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On the Front Page

Kathy Rausch
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 4, July-August 2003, p. 135

My first public breastfeeding success happened on Independence Day, when Samuel was just one month old. We drove to a fireworks display with acquaintances who did not have children of their own. I sat and nursed through the whole display using the blanket-for-cover technique. The fireworks display ended before Samuel finished nursing and he stayed latched on as we walked to the car. Neither the couple we were with nor my husband realized I had nursed Samuel throughout the fireworks display.

I felt like a breastfeeding pro for the first time on a subsequent day when I was babysitting for two 10-year-old boys. We had just been on a walk and were flying kites in a big park near our house when Samuel needed to nurse, and I didn't have anything with me to use for cover. But I had heard of a way to breastfeed discreetly without the blanket. I had read that it is more discreet to nurse by lifting up one's shirt from the bottom, rather than unbuttoning from the top down. It seems funny now that I didn't think of that myself, but it was an "Aha!" for me back then. This has become my primary nursing "cover-up" technique, so I now choose clothes accordingly when I shop.

Somewhere along the way, probably when Samuel was about six months old and didn't want to be hidden under a blanket, I stopped using the blanket completely. Instead, I learned to keep my spare hand up close to his face when I breastfed him in public so I could quickly cover my breast with my hand or pull my shirt down if he popped off for a view of the surroundings. By this time I was comfortable breastfeeding wherever we went, and did not look forward to the day I would have to pack "real" food for snacks, since I loved being able to grab the diaper bag and go.

When Samuel was around 14 months old, I started to feel uneasy about continuing to nurse him. I had always planned to nurse for at least a year, but now he was older than that. He showed no signs of slowing down, as my neighbors' children had done before this age. We still both enjoyed our nursing relationship, and I had no idea of how to get him to sleep without nursing, so I wasn't ready to initiate weaning myself. Fortunately, I had formed a playgroup with two other mothers from LLL whose babies were born the same week Samuel was born, and both of their girls continued to nurse too, so I knew we weren't the only ones.

A "nursing in public" event I never anticipated was a turning point for us. One morning when Samuel was 17 months old, I went on a guided nature tour with another friend and his eight-month-old son. The walk was about four miles long, and when we were about a mile from the end, Samuel decided that he was not about to stay in the stroller (buggy). Since he could walk, and the group pace was slow, I decided to let him out to run next to us, but that didn't work either. He was ready to nurse right then, and I could stall no longer.

My friend, Ed, began pushing the empty stroller since his own son was in a baby backpack, and I just knelt down and latched Samuel on, then stood up and continued walking and talking with him in my arms. My sweatshirt kept us discreet. The naturalist who was leading the walk was about six months pregnant, and I had to smile when the conversation turned to the benefits of breastfeeding, since we had just possibly avoided a tantrum thanks to breastfeeding.

Just as we neared our destination, I looked ahead and saw a photojournalist snapping pictures of us as we approached him, and my first thought was, "What do you think you're doing! I'm already nursing a toddler in public, I don't need to explain myself to a reporter, too!" Samuel was mostly asleep, but wouldn't let go, so I just resigned myself and walked on. The photographer came up to us saying, "Your little guy sleeping makes a great shot! Watch for your picture in the South County Journal tomorrow," and he took our names. I'm not sure he would have said that had he realized that "my little guy" was nursing!

Our picture made the front page of the paper the next day, and the only people who noticed that Samuel might be breastfeeding were friends who also nursed their babies. I did tell my friends and family the rest of the story when we forwarded the picture to them, though. Somehow since that point, I just haven't worried much about nursing in public!

If someone had told me years ago that I'd have breastfed children in church, in restaurants, during a job interview, as I taught music classes, and presented at professional workshops, and everywhere in between, I would not have believed it. Mothering is definitely a process that changes us as our little ones grow, and I think that breastfeeding is the best teacher of mothering skills. I'm so glad that I've had the support of Leaders and other mothers in LLL to encourage me on my mothering journey.

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