By Kari Kohl
White Plains NY USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 1, January-February 2005, pp. 9-10
When my first child, Alexandra, was only nine days old, the entire extended family came to our synagogue and house for her naming ceremony. My husband drove her home and I walked the half mile. In just 10 minutes, she missed me and was howling to be fed. Before I settled in my favorite nursing spot on the couch, I asked my grandmother-in-law if it was okay to nurse with great grandpa there. She looked at me, a bit amused and said, "It's not like he hasn't seen breasts before!"
After that incident, I never hesitated to breastfeed my daughter whenever necessary. When she was three months old, I took her to the Javits Center in New York City for the annual car show. Contentedly snuggling in the sling, she accompanied me in and out of cars, through the throng of people. I nursed her across the country several times on airplanes, in the subways, at restaurants, in synagogue, on sidewalks, and in the supermarket. She was a snacker and I had no problem supplying what she wanted.
As Alexandra approached toddlerhood, I became aware of the discomfort some people experienced when they saw my daughter nursing. I felt proud that I was allowing people to see something natural and normal that they had never seen, but I also worried about causing backlash. I didn't want people in society who were slowly realizing the benefits of breastfeeding to revert back because of the "ick" factor.
When Alexandra was a little over two years old, I decided it was time to start cutting back on the public nursing. She was extremely verbal and intelligent (what breastfed child isn't?) and so I explained that many babies stop having "latte" when they are still babies, and that many adults in our society are uncomfortable when they see a "big girl" nursing. She only resisted a little, especially at those times when she really wanted the comfort and closeness that nursing provides. Since I knew her well, I could sense when those times were and either made an exception or found a way to nurse discreetly. I did not realize how much she had absorbed and internalized until she needed to nurse one morning during an LLL meeting.
Alexandra came over to me and asked very quietly, "Mom, could you turn around so I can nurse just a little?" I gave her a big hug and kiss and explained that the two wonderful women I was sitting with also nursed their children and didn't feel uncomfortable. She could nurse while I talked to them face to face.
Through breastfeeding, my daughter learned how to respect the feelings of others. Her wants and needs were treated with respect, and it made sense to do the same for others. Alexandra is nearly six now, and has long since weaned. Yet, she continues to be attuned to the needs and desires of others.