#StopCensoringMotherhood – Overexposure

Somewhere in the depths of my Facebook account is a photo album chronicling the birth of my first son. Included in the album are photos of our trip to the hospital, the early stages of labor, and an unflattering look at my grotesquely over-inflated bottom as the anesthesiologist prepared me for a much-needed epidural. There is the photo of me holding on for dear life to the gas and air machine, and there’s the one of me blissed out once I was numb from the waist down. There’s a beautiful photo of my husband planting a kiss on his newborn son, and there are photos of me with my new baby, surrounded by various friends and family who made the trip to the hospital to visit.

Perhaps incongruously placed in this album is another photo. It is of me smiling happily as my hours-old baby suckles hungrily at my engorged breast, my pink aereola as big as a dinner plate as it peeks past his tiny head. A comment on it is from a male friend admonishing me for posting a photo like that where people would be able to see it. “No one wants to look at that,” he swears.

It is the first time I am shamed for my accidental exposure while breast feeding. It is not the last.

#StopCensoringMotherhood A new mother nursing her newborn son
My first ever breastfeeding photo

As I navigated the early waters of motherhood and breastfeeding, I found leaving the house difficult, knowing that this tiny person was completely dependent on me to nourish him. There was no schedule to speak of… he had a big appetite, and it could strike at any time. In those early days, I had not perfected the art of the cover-up. A blanket over his head while he fed only served to make me nervous – I couldn’t be sure he was latched on properly unless I could see his mouth attached to my nipple. I had a bit of paranoia that he would suffocate under the weight of my gigantic breasts. I feared hurting him in some unknown way because I didn’t know what I was doing.

I remember going out to lunch with my husband and mother on one of the last days she was visiting with us after the birth. We went to a diner so that we could eat quickly, and I might get through without having to feed him. But lo and behold, as soon as the food came, he began to cry. I looked around frantically – there was nowhere I could go. The restaurant didn’t have booths to hide in, and we were in front of a solid wall of windows with hundreds of people walking past. My mother and husband urged me not to worry, but I was embarrassed to feed him in this open space. I went to the only place where I knew I’d have privacy – the public restroom.

I sat on the dirty toilet, and I cried my eyes out as I fed my son. I was stressed and sleep-deprived and feeling like I would never be “mom enough” to do this. If I hadn’t been 100% decided on breastfeeding, I think I might have chosen that moment to give up. I am only glad that I had the strength to get past it.

Over the next several months, it got easier. I learned how to drape a small blanket across my chest and how to feel a proper latch without being able to see it. I worried less about accidental suffocation, though I still had a constant paranoia of someone saying something rude to me (as happened several times a week).

#StopCensoringMotherhood - Breastfeeding in public - keeping covered with a blanket
Breastfeeding on a public bench at Monkey World, Dorset – UK

It was at a small tea room in Upwey, Dorset that I had my first bit of positive feedback about how I’d chosen to feed my baby. I was huddled under a small blanket in a corner of the restaurant, red-faced because I wasn’t yet totally at ease. A little old woman came by our table on her way to the toilets, and she leaned toward me with a smile on her face.

“I think it’s so lovely that you’re choosing this way of feeding your baby,” she said. “It brings back so many memories of my own children. Motherhood is such a blessing, and your body is a miracle.”

With a sweet smile, she was on her way, and I felt my insecurities melt away. Her words filled me with a confidence that I’d previously lacked, and it was from that point on that I had no problem feeding him in public.

I’ve never set out to expose my breasts or throw what I was doing in the faces of those who were uncomfortable with it. I’ve never felt the need to be political about it. Other than occasional glares or pointed comments thrown my way, I’ve not noticed any real discrimination toward me for it. I was happy to breastfeed for a year and a half before I got pregnant with my second son. Him, I nursed for well over a year, including for four months into my current pregnancy.

That photo on my Facebook profile, with nipple exposed for the world to see has remained there for the last three and a half years. No one has reported it, and other than that one lone comment, there’s been no flack taken for it.

