Lots of things shocked me as a new mom — like how incompetent I’d feel, what sleep deprivation really feels like, or how much my heart would ache with joy and fear simultaneously when gazing at my babes. But nothing surprised me more than our culture’s queasiness when it comes to nursing my children in public.
If you find public nursing offensive, I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t care. In fact, you should invite me to feed my baby where ever my baby needs to be fed. Because that means I’m volunteering, working and shopping in your town. That means I’m being a productive, contributing member of your community.
You see, I’m predominantly a stay-at-home mom (SAHM). As an educated woman, I have lots of career options. But, for many reasons I decided to forgo professional gratification and be a mostly-full-time mom to my four kids.
So, while I’m doing my best to raise upstanding children — kids who will be fathers, mothers, employees and employers, and your kids’ husbands and wives — my contributions to society are largely limited to that. And that’s important; that matters. I’d argue that it matters most. But, I have more to offer. Many SAHMs do. However, in order for me to give, you have to allow me to be a mom at the same time. And, when I have babies, that means nursing them while I engage with and contribute to your community.
And babies eat a lot. Taken together, most nursing babies eat for 3-4 hours during the day (excluding night time feedings). Of course, they don’t eat for three consecutive hours. These nursing sessions are spread out every 2-3 hours and can last 20-45 minutes at a time. If I’m expected to stay at home and feed my cherub, I’m pretty much never going to leave the house. After all, it takes 45 minutes just to get us dressed and pack the diaper bag.
When I am out and about, I’m so thankful for thoughtful, comfortable nursing lounges, like the ones at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport or Nordstroms (yes, one more reason to ♥ Nordstroms). Sometimes these stations are very convenient and exactly what both me and my baby need. But, realize if you expect me to excuse myself every time she is hungry, you miss out on what I have to offer.
In order for me to volunteer on your executive boards or chair your fundraisers, you’ll want me to be an active part of your meeting instead of missing half of it to nurse privately. If you want me to drop a ton of cash on a cut and color, my baby will need to be fed while I’m sitting in your chair. Yes, I bring my hungry baby to board meetings, committee gatherings and salon appointments. And my stylist, fellow board members and other community contributors seem unfazed, even (gasp) supportive. And you should be too.
(Please don’t get me started on the support we need to be giving to working moms who need time and space to pump or nurse during working hours. If only we realized how much more we’d benefit from these talented, dedicated women if we fully supported their needs as mothers too.)
Let’s be honest. My nursing in front of you isn’t about you “seeing” anything inappropriate. Even though my babies don’t nurse well under a cover (I’ve never seen you eat under a cloth tent either — just sayin’), you are able to see very little (I make sure to keep my shirt on). And chances are, the woman sitting next to me is showing more skin than you’ll glimpse when I’m feeding my infant. Maybe it grosses you out. Or you’re just not used to it. Just like I tolerate folks who chew with their mouths open, pick their noses or sniff continuously instead of using a tissue in public, I ask that you tolerate me.
May I suggest thinking about me and my baby differently so you and I can share the same space next time she’s hungry? When you find yourself getting disgusted, or mumbling that I should go someplace private … recognize that thought. Then change it. Replace it with something more productive, more logical like: “She’s spending money and helping the economy”, or “She’s volunteering her time and skills in my community.” You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel. Or I invite you to retreat to the nearest public bathroom to wait until she’s done eating (sorry, not sorry — I just couldn’t help myself).