Standing up for the birth you want is a feat on its own (be proud!), but is really only the beginning of defending and implementing what’s best for you and your baby. This week, Amy Romano, birth advocate and midwife, shares her journey to finding the confidence to nurse in public.
You’ve just accomplished the most miraculous feat: You’ve given birth. You fought for the birth you wanted — the birth that was best for you and your baby. Wise mothers will tell you that fighting for your birth is the first frontier. What’s next?
The first moments after birth are essential — they’re when a mother and her baby bond, skin-to-skin, and begin the journey to nourishment: breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is such a personal act, an intimate dance between baby and mother (much like giving birth). Slowly (sometimes excruciatingly slowly), mother and baby find a rhythm, and open up little by little to the outside world. Rituals and routines established in the early days — I sit on this area of the couch with these pillows, looking for the feeding cues, and finally get the latch just right — give way to a looser, more organic relationship.
When the universe widens just a bit, other breastfeeding moms are the perfect guests to invite in to share your dance and best of all, support it. When I give breastfeeding mothers advice, I almost always say, “Find a group of breastfeeding moms to socialize with in the first few weeks, and nurse around each other.”
The first time I nursed in public, I was at a La Leche League meeting. What a perfect way to be initiated to nursing around other people. Then, when my baby was just 2 months old, I went to my first Lamaze conference. I nursed in educational sessions, the exhibit hall, and around the hotel during breaks. I shared a hotel room with women who were well past their childbearing years, and yet welcomed having a baby at the slumber party (and no, my baby most definitely didn’t partake in the “slumber” part). Then, I had to report briefly to the board of directors about a project I was working on, and I breastfed my baby at the boardroom table while I presented to the board members.
I look back on this time now and I realize how fortunate I was. My earliest experiences of opening my baby’s and my universe to others reinforced that nursing is normal, joyful and important. In a way, it was totally unremarkable to nurse my baby while addressing my supervisor and her board of directors. But at the same time, it was something to be celebrated. The people at the table weren’t weirded out that I was breastfeeding. They loved it — reveled in it. We even took the time to talk about how important it is to have babies at our conferences — after all, our work affects them!
My son weaned 4 months ago, ending what had been more than 6 years of continuous pregnancy or nursing. I have nursed in more places than I could ever begin to count. Wherever I’ve been when my babies happened to become hungry, I’ve nursed. And only once — ever — did I overhear a negative remark. I was sitting in a coffee shop nursing my then 18-month-old son, and a 20-something-year-old guy behind me said to his friend, “You know what I hate? Babies who breastfeed.” I saw his comment for what it was — ignorance mixed with an “I’m-an-‘ironic’-hipster-trying-to-impress-my-friend” demeanor. It didn’t bother me personally (at all!), but I can only imagine a new mom (who hasn’t yet gained confidence in her breastfeeding) hearing that and feeling like an outcast.
When I look back on that moment, I mostly just feel sad for him — and others like him — who fear breastfeeding, who fear birth, who fear these things that are completely normal, natural and beautiful. And it makes me all the more thankful for all of the advocates out there who provide irreplaceable support.
On that note, I’d like to thank the wonderful folks at La Leche League for instilling in me the early confidence to breastfeed in public. I’d like to thank all of the Lamaze leaders with whom I was so incredibly fortunate to share my early mothering. And lastly, I’d like to thank the birth advocates. What an amazing network of remarkable people, standing up for such an amazing cause — what a gift.
Amy Romano is a midwife and expert in evidence-based maternity care. She manages Lamaze International’s award-winning research blog, Science & Sensibility. A frequent contributor to online and print journals, Amy believes that with a better understanding of the research and scientific evidence, we can improve the health and care of women and infants in pregnancy, birth and beyond. Follow her on Twitter at @midwifeamy.