If you have followed my work, you know that I am a huge supporter of breastfeeding rights, and that I use my photography to help normalize public breastfeeding. Up until this past July, I was a breastfeeding mother myself.
Not many people know my personal breastfeeding story, so I would like to share just a glimpse into breastfeeding my first son. We lived in Las Vegas, Nevada at the time and had a rocky start from the day he was born. He didn’t want to latch, and after 12 hours of not nursing, the hospital “required” us to supplement with formula while we worked on breastfeeding. I was a new mother, I didn’t know any different, so I went along with their rules. Finally he started to latch, but only on one side. We tried to get him to latch the other side but he was a stubborn baby. We even hired a lactation consultant who came to our home to work with us, but he still would only latch on one side. She recommended I pump on the side he wouldn’t latch to maintain supply, and in a couple of days try again. Thankfully, that is exactly what worked for us.
As a new mother, who was taught by society that breastfeeding should be kept a private affair, and who still fumbled sometimes to get my son to latch – I never felt comfortable nursing him in public. Whenever we went out, I had a bottle of pumped milk with us for when he got hungry. Thankfully, my son was comfortable taking both the bottle and the breast so I was able to feed him a bottle of pumped milk (my second son refused the bottle completely – only ate from the breast).
On one occasion while out in public, my son drank his bottle and shortly later was hungry for more. I HAD to nurse him in public, I had no choice. My family and I were at a restaurant at the time, so I excused myself from the table and headed towards the restrooms (because, I had been taught this was the appropriate place to feed a baby). There was a couch just outside the restroom so I sat there, put on my cover and nursed my son. Based on the MANY looks and eye rolls I received in that 20 minutes, you would have thought I had stripped naked and was dancing around.
I was so uncomfortable, so embarrassed. I was not confident in my mothering skills at the time, and that incident shaped the way I fed my son (and not in a good way!). Looking back, of course, I wish that the incident had lit a fire under me to change the way people look at breastfeeding in public. I had done everything “right” – I always had a pumped bottle with me, and when I did need to nurse in public I went to the restroom (albeit sat right outside the door), and put on my cover. You could walk outside and see multiple billboards with naked women on them advertising the nearest strip club, but how dare I, a breastfeeding mother, use my breasts for what they were actually created for!
I may not have used that incident to create change at the time, but as I breastfed my second son in Austin, TX in multiple public places with not one shaming incident, I decided that I want to help change the stigma. I want people to see a nursing mom in public and not even notice her or what is going on. I want nursing in public to be so normal that I am no longer considered a breastfeeding advocate, just a supporter.
I went back to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving to visit family, and decided to host a group breastfeeding photo to help normalize breastfeeding in Sin City. I may have had a bad public breastfeeding incident, but my goal is for future mothers to breastfeed their children whenever, and wherever they are hungry.