I’ve seen in the news and across social media lately that accounts are being shut down for displaying mothers breastfeeding their kids. I’ve seen “Nurse-Ins” being staged at popular retail chains to show support for those who have been discriminated against for it. I’ve seen other retail chains being lauded for making their establishments “breastfeeding friendly.”

The whole thing fills me with a sort of incredulous amusement. That the most natural thing a woman can do (other than actually birthing a baby) should be met with discomfort, anger and condemnation by a vast majority of the populace is baffling. But I’m equally unsure why so many women feel the way to make it more acceptable is to push the envelope by overexposing themselves. Surely the best way to normalize something is to just do it?  Forget those who are rude and do it anyway.

It has been my experience that the vast majority of people don’t mind if you breastfeed… they are simply uncomfortable because they have no idea where to look. They are as afraid of offending you as you are of offending them. They feel that they are intruding on a private moment, and for some folks, this makes them feel uneasy and even upset. They deflect their own discomfort by saying something rude. Like the male commenter said on my photo – “No one wants to see that.”

For now, I understand that not everyone will be accepting of the parenting choices I make, including how I feed my kids. But the great thing is that it is up to me how I choose to react to their criticism. For my part, I intend to continue doing what is best for me and mine, and I will leave the politics of it to those who feel so inclined to fight.


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Katie Reed

Katie Reed

Katie Reed is a 38 year old mom blogger from Salt Lake City, UT. She is married to the man of her dreams and together they have four beautiful boys. Dexter is 9, Daniel is 7, Chester is 5 and Wilder is 2. She writes about living with mental health issues while navigating motherhood. Her blog focuses on tips and tricks for moms, information and parenting news, kid-friendly recipes and crafts. She loves to reflect on the humorous side of parenthood and shares the reality of her life, with a "warts and all" attitude.

21 Responses

  1. I agree with you! In the future I’m not going to worry so much about nursing in public. I understand it makes others uncomfortable but nursing is not something that is new. It’s been happening since the beginning of the human race. We only have been bottle feeding for a short amount of time. I’m not willing to struggle in public like I did with my son the first time. I’ll just get more strategic….but we are moving to somewhere even warmer than here so I wouldn’t want to be covered up while eating why would a new baby you know?

    Thank you so much for this post!

  2. HELL YES! Breastfeeding has such a stigma attached to it, when it’s the whole purpose of having breasts! Thank you for standing up to society. You go mama!

  3. I am not comfortable seeing a woman breastfeeding in public, I’l be honest. I would have no problem if stores and restaurants had designated areas for women to do it privately and in comfort, but until then, I do think women should just stay home until their kids are able to go longer between feedings. I know I sound awful, but it is really unpleasant to be eating or shopping with your family and look up to see a woman’s boobs exposed for the world.

    1. You’re right- you do sound a bit awful. Why can’t you just look away if you aren’t comfortable? The thing is, it’s YOUR issue- not the mum feeding her baby. A baby’s *need* to be fed trumps your desire to not see it fed, every time.

  4. You are the one who made the choice to breastfeed. The rest of us didn’t make the choice to watch you do it. If you can’t find somewhere private to go you shouldn’t go out.

    1. Actually, you do have a choice- look away. Women have been breastfeeding babies since the beginning of time. It’s what breasts are for. No one is forcing you to watch.

  5. Posting a pic like that is disgusting. Feed ur kid if u have 2 but there’s no need 2 advertise it 2 the world. U are being an attention whore who just wants 2 shock ppl. This is y everyone is against it. Becos ppl like u feel the need 2 make it a big deal. Just stop. It is private.

    1. Do you hide while you eat? People are “against it” because society has deemed breasts to be a sexual thing that exists to please men- this is the problem. Breasts are there to feed babies. Any other function is secondary. People do not breastfeed for attention or shock value (and the use of the word whore in this context is abhorrent) – they are feeding their kids in the most normal and healthy way possible. Your attitude is what is unhealthy here. Don’t like it? Don’t look. Problem solved.

