Breastfeeding in public

By | December 18, 2009

I am a huge supporter of breastfeeding for many reasons, but the chief ones are:

  • Its the best choice of nutrition for my baby
  • Immunity or at least resistance from a lot of stuff – don’t really know from experience – Nisarga is my son – we have no use for doctors other than regular vaccinations and gas. Or maybe that is the experience.
  • Its quick and convenient – nothing has a response time faster than unbuttoning and putting baby to breast. I have absolutely no intentions of going to the kitchen to fix formula, clean bottles and so on with a hungry baby on hand

Bonus:

  • Lose your pregnancy weight faster
  • Have a baby who absolutely prefers you over anyone else in the world
  • Save money in products, doctor’s fees…. breastmilk is the best in quality and free!

That said, one of my first purchases was a breast pump. At that time, with a new baby, I didn’t really know how available I’d be, and I wanted to keep a supply of milk on hand ‘just in case’. ┬áIt has proven invaluable countless times, allowing the baby to be fed when I hop out to a shop or when I’ve had too much sleep deprivation. I had initially planned it to store milk for going out for work for a couple of hours too, but I’ve lost the inclination for that.

I am quite happy with India on the breastfeeding front, seeing how we are used to seeing women feeding their babies anywhere and everywhere. Sadly, this is now vanishing with ‘education’. Apparently the more educated you are, the more tempting your breast looks to people with evil thoughts. Good that I stopped before getting too educated.

Initially, I used to carry bottled milk to feed the baby when heading out in public. I was not very expert at it, and didn’t really want the baby to suffer from my incompetence and needs of specific kinds of support to be able to feed well. This really had nothing to do with public places. I would still have prefered the bottle if totally alone and secluded without adequate time and fidgeting support.

Now that I’m comfortable and the baby is a pro at this whole breastfeeding thing, the bottle is strictly for when I have to leave him behind to go somewhere and it is always a backup plan. Plan A is always to feed him and get back before he gets hungry again, or take him along.

I am getting used to people slowly recommending starting formula, and foods and what nots. With all my criticism of the older generations for unthinking child care practices, its actually my contemporaries who make these ‘helpful’ suggestions. My parents and in-laws have never so much as said ‘food’ with relevance to the baby at this age, and will probably disinherit me and adopt Nisarga if I even think of formula.

Yet my friends have recommended giving all kinds of things sooner than six months:

  • Water: Babies get thirsty
  • Juices: For digestion
  • Formula: For putting on weight
  • Cow’s Milk: For convenience
  • All of the above: for public places

Somewhere along the line, women can wear barely visible clothes in public and its trendy, but breastfeeding is obscene. What’s wrong with this picture? I have yet to see a single person – even street lechers – look at a breastfeeding woman with lust. Curiosity, sure. Appreciation at the beautiful bonding, often, but never really “hey sexy babe, show me your boobs” variety. Even if they did, how does it matter?

I eat in public when I’m hungry. Can I expect an infant not to?

A friend of mine got really distressed when I shared these thoughts and went into a flood of advice about using my breast pump and carrying a bottle along. Sure, I’ve done that. I’m not saying its a bad idea and it works so that someone else can feed him if necessary. Yet, there’s only so much milk a bottle contains, and only so much my breast contains. I find it far more graceful to have Nisarga feed than huge wet blobs on my clothes.

Then she suggested finding a private place like a restroom. You mean breastfeeding is so shameful that it must be hidden even if it means that you go into an entirely unhygienic place to FEED? Would YOU eat in a restroom? Ever seen what a restroom in a mall is like? What do I do if I’m travelling? Stop a flight, bus, car?

I miss living in the village where you could see a woman sitting in a field under the sky with a baby to her breast for all to see. I have yet to meet one who looked for a convenient bush to go behind. We appreciate photos of women breastfeeding in art shows, but deny that beauty in ourselves.

In a family gathering, kids and moms had a room to camp out in and I was breastfeeding Nisarga. Suddenly the door opened to have an uncle asking something from a cousin inside. With Nisarga barely a month old, we had a certain celebrity status, and everyone took moments to speak with me. This uncle saw me, and chatted. A sister-in-law with a grown up son was sitting nearby shell shocked. I was feeding and talking with a male at the same time!!!

I carry along a scarf or something suitable to drape. Its more to prevent Nisarga from getting distracted than for me to hide what I’m doing. Its a certain intimate boundary that feels nice. It certainly wouldn’t stop me if I had nothing to cover up, and Nisarga was hungry, though at his age we haven’t been out enough to get into that situation. And I definitely wouldn’t go into a public toilet to feed my baby. I’ve never been obsessed with how much of me is seen or hidden, and my husband can sit right next to me and not bat an eyelid. Where is the problem?

How is it that parents willing to go to fantastic extents to get admissions to some exclusive school, or be seen by only a child specialist with exhorbitant fees, or have every excellent toy for their child don’t value something that is the very fabric of life itself? Or is it because it doesn’t have a monetary tag attached? Or is it because its so ridiculously easy to manage, that its not important?

This is one area where the traditional old-timers have it right. Feed baby. Feed often. Don’t worry about the rest till your baby grows up.

What do you do/support/plan?

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