For the past five years, I have photographed mothers feeding in public locations as part of the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project (PBAP), a global photography campaign to erase the stigma around public breastfeeding. I breastfed, and I formula fed and can say from experience that they both have their own set of advantages, struggles, and stigmas. It is not my place to tell a mother what is “right” for her family. I do however feel it’s important to show up for mothers and demand that we treat them with respect, not stipulations.
Every year we ask moms how they feel about public breastfeeding and what their experience has been with public breastfeeding has been to share during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week. Two years ago I asked the dads to share their thoughts. Total tear jerker. This year we asked the older siblings of nursing moms how they feel when their mom feeds their younger siblings. The kids ranged from 2-12. One big brother said it made him mad because he wanted his mom’s attention (I seriously LOVE how honest and filter-free kids are). But every other kid seemed confused and uninterested. It was such a non-issue in their minds. It is my hope that one day we can all learn to view public breastfeeding how these kids do, as something so common and uneventful that it’s not even worth talking about. In the meantime here is what local parents had to say about public breastfeeding.
“Being this is my second child, I felt more comfortable breastfeeding her out in the open almost anywhere and everywhere, from Sea World to plane rides up north to visit grandparents to poolside at birthday parties and beyond. I would say most people I come in contact with are 100% supportive of me breastfeeding her out in the open. Just last week I was in Charlottesville, Virginia at a children’s museum with my 4-year-old son and 1-year-old nursling and I asked if they had a nursing room. I typically always ask first just because I’m most comfortable sitting down in a nice cozy chair (who isn’t, right?) Well the intern looked at me funny and said, “We are totally ok with you feeding right out in the open!” It felt so good to have someone actually say that at a place of business and not direct me to the dirty, smelly bathroom!! It really made me feel the acceptance of breastfeeding is progressing compared to when I first started breastfeeding my son in early 2014. So I took her advice, and did just that while my son played in the “Panera Bread” part of the discovery museum.”
“I have been breastfeeding my son for the past three years. He isn’t showing signs of weaning any time soon, unfortunately, because to be honest I am ready to have my body back. I push through it though, because it’s easier to cave, then to listen to the tantrums. “It won’t last forever” I always tell myself, as I try to cherish the moments, rather than dread them. I know one day I’ll look back and miss it so much. My son has always been big for his age (born 10 pounds, 6 oz. at home). He is now three and weighs 40 pounds. When we are out and about it’s rare for us to breastfeed in public nowadays but in certain circumstances, it does still happen. When we do, we usually get a lot of staredowns and mean looks from the people around us. For instance, a couple of months ago we were in need and made a trip to the food pantry. Out of all places, you would think the people there would be more understanding. My son was tired and had no interest in waiting patiently in the long line waiting for our number to be called. It was taking forever, it was hot, he saw cows across the street and wanted to see the cows! He was crying and angry, so I decided it was the perfect time to breastfeed! Not only to try to calm him down but for everyone’s sanity. I began to breastfeed when I hear “IS HE ON HER TIT???” “Oh my gosh that’s just disgusting!!!!” Mind you, I also had my five-year-old daughter with me, so I didn’t want her to hear them. I unlatched, went to the staff and told them I’d be waiting outside and for them to come out when my number is called. They didn’t want to hear him crying but they didn’t want to see me breastfeeding him quietly. They just wanted us gone. I do my best when it comes to not judging anyone for anything. You don’t know anyone’s stories, their hardships, their challenges, what their home life is like, what their financial status is like. If they’re single, widowed, divorced, and doing this whole “mama” thing on their own. I never thought I’d be breastfeeding a three-year-old, but here I am. It’s my son’s comfort right now. We’ve been through too much to just take it away. This life is short, these days are numbered. It won’t be forever, and for now, it’s what works best for us. I will continue to do what’s best for us, regardless of public opinion.”
“With my first baby, I tried to be much more “conscientious” when I breastfed in public. Most places I fed I would try to cover her with a light blanket and she would get distracted by it and pull it off. That just didn’t work. Somewhere along the way (and 2 more babies later!), I started to shift my focus. I think a lot about the environment I want my kids to grow up in and what I want them to see as “normal.” I want my kids to simply see breastfeeding as how a baby eats. I feel like me breastfeeding comfortably in public helps create that environment for everyone.”
“I’ve always been confident in how I’ve chosen to feed my three babies. From early on in my life my mother gave breastfeeding a natural and positive image and I have felt encouraged and empowered in each of my breastfeeding journeys. I am blessed and proud that my body is capable of feeding my babies and maybe that has overshadowed those who don’t also think that way. I feed my babies when they are hungry and soothe them when they need to pacify. I have enough responsibilities as a mother that finding a hidden location, now with 2 other kids in tow, is not on my list when trying to feed my daughter. I am aware that I am sometimes judged when nursing in public but they can choose not to pay attention to me, as I choose not to pay attention to their criticism.”