  6. What are boobs for if not for babies?? It is worse to see big half naked women on billboards when you are out with your kids. Or magazines. Or tv. At least Breastfeeding is natural and pure. Mary the mother of God would have fed Christ our Lord and Savior this way. Animals do it without shame. It is God’s will that we use our bodies the way they were intended.

  7. Stay home until you can go longer between feeds?! That is insane to suggest. Some mothers are single mothers, or even if they aren’t, there are periods of time when they are alone with their children while their spouse or partner is working. Who is supposed to do the grocery shopping, running errands, taking other children to school, doctors appointments, play dates, etc? So become a hermit until the child can go longer between feeds, or just abandon proper nutrition even if you are able to provide it? Ludicrous. People need to get over their issues seeing a mother providing nutrition to their children. You don’t have a problem seeing a mother bottle feeding. This is an artificial (although sometimes necessary) substitution for breastfeeding. The bottle holds the milk (breast), the nipple is the part the child sucks on (nipple!) Huh…the design is the same to mimic nature. There is nothing wrong or “disgusting” about nursing your child, and you shouldn’t be relegated to the shadows while you are doing it. Definitely #stopcensoringmotherhood

  8. What awful comments this post has gotten! I agree with you though. I also think there is no need to make a big deal about breast feeding when you are out in public just do it surely a nursing baby is better than a screaming one. And if people don’t like it tough! No one should be made to feel bad about doing it x

  9. A brilliant post, and I think you are right a lot of my uncomfortableness is around offending the woman feeding, will she think I am weird if I look? so I avert my eyes. I can remember working in a child footwear change where we were told if ever we came across a woman breastfeeding we should encourage them to move to the corner of the room and perhaps face the wall. It made me almost feeling like breastfeeding was wrong!

  10. Thanks for writing this and pushing forward this campaign. My friend Ashlee of the 4th Trimester Body project has been shut down time and time again. And she does nothing inappropriate. No woman should have to feel ashamed of feeding her baby!

  11. I’m sorry about the ugly responses you’ve gotten in the comments of this post. 🙁 No fun to hear that people feel that way!
    I wrote about this topic on my blog as well, and how I’ve felt about nursing in public (which has changed as I’ve had more children). http://atlantamomofthree.net/2013/07/23/what-do-you-think-breastfeeding-in-public/ It’s so hard because it’s natural but it makes people uncomfortable. *sigh* You do what you gotta do. 😉

  12. I love this, and I totally understand what you’re saying. There’s so much pressure on women to breastfeed, but then when you do it, people act like you’re intentionally trying to make everyone uncomfortable. It’s funny, in my book I include an anecdote about being exiled from a restaurant on Mother’s Day (by my husband no less!) to nurse in the parking lot in our car, because it was “inappropriate” for me to nurse our son in the (empty) restaurant. I also remember sitting on a toilet nursing because I didn’t want to offend anyone! It’s a hard experience, sometimes, but I’m glad I stuck it out. You should be proud too!

  13. I totally agree with you ! It’s funny how people don’t seem to be bothered with the sexuality of publicity, movies and magazines, but get ridiculously offended when they see a different use of women’s body .. In some countries women need to cover there faces not to offend others, and in our culture some people would like us hiding when we feed our babies .. But we don’t , and we shouldn’t 🙂 go girl !

  14. I have to agree with you as well.. That is your child and your child needs to eat.. to me its a natural thing to do and i am not remotely bothered by it.

  15. I am amazed and saddened by how breastfeeding is treated. I was listening to one of my favorite stations on satellite radio and the DJ (a woman) was admonishing another woman for daring to feed her child on a subway train in front of other people. Obviously this DJ hasn’t had children or she would know that infants don’t wait until their hunger is more convenient. I am shocked at how even women can turn against other women for feeding their children. I breastfed my first son for only 6½ months because I fell for the garbage and stress that I was fed by the media. With my second son I changed my attitude and didn’t care anymore and nursed him for 22½ months. You go, girl! Nurse away 🙂

  16. Ironic how your breastfeeding on a beach photo is more covered than breastfeeding in the hospital. I always nursed in a sling which provided cover, but I never went out of my way to cover. It’s normal and should be naturalized.

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