During my first pregnancy, I dutifully answered my doctor's questions -- allergies to medications no, family history of cancer yes -- until he asked: "Will you be breastfeeding?"
I'd just turned 30. Like most who don't answer to "Mom," what I knew about breast-feeding couldn't fill a sippy cup. Today it seems a month can't pass without some breasty brouhaha making news in restaurants in Texas or airport lounges in Atlanta or public pools in Arizona. Last May Barbara Walters expressed her distaste for public breast-feeding on "The View" and it was open season on the talk show host, with lactating moms and their infant dependents protesting outside New York's ABC headquarters.
The U.S. is no Australia (where almost 88 percent of mothers breastfeed, at last count), but it does boast a respectable 70 percent newborn breastfeeding rate. While the pendulum swings back, today's mothers are returning to breast-feeding the way their grandmothers (and their grandmothers) did. When it was my turn to face that decision, an hour of Googling was all it took. Better baby health, irreplaceable immunities, lower risk of breast cancer for Mom? Sign me up.
But I can't help identifying with the naysayers, because until recently I was one of them. Before I had kids if a nursing mother had materialized next to me in Starbucks I would have recoiled in horror. "Doesn't she realize people can see?" These days I have a message to that me of a few years ago, and to every nursing-phobic person out there.
Get over it.
Really -- and I'm not trying to be unkind -- just get over it. We have. You may not believe it, but we nursing moms are not all that hot about feeding in public either. But we have to, because breast-feeding requires serious commitment. With so much at stake, we're not going to cloister ourselves to cater to someone else's issues. Breast-feeding is not about you. It's not even about me. It's about the baby. Moreover -- and I'm sure I'm not the only one with this talent -- most of my public feeding sessions involve a quick-change that's so clever even a perverted soul just waiting for me to flash him would be disappointed.
Like using a carseat or not letting my baby sit in a dirty diaper, breastfeeding is something that I do just because. It's not a question of switching to a bottle when we're out; when I don't use my breasts to nurse, I lose the milk. And you, the breast-o-phobe who dreads a public feeding session the way nonsmokers dread someone lighting up, aren't even part of the equation. Nursing babies eat a dozen times daily for months on end. If you had to do something 12 times a day, you'd stop worrying pretty quickly about who's around when you do it.
Moreover, if history is any indication, things won't improve for the anti-public-nursing contingent. Burger King has caved. So have Wal-Mart and Starbucks. The nursing numbers are rising (a 20 percent increase since 1990) and there's a groundswell of widespread acceptance. Today's nurse-in outside ABC studios could be tomorrow's national holiday. If public breast-feeding bothers you, exercise your right to look away. But don't expect anything to change.
Like the woman Barbara Walters met last year, I once boarded a plane with my baby. After the flight, the gentleman who had stared in horror as I took my seat in front of him stood up. "That was the most well behaved baby I've ever flown with," he announced.
Little did he know, he had my breasts to thank for his peaceful flight.