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Is Public Breastfeeding Offensive?

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There are always situations that you cannot control. Last weekend, I found myself in a situation that left me to choose between two things, neither ideal for myself or strangers around me. I had less than 15 minutes to decide which option was least offensive to others.

It was a family weekend. My husband, myself, and our three young sons were enjoying a day together. We had stopped for lunch and were getting on the new light rail train to treat our boys to a “train ride” downtown to the Science Center. The older two boys giggled with excitement as the train got closer to where we were waiting. As it came to a stop, our family, along with a crowd of strangers behind us, all crowded onto the small compartment.

I had our baby in the stroller and couldn’t go up the stairs to the raised level, where the majority of the empty seats were. So my husband and I split up. He took our older two boys up the stairs to sit down and I stayed standing, holding the stroller and protecting it from rolling. The baby was interested in our new surroundings for only a couple of minutes before he began fussing and twisting in his stroller, trying to grab the shiny silver train handles. I frantically blocked his tiny, chubby hands as my mind imagined all the people that had touched the handles before us and where their hands may have been before that. He was growing impatient as I searched for empty seats.

Thankfully, the train stopped and a few people got off, leaving a vacant seat. I quickly moved towards it. I sat down, freed the baby from his stroller and held him on my lap as I tightened my feet around the wheels of the stroller to brace it from rolling. This pacified him for a moment. "Not so bad," I tried to reassure myself. But who was I kidding? The more the baby fussed, the more I realized what the problem was. He was hungry and by holding him, he was close enough to my body to be constantly reminded that it was time to have his milk.

I was now beginning to feel sweat beading up on the back of my neck, causing my hair to stick to it. My face felt flushed. Is the air conditioning on? I was HOT and SWEATY! Who’s idea was it to take this train anyway? I rubbed my forehead trying to think of what I could do. Try the pacifier… Yeah …maybe that will work. He spit it out as fast as I put it in his angry little mouth. My baby’s cries began to grow louder and more urgent. He was twisting and moving in my arms, his eyes pleading with me, "FEED ME! FEED ME!" The confined space that I shared with strangers seemed to be shrinking.

I looked towards the rest of my family. The boys were chatting happily, unaware of my stress. My husband’s eyes locked with mine. He knew that cry and he, like me, knew that we had several more stops before we needed to get off. I looked around at the other passengers trying to decide what would be less offensive, allowing my baby to cry for the next 15 minutes or breast feeding in public.

My eyes nervously shifted to the people around me. I tried to figure out who would be appalled if I fed my son and who would just be happy that he had stopped crying. I was sitting next to a woman with a young daughter next to her. She was a mother. She would understand, wouldn’t she? The man across from me had his eyes shut and was listening to an IPOD. He was probably drowning out the noise and might not even notice. The scruffy man next to him sat with a glassy look in his eyes, as he held a plastic A&W root beer bottle that contained a golden colored foamy substance. He took drinks now and then of the liquid that I doubt was actually root beer.

As I continued to look around, I felt uncomfortable. I did not want to feed my baby in these surroundings, a dirty train. I have never been comfortable with breastfeeding around others. I knew from experience that the more nervous that I was, the harder it was to feed my son.

It was a long ride for everyone that day and I was relieved when we finally arrived at our stop. Once at our destination, that stressful ride was almost forgotten as I cradled my little boy, ready to feed him. (THANK YOU Arizona Science Center, for having a family restroom that has a private nursing room!) He looked into my eyes and smiled, with little streams of warm milk running down the corners of his mouth. He was so happy to be eating at last and he, like me, was happy that it was just the two of us.

Add a Comment25 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

What an odd choice.Why would someone choose the comfort of strangers that they've never met before and will never meet again, while at the same time staring at your child who's obviously screaming and uncomfortable(hungry)? That just makes no sense to me. If it's a question of my child vs. strangers.. my kid wins .. hands down every time. If it meant I had to streak naked through the mall, I would. He's my son. His needs come first. I couldn't stand there and watch him scream and do nothing. Sorry.I'm tempted to say you chose the wrong choice, but I guess that's your decision to make and every mother has the right to make their own decisions.. but I know I wouldn't have done that.

April 17, 2009 - 9:12pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Your comments are judgmental and, some might say, "offensive". You "guess" it's her decision? It's her child, her body AND, yes, her decision. I'm guessing the child was not permanently damaged, physically or emotionally, because he had to wait 15 minutes to eat. Unless you have additional facts that are not available to the rest of us, I would suggest stating your opinion on THE TOPIC in a way that does not suggest the writer is a neglectful parent.

April 20, 2009 - 1:09pm
EmpowHER Guest

Breastfed infants are entitled to eat like a formula fed baby or an adult.

Nursing with a blanket is actually more complicated than it appears, particularly with a newborn and as a new mother. I gave that up quickly.

Grown people need to put aside their fetish with breasts as sexual playthings.

Putting restrictions on breastfeeding makes a woman less likely to initiate or continue breastfeeding which is detrimental both to her health and the health of the child.

April 17, 2009 - 7:37pm
EmpowHER Guest

You could have just put a blanket over your shoulder, likely no one would have been the wiser. I am not a fan of NIP, I do think it is rude and unseemly but it's better to have a woman discreetly BF under a cover than having to listen to a hungry baby crying.

April 17, 2009 - 4:33pm
EmpowHER Guest

If my bottlefed chlid can eat in public then why is your breastfed child forced to eat in a dirty bathroom? I mean, don't get me wrong if YOU don't want to BF in public then don't, but don't make it sound like it is a horrible thing for other mothers to BF in public.

April 17, 2009 - 3:32pm
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