I'm due any day now (!) and am planning on and really looking forward to breastfeeding my son. But I can't help but wonder how I will do it on the go. I'm not sure this is really an "organic" question but thought you might be willing to answer me about how this is all going to work?
-Marie from Connecticut
Congrats on your plans. Intentions and plans are important when it comes to starting a breastfeeding relationship (that's lactation consultant speak - funny, no?); you can set yourself up for success. That said, breastfeeding isn't always easy. And can be far from it. It takes getting used to for you and the babe.
Which is why I commend you for already considering what it will be like to nurse in public. Some mothers really seem to be able to whip their breasts out anywhere, even in those first few learning weeks, no problem. If you find yourself becoming one of those moms, more power to you. Others figure out ways to do it more discreetly, by using all sorts of covering drape-y things like shawls you'll find in most kiddie gear stores these days (more on these in a moment), or by ducking into a public bathroom or a dressing room in a store when they need to feed on the go. Still others find it so uncomfortable to breastfeed in public that they schedule their feedings so that they always know what time to seek out privacy (once babies are a little older than newborn, this can be done if you're interested but I never bothered).
I, like you, had some concern about what life would be with my boobs hanging out all over the place before my daughter was born. I decided to see how it went once she was born before making any scheduling decisions. Some places I was more comfortable than others. But as it turned out, I quickly got very comfortable nursing anywhere, anytime. And I was amazed to notice just how many moms were also wandering around nursing all over the streets of New York! I hadn't noticed them before I was a nursing mom myself, but once you know what it looks like and what to look for, it's hilarious how many of us are at it at any given moment on any crowded street. And it's lovely and comforting to see how many women of all ages smile and nod at you knowingly when they notice. Men, too - dads, grandfathers. I never once felt anyone ever watched me nurse, though other kids are very curious and sweet.
Don't get me wrong, what I'm describing didn't involve me literally flashing my entire neighborhood. Nursing doesn't actually involve being very naked at all, and is easy to cover up, especially during cold months when you have a lot of layers on. That first summer I was breastfeeding, I certainly felt a little strange when the weather turned warmer and I had less clothing to disguise what I was up to. But I quickly got used to that, too. And it's pretty rare, once you get going, that a nipple is actually out in the open for more than a split second. Usually the kid is blocking any real view.
That said, I have heard that bigger breasted women (I'm on the smaller end of things) have more difficulty being discreet when they want to be. And there are some babies who pop on and off the breast, especially when they start to really notice the world around them and are easily distracted from nursing, potentially leaving your nipples exposed to the entire playground. No one else will really care but you - really - but if you do, here are some ways of covering up while still feeding:
Throw a blanket over the event! If this is too bulky, invest in some nursing specific cover-ups or shawls. Nursingcovers.com has a wide selection in all prints, shapes, and sizes, and even an organic cotton and bamboo section. Their most amusing (to me, anyway) item is something called a MoBoleez modern bonnet, which looks like a giant wide brimmed hat for the baby. The brim covers your breasts. Nursing covers aren't a specialty item. They're so ubiquitous even Wal Mart sells organic cotton ones. I actually think doing it under a giant shawl or baby hat draws even more attention to what you're doing than just doing it out in the open. But that's me.
Retrofit some shirts or invest in nursing specific tops that allow enough entry for you to snake a hand in to open your nursing bra or tank and then offer a breast to a babe.
Have a friend who has nursed show you how to do it in a sling or baby carrier - built in coverage, and very convenient on the go.
Map out where in your neighborhood has clean, large public bathrooms with changing tables and enough room to nurse comfortably. If you're headed out for the day and think of it beforehand, check out where you might be able to nurse and change where you're headed. Department stores and baby gear stores are always a safe bet.
Post a message on your local parenting message board asking where other moms go to breastfeed. Knowing other parents are comfortable nursing in specific stores or restaurants will make you feel more comfortable doing it yourself.
Do it with friends! There is safety in numbers. Meet up with other breastfeeding moms for tea or lunch and you can all do it at the same time.
Meanwhile, as you're setting up your diaper bag, don't forget to tuck organic nipple cream, organic cotton (or wool) reusable nursing pads, and a large reusable water bottle into your diaper bag (breastfeeding is thirst-making work!). In the early months, these are as crucial as extra diapers and wipes.
Enjoy! It's a lovely, lovely experience.
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