I had the joy of going to Target today with Sydney, since I knew the Halloween costumes would be discounted. We got everything we needed, then headed for the check out lines. As we approached, I heard the distinctive “hungry” cry of a very new baby. We walked past, and the mother looked exasperated, and the baby, who had clearly been crying for a very long time, was beginning to turn a shade of purple from crying so much. Initially, I wondered what was going on, why was the mother not holding her tiny baby, did she not know that her baby was hungry? As I quietly assessed the situation from where I was standing, I figured out that the mother is probably a new mother, and new to breastfeeding as well. I guessed this from what she was wearing, a shirt, and a very poofy vest (in case of milk leakage), and from her hesitation to hold the baby, especially close to her breasts. When she was ready to pay, she finally picked the baby up, but the baby did not stop crying.
People stared at this woman who only wanted to leave the store, and go to a place where she felt safe enough to feed her baby. So in this situation, I did not judge, I simply looked on with sadness for both the mother and the baby, and here is why.
New mothers are so impressionable, they have come fresh out of pregnancy where they were constantly bombarded by “advice” on what to do during pregnancy and after. Some of this advice included whether to breastfeed or not, and in that advice, there is judgment. New mothers constantly feel judged. And new mothers who decide to breastfeed have an extra challenge, because breastfeeding in public is looked down upon in many places, because of the over-sexualization of the human female breast (which was created to nourish our young). So as she stood in line, most likely with her breasts leaking, possibly throbbing from milk wanting to come out to feed her sweet baby, she felt the judgment of the people around her, “why don’t you do SOMETHING?!” But I can bet that if she had taken her baby, and nursed her right there, even with a nursing cover, there would have been judgment there too. Some people may have applauded that she was honoring her baby’s biological need to eat from its biological source, but others would have looked on in disgust, knowing that her baby was latched on to her nipple, and getting milk.
My sadness for the baby is because babies are born completely dependent on us. Everything they learn, they learn from their environment, their surroundings, their parents, different reactions to them, etc. In short, they are learning to trust their world, and when their parents or caregivers are not honoring their communication (cries), then they begin to learn that the world may not be a place to trust.
Some think that babies only communicate through crying, but this is untrue. Babies are constantly making gestures, sounds, body movements, motions, and facial expressions that communicate exactly what they need. In a bond between a baby and his/her mother, especially if the mother is a nursing mother, the mother learns very quickly what each little gesture, sound, and movement of her baby means. And between them, a unique, beautiful bond is formed, in which there is love, oxytocin, communication and endorphins exchanged, and this is where each honor the other.
It seems to me that the mother had most likely ignored all signs of her baby’s hunger, and became embarrassed, felt helpless (about nursing in public), and was at the point of exasperation when we encountered her. Mothers should NEVER feel embarrassed to nurse in public, because after all, this is the way that nature intends for us to feed our babies.
As I write this, I realize that I need to say so much more than just what I’ve said, so hear me when I say this, whether you are an onlooker, or if you’re a new mother (especially a nursing mother). New mothers NEED support, of community, family, and friends, especially to be successful at breastfeeding. Here are some pointers:
- As an onlooker to a new mother who has a crying baby, but looks to be exasperated, frustrated, or stressed about the situation, ask if you can help her (with the baby, with her things, if she needs to sit down, etc).
- As an onlooker to a new mother who may be struggling to nurse her baby, offer to shield her, with your body, a blanket, nursing cover, etc.
- As an onlooker, if you’re offended by a nursing mother near you in public, PLEASE, simply smile at her, and look the other way. What she is doing will in no way harm you, but it will help our society in the long run (See Breastfeeding Advantages in my previous post)
- As an onlooker of a nursing mother, even if you are offended, acknowledge that she is feeding her baby the best and healthiest food, and say either ‘congratulations’ or ‘thank you’ to her.
- As an onlooker of a nursing mother, if you feel compelled to say something offensive, please, instead ask her a question about her nursing relationship or her baby. Do not say offensive things to nursing mothers, especially new ones.
- As a new mother, do not feel ashamed, afraid, nervous, or intimidated about nursing your baby in public.
- As a new mother, ask for help from others around you when you need it.
- As a new mother, honor your bond with your baby, every chance you get.
- As a new mother, work hard to ignore people who seem to be judging you.
- As a new mother, evaluate each piece of “parenting advice” you get from others… Will this work for us? Does this fit with our parenting approach?
- As a new mother, establish a routine for your baby and yourself early, so you know when he/she will need to be fed, sleep, changed, etc.
- As a new mother, take care of yourself.
It wasn’t that long ago that my 3 year old was a nursling, and it wasn’t that long ago that both positive and negative actions and words made an impact on how I nourished her. My choices may be different than other new mothers, but I do hope for all new mothers, that they form an impenetrable bond with their babies, and that they not allow what others say or do to come between that bond.
Comments Welcome and Appreciated.