Becoming a Lactivist.

The first time that I really remember seeing a mom nurse her child I was in college. It was an acquaintance of mine, in her own house, on her own couch and she used a cover while she nursed her 6 month old daughter. It made me uncomfortable, but I continued talking to her like it was no big deal. Awkward situation, right?

How weird of me. Seriously. I went to college for wildlife science, where I took tons of biology classes, including a mammalogy course, and somehow I was still uncomfortable in the presence of a nursing human. I grew up surrounded by livestock and saw mammals drinking from their mama’s mammary glands constantly, but when it was a baby… well geez, didn’t she respect my presence enough to at least leave the room and nurse her child far far away from me?

I hate that. I hate that I ever felt that way. I’m glad I had the tact to keep my ignorant mouth shut and to respect her motherhood just enough to pretend that nothing was happening. And I’m glad that I have moved on past that point.

Since becoming a mother I have learned to respect my body and my babies’ need to eat enough that I don’t worry about who is uncomfortable with me breastfeeding. I never want to upset other people, but I feel like we (as a culture) seriously need to get over the “weirdness” surrounding breastfeeding. I try to be modest. I prefer to nurse Clara away from people since she is so easily distracted. I have fed with a cover and without (my preference – and my children’s – is without a cover), in restaurants, at political rallies, in a veterinarian’s office, and in the parking lot of all sorts of places in my car.

Nursing in public is not easy, especially for a new mom. I think that it takes more than just courage – it takes a level of comfort that most moms don’t have with their newborns. Eventually it becomes no big deal, but until it does, if a mom wants to feed somewhere private she should totally do it. If a mom wants to use a cover, she should. However, if a mom wants to sit cross-legged in the middle of a library or a grocery store or a market, then she should. Breastfeeding is SO HARD for so many women. The fear of nursing in public and letting the world get a glimpse of side boob or even knowing what you are doing under that giant nursing cover keeps new moms at home. When their families are uncomfortable with it, it makes moms’ resolve to do the best thing for their children that much harder.

Nursing moms need support. They shouldn’t be offered formula. They know it exists and can buy it if they need some. People shouldn’t pressure a mom to give a bottle to the baby unless she wants to. Pumping complicates things for moms.

And please, don’t think that because a mom is successfully breastfeeding that it’s some sort of judgement on you because you aren’t. Formula-feeding moms can support breastfeeding (even in public) too. If you weren’t successful at it or you just chose not to, ok. I’m not going to tiptoe around you because of it. I breastfeed my children. I support breastfeeding moms and praise them for their hard work. Praising breastfeeding is not a sensitive subject. I’m not passing judgement on anyone else if I applaud the twin mom who is exclusively breastfeeding her newborn girls (you go, Bekki!!) or any other breastfeeding mom. I love it when my formula-feeding friends support breastfeeding mothers. THANK YOU! You KNOW how hard this is. Thank you for supporting the ones who have made it!

Our world seems divided between the formula feeders and the breastfeeders, but I don’t think it is. If we all stand together and support moms who feed their babies (wherever they are, however they feed), then we can all be stronger because of it.

And if you think that there’s no debate and I’m over-reacting, please check these links out.
Mom asked to leave library
Some tweets:

I have seen men say that they are going to “whip their dick out” the next time they see a woman breastfeeding. So many people say, “just put it in a bottle,” or “have they ever heard of formula,” or “don’t they have respect, smh,” or “nasty fat lady whippin her tit out gross.” It astounds me.

I would never tell a mother that she was doing the wrong thing by feeding her child formula. I would hope that I will get the same respect and nobody will ever tell me that I should feed my babies using a bottle. How presumptuous would that be?

Breastfeeding is a human right. If your baby is hungry on a plane, or in Walmart, or in a park, or wherever, you should feed him/her. That’s your job. The first time I ever nursed in public was in a vet’s office. I had a bottle for Cormac, but Clara was hungry at the same time. I was alone (our dog had just been run over), so I held a bottle for him while I lifted my shirt and nursed her. It was complicated. And uncomfortable. The receptionist gave me an unbelieveably dirty look. But she didn’t say anything and I fed my children and life went on. And the next time was easier. And now it doesn’t freak me out. I prefer to be in a shady, quiet place, but if  I have to nurse in front of 5000 strangers I will. And I hope that I give one mother the spark of courage that she needs to keep breastfeeding her child and to help make breastfeeding normal in the US.

And that is what being a lactavist is about for me. Not shaming mothers who don’t breastfeed – supporting mothers who are trying to.

Jessica is a mother of twins and blogger at The Mommy Dialogues.  To read more from her, please visit!

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