Until moving to New York City I had never seen anyone breastfeed in public. The first time I saw a woman nursing her baby I didn't even realize that's what she was doing. I thought she was just holding her baby close to her. Upon second glance I saw that the baby was suckling from her breast. My initial reaction was, "doesn't she want more privacy?" but then it dawned on me, the baby is hungry and doesn't care about privacy.
Just last week I saw the most astonishing thing right on my busy corner of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. There was a family of three, mother, father and child, about 18 months, carried by the mother. The first thing that made me notice them was that the baby seemed too hefty for the mother's lithe frame. It was close to 90 degrees outside and with her hands full the mother needed the father to feed her water so she could stay cool. Then I realized that the mother was actually crossing this busy intersection, walking through New York City, while nursing her child! I could not imagine the breastfeeding skill required to nurse an older baby while walking. I was so impressed by her. I felt sure I will never be able to accomplish the same feat, but I was proud of her ability to nurse like that and of her unwillingness to give up nursing her child for convenience, a false sense of modesty or any other reason.
In cultures around the world breastfeeding is much more accepted than it is in the United States. For some reason, our culture has marked public nursing as a lewd act. Over the years we have sensitized women's breasts as a sex object so much so that we are unable to view our breasts for their primary purpose, that is feeding our young. As an adult, if we feel hunger or thirst, we do not hesitate to eat or drink. Why should we treat ourselves any better than we treat our babies. If our babies are hungry or thirsty should we deprive them of nourishment? Do our babies care where they eat or who sees them? It is commonly accepted that breast milk is the most perfect food. Doing well at breastfeeding has a lot to do with timing. A child's need for food should not be denied for any reason. A baby who is withheld from feeding will become further and further agitated to the point where achieving the correct latch is nearly impossible. Mother will become discouraged with nursing, she will feel that she is unable to do it correctly, that she is unable to give her baby what he needs. It is a vicious cycle that, sadly, commonly ends mothers giving up nursing and the baby being denied their mother's milk. If you get your baby to the breast when he is ready for it the baby will nurse more effectively and the mother will feel more comfortable with the baby at her breast.
I still have 14 days until my due date so it is hard for me to say with 100% confidence how I will behave when nursing my child outside of the home. I would like to think that I will have no need for nursing covers, blousy shirts or anything else that would keep out the prying eyes of the public, but I can't be sure. There are so many products available to mothers to cover up while nursing in public. Most of them look similar to kitchen aprons, just a bit wider around the body for better coverage. I'm not sure how it would feel eating behind a curtain, but as a 30 year old I don't think I would like eating with something draped across my face. I'm sure once our baby joins us these decisions will make themselves, for now it is all just a mysterious unknown. I do know that I will do my best to nourish my baby from my breast as soon as he is ready to eat.