“Physically, mentally, and emotionally nourishing my daughter with breastmilk, while also comforting her, is such a beautiful experience that I have been absolutely in love with since day one. So it greatly saddens me that I’ve received any negative feedback regarding it, felt like I’ve had to defend myself and her and that I’ve been afraid of what those around me will think and say about how I’m feeding my baby. Knowing how amazing breastmilk is, it shocks me that breastfeeding is portrayed so negatively. I’ve breastfed many times in public, but this particular time at Love market in Ormond was different because I was in a dress, had no cover, shopping cart full, by myself, and first in an ever-growing line. Willow needed to eat and when I looked into those big, pleading eyes, I LONGED to bring her comfort. For once, I didn’t even think twice; it went smoothly, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. Seeing her sweet smile always affirms how right this is. Even an employee passing by, smiling big, stopped, and said, “How cute!” I felt the love. I was on a high for the rest of the day and was forever changed. I grew extra secure and confident in this part of my role as Willow’s mama, and have been able to breastfeed in public since, with the greatest of ease. I long for a world where engaging in the most natural act that we were made for is lovingly celebrated by all and women are encouraged and supported during this momentous time in their life. I stand up for this cause so my daughter can breastfeed her baby without any worry in the back of her mind; for that is the last thing she should be focusing on while giving the best love and healthy start to her little.”
“Breastfeeding my 2.5-year-old daughter in public has been refreshingly easy and comfortable. When we were first nursing I tried to cover up in public or hide it, mostly because I didn’t want to offend anyway. It was a hassle to have the right equipment and the right setting and it was only frustrating to me and my daughter. With the support of my husband and family, they made me feel comfortable nursing wherever and whenever my daughter needed to. We have been nursing for almost three years and have yet to come across a negative comment made to us. For that, I am very thankful that I can continue to fulfill my daughter’s needs without worrying about what other people may say or think.”
“Breastfeeding my first son was hard from the beginning. We ended up supplementing with formula his entire first year but went on to breastfeed until a month after his second birthday. I hope to breastfeed his little brother just as long — today marks exactly one year! I think partially because I went through so many struggles learning how to breastfeed, it’s become something I feel very strongly about. Mamas, do what works for YOU! Feed your baby however you choose, wherever you choose. There are so many things about motherhood that are hard. Worrying about where you feed your baby shouldn’t be one of them.”
“I have had different struggles with each of my four breastfed littles. Three out of the four had oral motor issues and were unable to take bottles of any kind (and we tried them all!). We had to do special exercises with them and sought out the help of other breastfeeding mamas. With my first, I tried to cover when I nursed but found out quickly that it was hot and she didn’t like it. We also drew more attention to ourselves when covered than when we weren’t. People would walk up to us and try to peek at what they said was the “sleeping baby.” That baby wasn’t asleep, she was nursing. My first wasn’t a snuggly baby at all, but rather a high needs baby. She would only let me, her mom, hold her and would not even sleep unless I was holding her. Despite all this holding, she wasn’t snuggly. Breastfeeding her through those tough times helped me feel close to her and like I was doing something right by her. My first born is now a doting older sister. I have nursed three biological children as well as one adopted child. I have used milk from my body as well as milk from over twenty donor moms. I have also donated my own milk to other moms and babies in need. It is an amazing community of moms that is like a secret society you have joined when you begin nursing your little ones. I have never felt so accepted immediately before. Some of the most emotional times I have had with nursing were collecting donor milk for my adopted child (I nursed her from the breast too, but she also needed bottles in the beginning). I got to hear so many breastfeeding stories and share mine. It was one of the most amazing experiences shared with other moms. For the most part, I’ve not gotten negative statements about my nursing – maybe it’s the vibe I put off. It is difficult to have babies that won’t accept a bottle of pumped milk. You can’t do anything without thinking of how you will feed your little one as they are utterly and completely reliant upon you. This can make you feel very alone even as you provide your babies with the best you possibly can and making sure that their needs are met. There is a bonding, a closeness that occurs with nursing – even with my non-snuggly babies. It forces someone who always likes to be going to just be. Just sit and relax and be. Be a mom. Be me. Just be for just one fleeting moment in time. Because even though I have now nursed four littles for a combined twelve years those times seem to have flown by and they are now coming to a bittersweet end. Those years will soon be in the past and all that will remain are my memories of those who made me a mother.”
“Breastfeeding my son in public has been a positive experience over the last seventeen months. I have found that nursing in public is often a conversation starter, and I have had many women share their positive memories of their own experiences. I now have an air of confidence when my son and I nurse, knowing that I am doing what nature intended.”