This post is part of Mothering’s “Blog about Breastfeeding” event (http://www.mothering.com/community/a/blog-about-breastfeeding-and-win).
I’ve been proudly and enjoyably breastfeeding my child for almost 34 months. After a slow start, I’ve been thrilled to provide this amazing food for her into her toddler years. After initial embarrassment and some questions about my public and ongoing breastfeeding, the vast majority of feedback I receive has been positive. Lately in particular, people smile at me as she chows down in the mall, or congratulate me while she nurses at a public beach. I’ve even fed her on an airplane with zero response from fellow passengers or flight attendants, a sure sign of social progress from my perspective.
I’ve also noticed, a few times recently, a shift in that experience. I am more conscious of the rarity of public nursing toddlers. And a few responses have been not supportive, the first time this has happened to me.
We were at my doctor’s to look at my throat. Since my daughter gets nervous at the doctor’s, she latched on as soon as we got into the room. He came by, saw that we were nursing, and asked, “Did she eat breakfast?” I had barely answered (no, she hadn’t) when he said, “I’ll come back.” I tried to tell him that I was ready to see him, but he said, “I’ll let you finish” and left.
Finish? As in, he won’t talk with me or look in my throat while I’m breastfeeding? This is a doctor who takes a holistic approach to health and is a big supporter of midwives, yet I felt shamed for breastfeeding. And, unfortunately, I then encouraged my daughter to finish nursing so that the doctor could come back and see me. “Why?” she asks, does she need to finish breastfeeding before the doctor can see me? Why indeed?
We were at a local park, and my daughter began to play with another girl who was there with her grandmother. We were chatting, and the mother and new baby emerged from swimming lessons. We spoke briefly, smiled lots, and then my daughter asked to nurse. I got comfortable – turning slightly away – and the family left without another word or look. I saw them laughing as they walked away and for the first time, felt slightly embarrassed about how my breastfeeding might be viewed.
I’m not happy with the encounters, or with my response. I continue to feel confident in the reasons I breastfeed: nutrition, immune support, emotional bonding, relaxation, and as a strategy to deal with stressful situations. I’m equally committed to making sure that my daughter is proud of breastfeeding, not ashamed. I’d also like her to learn confidence in her body by seeing my confidence in mine. If she detects my discomfort or, please not, shame in engaging in this incredibly meaningful activity, she could transfer that to her body. No!
I’m not sure how I will handle further encounters like the ones above, but simply writing about what happened and why I know I will keep on breastfeeding helps. Talking with friends – a recent La Leche League meeting, for example – also helps. And seeing other mothers nursing their toddlers – I know you are out there! – will be an amazing encouragement for this process.