Originally published on skirtcollective.com
Before my son was born, my mom told me this story about her nursing me (in 1984) at the San Diego Zoo, next to the orangutan enclosure. As she sat next to the glass, a momma orangutan and her baby came to sit on the other side, and nurse her baby as well. It’s a romantic story, and it’s what helped motivate me to keep nursing my son as my nipples grew sore and my breasts learned to regulate its milk supply. I had visions of me having a moment as magical as that one.
As a new mom, navigating the world of breastfeeding, my biggest source of anxiety was breastfeeding in public. Every so often, the media will report a story in which a breastfeeding mother is asked to leave a place of business. She’s humiliated and takes to social media to report her experience. Then an army of confrontational moms will respond with outrage and storm the gates, boobs out and babies suckling away. I am not a part of this group. I just wanted to feed my son and get on with my day- without confrontation and if at all possible- avoid flashing my nipples to the world.
That’s not to say all moms who breastfeed are walking around topless and asking for negative attention. It’s also important to note that if you are breastfeeding in public, someone is going to notice. It’s what they notice that matters. There are a plethora of ways to do it discreetly. There are basic covers (the terribly named “udder covers”), pashminas, infinity scarves, baby slings, and ponchos all designed to give you and your baby the privacy to feed peacefully and without flashing a nipple.
I can personally testify, none of these covers are easy to set up when you first start out. They all require practice. Additionally, figuring out a way to hold your baby so they can latch properly and your arms aren’t burning from the effort is part of the challenge. I eventually figured it out. Obi preferred to sit up while he nursed. The older he got, the less tolerant of a cover he became.
One of the things that helped me is a lactation group. There are groups through the hospital, La Leche league, or private lactation consultants. I’m lucky to have a free group at my local yoga/Pilates studio. It’s the perfect forum to practice and still get advice from an expert. Part of the appeal of these groups is that all these women are just like me. They have their own questions, need some practice, or have issues that need addressing. It’s a sisterhood of sorts. And while it’s not exactly public, it’s still outside of the comfort of home, without a Boppy pillow, and in the company of others.
My experiences breastfeeding out and about varied. First, it was at the Little Italy Mercato, Mother’s Day weekend. I fumbled a bit, but no one even gave me a second glance as I perched on a wall, and my son happily nursed away beneath an Aden and Anais swaddle blanket. Then, it was at True Foods Kitchen with a girlfriend and her 3 month old daughter. We weren’t the only moms nursing at the restaurant- we all exchanged friendly glances and smiled- that sisterhood again.
I became more practiced with my method of cover and my hold. So I took my son to the San Diego Zoo. As moms walked by, we shared the sisterhood smile, exchanged knowing glances that said they had been there- and some part of them missed those days. I kept an eye out for disapproving glances and imagined what I would say if someone objected to my nursing there. And I fantasized about having my own back to nature bonding moment. Eventually I discovered the Baby Care Center, next to the reptile house and the first aid office. There is a changing platform, a fan, and it is cool and private.
Unfortunately I did not get to have my magical orangutan moment. As I rode the Skyfari Aerial tram to the front entrance, I reflected on the fact that just being able to feed my son was magical enough, seeing him thrive and knowing I am responsible is the best reward. I figured I would have plenty of chances to bond with the primates another time- I have a zoo membership after all.
Conclusively, my fears seem largely imagined. These women in the news must be the exception. Perhaps they are foregoing a discreet cover, breasts akimbo, inciting anti-breastfeeding sentiments across the country. The bottom line is, my anxiety was for nothing.
I would like to note that after a few trips to the zoo, I discovered a Baby Care center. It is located next to the reptile house in the front of the zoo. The area is quiet, cool and private. There is a changing table, a fan and curtains so that more than one mama can breastfeed her child. This became a godsend when it was hotter and Obi would not tolerate a cover. For mamas who bottle feed ( with breastmilk or formula) the first aid station is right next to the center and you can take your bottles in there to be warmed. I recommend using this area as it is private and quiet. At a certain point it was less about not wanting to expose myself and more that I appreciated a quiet place for my curious little one to eat in peace.
At the San Diego Safari Park you can go to the First Aid center and they will provide you with a private air conditioned area to feed your child. After the summer we have been having this was amazing. For more places to quietly and privately breastfeed your child, you can download the Feed Finder app and it will show you a database of places to breast feed.