Feed on

Sometime last week, celebrity new mom Maggie Gyllenhaal nursed her daughter Ramona in public. A photographer snapped a picture of her nursing, the photos ended up on several celebrity gossip sites, and the comments have been amazing-disturbing, funny, crude, supportive or just about any other reaction you can think of. It’s been fascinating and infuriating to read all at once.

The debate mostly seems to rage on two points:

  1. Should moms nurse in public?
  2. If so, how important is it that they cover up while doing so?

All but the most Neanderthal among us seem to agree that nursing in public is OK. For the most part, the comments against public nursing reveal a complete lack of understanding about babies in general and the mechanics of nursing in particular. Consider some of the following questions and suggestions I’ve seen:

“Can’t you just pump and bottle feed in public?” No, actually, you cannot. If you don’t nurse when your baby is hungry, you mess up your supply. Also, as I know all too well, many nursing mothers cannot successfully pump.

“Can’t you just time your trips better so you don’t need to nurse in public?” Again, no, actually, you cannot. Most young babies feed every 2-3 hours-and that’s beginning of feeding to beginning to feeding. Unless you stay home almost all the time, you simply can’t arrange to avoid public feedings.

And then there’s my personal favorite: “Yuck! You wouldn’t pee in public, so why is this OK?” I trust no comment is necessary on this one.

Having dispatched those who disapprove of nursing in public in all forms as ill-educated yobs with issues, we can now move on to the next question. How important is discretion?

It’s funny how my views on this have changed in the past few months. Early on, I purchased the Bebe au Lait nursing cover, which I fondly call the nursing burkha. Even though I thought it was ridiculous and unnecessary, I used it in deference to Southern mores about modesty and discretion. And to keep my father and brothers’ eyes from bleeding. And, in all honesty, to keep from feeling exposed and self conscious myself.

Simon is now nearly eight months old, it’s summer, and the burkha is becoming a thing of the past. Simon is so strong and wriggly now that it’s almost impossible to keep the burkha in place. More than once, I’ve found myself sweating with the exertion of trying to wrestle him, my body, and the wrap all at once.

And speaking of sweat, it’s summer in the South. Which is to say it’s hot and humid. So when I stop sweating from exertion, I start sweating from having an extra layer of fabric over my exothermic baby and me. Whew! I’m pretty sure Simon doesn’t like sweating it out either, as he gets fussy and protests the cover.

So my new compromise is to dress to make nursing as easy as possible when I’m going to be out for most of the day and to place the burkha over a shoulder next to me-but not over Simon’s head-to cut off the revealing side view. Can you see anything if you look real hard? You can. Am I worried about this? Not much. The practicalities of feeding an older baby have simply flipped off my modesty chip.

Going back to Maggie, many posters assume her public nursing was a public statement, perhaps even an open challenge to those who are offended by it. And if it was, go Maggie, go. But I also wonder if it wasn’t just a case of her being a mom of an older baby out in hot and humid NYC in the summer. And if that’s the case, folks, the rubbernecking and ensuing debate is just plain ole silly. Or, to quote some of the more succinct comments I ran across, “It’s just a boob folks. Can’t we all get over it?

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