be learned by mother and baby.  If we are never exposed to it, it is harder to learn.  And seeing nursing isn’t just important for nursing mothers – when everyone sees breastfeeding, breastfeeding becomes the cultural norm – the way babies are supposed to be fed.   When we see nursing mothers on TV, in movies, on billboards, in magazines – and more importantly in the places we regularly go – it sends the message that breastfeeding is normal, not weird, and not something that needs to be covered up and hidden.  When children grow up seeing women breastfed, it becomes natural for them to decide to breastfed their own children or to support their partner in doing so.

Of course, sometimes nursing in public is easier said than done.  It can be tricky to get your technique down, especially if you are dealing with any nursing challenges. We all have our own comfort level with nursing in front of others (which is why I’m glad there is such a thing as a nursing cover for those who feel more comfortable with them).  And certainly some areas are more NIP friendly than others.

All of these are reasons why I NIP – I want that new mama across the room who is struggling to balance her baby without a dozen pillows while working to strategically place burp rags to contain the milk spray to know that it does get easier.  I want the mama wondering if it’s still ok to nurse her toddler at the children’s museum to know that it’s totally cool to do so.  I want the mama who is taking her first adventures out with baby and contemplating what she’s going to do when baby wakes up hungry to know that it’s ok to just go for it.  I want the pregnant mama thinking about how she wants to feed her child to see what breastfeeding looks like.  And I want that early 20-something who thinks she might have kids one day to know that since she’s seeing it so often, that whole nursing your baby in public thing isn’t so very odd at all.

Breastfeeding is the biological norm.  I nurse in public to raise awareness of this fact and to work to make breastfeeding the cultural norm.

Oh, and I also nurse in public because babies and toddlers want to nurse in all sorts of places.  Who can say no to that?

Want to read more about nursing in public?  Check out Holly’s post on the subject from our archives which has her take as well as links to other NIPing stories.

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7 comments to Why I Nurse In Public

  • Kelli

    Lovely post. I’m glad to see more blogs on here lately!

  • Lauren

    I babysit 3 little boys who were all bottle fed (to the best of my knowledge) and the older two (3and 5) are so fascinated when I nurse my 13 month old in front of them. They ask me questions and watch my son nurse and I think it’s so cute to see the innocence and curiosity that little ones have. I hope it leaves some sort of impression on them that this is a completely normal and natural way to feed a baby and maybe one day they’ll encourage their wife’s to breast feed :)

  • Kim

    Why are people so weird about it? Frustrating…. I am an advanced practice nurse who is passionate and proud both my babies got and get nothing but breastmilk as babies. Some of my fellow colleagues are weird about the fact several of us pump, or donate milk, or nurse in public and nurse a toddler. If they only knew the screening process for donating breastmilk is mOre rigorous than donating blood! Why isn’t anyone weird about donating or receiving blood?? I nurse in public every where. I am not weird or brash about it. Baby is hungry, she nurses…. Period. Most times she is wrapped up so no one can tell. However I just don’t care what people think or say. For this to become a normal part of US culture, it just has to be done. However we still have a long long long way to go…. And where education is needed is with the general masses and poorer communities where breastfeeding rates are very low.

    • Meredith

      I hear ya! I also find it particularly bothersome when health professionals are either ill informed about BFing or somehow weirded out by it – ack!! We definitely need more education all around – and part of that is just getting out there and nursing!

  • Beautifully said. Thank you for being a NIPing mama.

  • I love this! I feel the same way! I was bugged constantly about when I was going to wean my first even though he wasn’t even a year!!! I always hid to nurse once he got older. It wasn’t until I met an amazing group of moms with my second that my confidence changed. They made it acceptable to nurse anywhere, the zoo, the park, while walking around Target!!! I am so grateful for their influence in my life!!!

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