To those who have something to say when I breastfeed my baby,
Do you know that before I pull down my shirt and latch my baby to my breast my entire body tenses up? I brace for what you are about to say. I’ve checked out of the conversation. I’ve stopped eating my meal. I’m silently calming my panic because I know your eyes and mouth are about to come for me with insensitivity and sometimes cruelty.
And quite frankly, I am tired of it.
Parenting classes and doctors told me that breastfeeding would help protect my baby against illness, prevent obesity and even make her smarter. Our mother-child bond would be stronger from the release of oxytocin that occurs during breastfeeding. It would even fight postpartum depression.
“Breast is best” is the slogan the experts used.
It was a no brainer for me. After all, how hard could it be?
Well, it’s been really hard.
No one warned me that when a baby is first born they cluster feed. They feed on and off nonstop, leaving mothers without time for sleep.
It felt like some sort of welcome-to-motherhood hazing.
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When my daughter was one-month old I was hospitalized with Mastitis, which is inflammation of the breast tissue likely from a clogged duct. I ran high fevers for a week and suffered flu-like symptoms. Mastitis is dangerous and extremely painful. My breasts were as hard and as big as cantaloupes. It’s not the easiest recovery either. The best medicine they say is to nurse your baby as frequently as possible.
I have had nights that are so sleepless I cry when morning comes. My body is no longer mine. I have a scar from my c-section and my breasts are twice the size of what they were pre-pregnancy.
Sometimes the words “I can’t do this” play like a broken record in my head.
Breastfeeding makes me super dehydrated. After I am done, I am exhausted. I feel like I just worked out and I am famished. My shoulders cramp because I am hunched over. And while some people lose weight from breastfeeding, it’s harder for me to return to my pre-pregnancy body because I constantly want and need to eat. Not to mention, I can’t exactly run and jump rope with these big girls right now. It hurts!
But I am not complaining. I am telling you this so you understand that it hasn’t been easy and you haven’t made it any easier. Nurses, friends, and family acted so impressed those first few days when I breastfed my baby in the hospital. I felt like a hero. But that level of support quickly disappeared when I left the hospital and integrated motherhood into my everyday life.
Too often, I hear your comments and I see your stares.
“I could never… It’s just gross to me.”
“Are you going to breastfeed forever?”
“You’re taking your boobs out now?!”
I wonder why you think it is OK to comment or react to me feeding my child?
Is it just because I’ve made your brunch experience a little awkward with my left boob?
When my daughter was six months old, she and I traveled alone together for the first time.
On the plane she got hungry. So, I fed her.
The old man next to me said, “Wow! She is lucky. I wish I could be her.”
At a pharmacy, while waiting for a prescription for her when she was sick, I sat down in a corner to feed her. A man came uncomfortably close to us and started whistling. My daughter kept popping her little sick head up to look at him, exposing my entire breast. I don’t know if whistling is how he passes the time or if he was just trying to horrify me.
On multiple occasions, my family members and even my partner have said to me, “I can’t believe you are doing that here.”
I try to ignore all of you because I don’t have the energy for your criticism. My arms and shoulders are sore. My nipple is cracked from being bitten. My baby is cranky because she’s uncomfortable in this position. I’m thirsty. And now, because of comments like yours, I am embarrassed and want to quit.
Please understand, no one enjoys breastfeeding in public.
I haven’t met one mom who said, “Isn’t it great you get to whip a boob out sometimes?”
No one enjoys it. At times, it feels humiliating.
But when a baby is hungry, they are hungry. I could either hold my daughter, kicking, screaming and crying because she’s starved or I could just sit down and feed her.
Some people have asked, “Do you want a blanket to cover up?”
No, I don’t. I am hot and sweaty already from carrying a baby around. Not to mention my daughter is now 10 months old and 20-something pounds. Homegirl does not enjoy eating in 80° weather with a blanket over her head. Imagine someone putting a blanket over your face while you’re trying to eat.
Another option for some women is pumping ahead of time but that doesn’t work for everyone. For me, it’s super painful and a huge hassle. Also, I don’t produce as much when I pump.
And while there are some situations where I could go out of my way to find a private space, after a while it creates a feeling of isolation.
The way I see it is 50 years ago the media decided to sexualize breasts, which made mothers feel like we should be ashamed for exposing them.
Women are expected to be great moms and not to have any sweat on our brows in the process.
This unfair expectation for women to always look pretty and perfect while also constantly being sexualized is why you think your stares are warranted and your comments are appropriate.
The truth is, if you’re doing motherhood right, you should look like a hot mess. And just like if I pulled out formula or a bag of cheerios, when I go to feed my child, the rhythm of our conversation should not change.
Breastfeeding is not about you and it’s not about me. It’s about my baby and I am blessed to be able to nourish my daughter with happiness as well as, hopefully, long-term health.
I am proud of myself for breastfeeding my child. It’s incredibly hard. It’s hard when I’m alone in my living room. It’s super hard when I’m out at dinner.
And it would be really nice and much appreciated if you could make it a little easier for me and mothers like me. I am not asking for luxury, I am asking for human decency.
When you see me unlatch my bra, pull a breast out, and start to feed my baby, don’t offer your opinion. Keep your eyes focused on whatever task you were doing. And if by some miracle you decide you want to be helpful, for God’s sake, just pass me a glass of water.