January 10, 2011

Learning to Breastfeed in Public - the Mommy Group

About the third week home, I decided the baby and I were ready for our first field trip. The hospital where we delivered offered a mommy group that met once a week, to let moms bond with each other and compare notes, and to ask questions to the lactation consultant and pediatrician that also attended. I was pretty stoked to get out and about. I didn't have any questions, but I was dying for (adult) human contact. It took us pretty much all morning to both get dressed, pack the diaper bag and car and to almost make it on time. We planned to blend in with the wallpaper and just listen to the others speak. But of course, the little guy was due to eat right in the middle of the meeting. This was a mom-and-baby-only (no men allowed) so that detailed questions could be asked, but also so breastfeeding could go on, uninhibited. I wouldn't fully appreciate this aspect until several weeks later.

I first was mortified that my baby was crying and "interrupting" this meeting. I immediately started to get hot and flustered. New mothers everywhere: do not feel embarrassed by this. Especially newborns, whose cries are nothing compared to what comes later. Especially not at a new mom's meeting offered by your hospital, where the fully expect such behavior and where you will not be the only one in this position in the room. I tried to be super-covert as I tried to position him on my lap, lift my shirt, undo my nursing bra, get him latched on (and at this point we were still using a nipple shield, so this was yet another thing to try to orchestrate), and all under the cover of a lightweight swaddling blanket so, God forbid, no one saw my breast. This was an utter disaster (no pun intended). I felt so embarrassed! One of the facilitators came over and offered me some pillows to get more comfortable. I thanked her, but really couldn't handle trying to manipulate one more object. I was literally sweating, and luckily my guy figured out how to latch on long enough to get some milk and be satiated and quiet. I really have no idea what the topic of conversation was that day.

I tell this story because 1) it really wasn't as big of a deal as I was imagining it to be at the time, so if you find yourself in a similar situation, please know that it really is OK, and absolutely nothing to be embarrassed by, and 2) these meetings are the perfect place to learn how to breastfeed in public. I assumed you already have the hang of feeding your kid in the privacy and safety of your own home. There you can walk around all day with no shirt on and feel perfectly normal. Not to mention you have a handy dandy Boppy pillow, and a comfy rocking chair. If you don't, though, these meetings are great to ask questions about how to do this better, too. Really, its why they even bother holding them in the first place.

Our second outing was a La Leche League "cafe". This was an informal meeting at a cloth diapering boutique in town. Similarly, there were several new moms and babies in attendance. There was prime emphasis on babies and chatting, and some highlighting of the official LLL stance on the answers to some of the questions going around, and no pushing of the boutique's merchandise, whatsoever. Here is where I got over the initial breakout of sweat and embarrassment and started watching what the other moms were doing. I was fortunate that my little guy slept through this whole meeting, and another mom was feeding her daughter lunch. I watched how she nestled her baby's head in the crook of the elbow of one arm, and used the other hand to aim her breast into the baby's mouth. Baby's bum rested in her lap. Aha! To cover it all she had this nursing cover, which is really just a glorified cooking apron, sans strings. If you have any sewing talent at all, make yourself one before you have the baby and save yourself $30. If you don't, just add it to the registry, because its pretty danged handy. While you're at either this meeting or the hospital-sponsored one, ask all the questions you can think of. Invaluable resource. And once you go back to work, you'll likely not be able to attend these anymore :(

So, once you have found a couple of groups to frequent, keep going! Practice your new skills. Trust me you'll learn many more tips from the other new moms and you'll give yourself plenty of opportunities for dealing with other new challenges, including 8 ways to recover from a poopy diaper explosion. Our son pretty much only has two poop speeds: not pooping, or explosion. You'll become a regular James Bond making due with pieces of outfits or swaddling blankets in the bottom of the diaper bag (because you have already used the 2 actual outfits you'd packed). Or you can practice eating your lunch while holding a baby. Or practice entertaining baby while carrying on a conversation. Or at the very least, it is practice for trying to get somewhere on time, with a baby in tow. And of course, getting comfortable with breastfeeding in front of someone other than your husband or mother. I begged for suggestions on how to get good at this, and I actually got several responses telling me to just give up on it, and give the kid a bottle (of expressed milk, but still!!), since at some point he'd have to learn to take a bottle anyway. I quickly found this to be a ridiculous suggestion. Sure, maybe in the middle of a wedding or funeral isn't the best time to whip it out, but nearly all other options are OK (in my opinion) And hiding out in the car to nurse is always an option, if you need a little privacy. Why forgo the convenience of carrying your baby's food around with you everywhere? I promise, you will soon tire of having to think ahead to pump a bottle, and then give your kid said bottle, when you can just skip the middle man and nurse him. With a little practice, soon you'll be able to do this at tailgates and restaurants, so nonchalant-ly that folks will hardly realize you are even doing it!

Let me mention two more things: 1) my husband was resistant to breastfeeding in public at first. He wasn't fond of the idea that my boobs could be in plain view to the public. However, as I practiced, he got more comfortable with my skills, and confident that said boobs would remained covered. 2) There will be times where it is worth it to pump milk instead of nurse. This includes the night shift. If you get good at squeezing in a pumping session for your freezer supply, you might keep an extra bottle in the fridge to give you baby in the middle of the night, if s/he needs it. This way you don't always have to be the one to get up. And this will then leave you with some extra milk in the morning, that you can then pump and save. Its a nice cycle.

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