I am so thankful that I have never had to deal with someone asking me to stop nursing in public. The only times that anyone approached me we in the waiting room of the pediatric ward at the hospital in my town. (Going to the hospital to see the pediatrician is common practice in Japan.) I was nursing while waiting to see the dr and a nurse approached me and kindly told me that there was a nursing room around the corner and to feel free to use it. That happened twice and both times I smiled and declined. Unfortunately, that is not the case for every breastfeeding mom out there. I have had strange glances as I continue to nurse my soon to be 3 year old anywhere and everywhere, including holding her and nursing as we walk. She still loves it so much and I am trying to maintain a “don’t offer don’t refuse” policy as often as possible. I wanted to write about the first time we nursed in public without a cover.
Until Violet was around 1 month old, I used a nursing cover all the time when we nursed in public. I used a great one that had a hoop at the top so that we could still look at each other. I continued to use it when I felt that other people in the room might be uncomfortable seeing my exposed breast. It was somewhat surprising to me that most of the time I found myself using it around extended family. The first time I remember being in public and ripping of the cover was when Violet was just over a month old. We had to travel to Tokyo to get Violet’s passport because we were planning a trip home for Christmas. We were so nervous about traveling on the bullet train and local subway trains in Tokyo with our newborn baby but had no other choice. We had established a great nursing relationship but she still fussed when we she had to nurse on the left side. The weather was starting to get cooler and the heater on the trains had been turned on. She did fine on the bullet train ride, which was around 3 hours. In fact, I think she slept through the majority of it. When we had to change trains and get on the local subway our calm baby turned into a grumpy, hungry and hot baby. We were trying to get to our hotel and it was evening by that time. The train was full of business men going home. Violet was tired of the cover and she was hot and uncomfortable. She also wanted me to stand and bounce her while she nursed. (She still loves this). I was quite used to doing this at home but not really used to doing it on a moving subway train. But she would have it no other way. She started crying, loudly. I might add here that public transportation vehicles in Japan are very quiet. People don’t talk or laugh to loudly and pretty much keep to themselves. Violet’s cries were echoing through our quiet train. I was trying anything I could to quiet her and make her more comfortable. Most moms and dads knows that stress of the parent passes to the baby. She could sense that I was worried about the other people on the train watching us. She could feel that I was starting to feel frantic. So she in turn joined me by crying louder and louder. She refused to nurse under the cover. Finally, I looked at my husband and said, “I’m just gonna do it.” So I tore off the cover opened my shirt and nursed our baby. I also stood up and started bouncing her because I knew that was what she really wanted. In no time at all she was calm and relaxed and quiet. At first, my husband seemed nervous about all the other men looking at me. He stood up and tried to become a human shield to offer some privacy. But with all the bouncing I was doing and the rocking that the train was doing, it really wasn’t doing much good. So he sat down and kept a watch out instead. We got some surprised looks but mostly, people just looked relieved that she wasn’t crying anymore. We were relieved too. That trip I nursed her all over Tokyo. We nurse at the US Embassy, in the hotel lobby, in a taxi, at Starbucks and on the subway. We were on our way to becoming a fearless NIP (nursing in public) couple.
Now that Violet is almost 3 I have found that most people in my family are used to seeing me pull out my breast at any given moment. Whether they agree with my extended nursing or not, no one pressures me to stop. I do try to be cautious when possible because I don’t want to make my family feel uncomfortable. One of the most wonderful things that we experienced as a NIP couple this summer were the questions that my sister (almost 10 years old) and my niece (9 years old) asked. They were both breastfed. And both are very intelligent little girls. First was my sister. I was nursing Violet in her room as we all played together. She has watched me nurse Violet in all kinds of places and situations (even though we only see each other during summer vacation). She was lovingly looking on and stroking Violet’s face and asked about my necklace. I was wearing a silver disc that said Lactavist on it. She said, “What is a lactavist?” I preceded to tell her that a lactavist is someone who promotes breastfeeding, loves bresatfeeding and tries to encourage others to do it too. She smiled and said, “oh, you are definitely one of those.” But what do you have to promote breastfeeding? Do some mothers not do it?” she asked. I told her that yes, some mothers don’t do it. Some have a medical issue that keeps them from doing it, some feel uncomfortable doing it and some just don’t want to.” “Why would anyone not want to do it?” she asked in a shocked voice. I told her that I wasn’t really sure because I can’t imagine not doing it. She smiled and we continued to talk about how she thought it was good to breastfeed your baby and we talked about the benefits of it as well. Then she said this, “you know what is strange? Someone can drink breastmilk for a long time as a baby and when they are older they can’t remember what it taste like. Isn’t that strange. I can’t remember what it taste like anymore.” I smiled and said “yes, that is strange isn’t it.” And we both smiled.
My niece has also seen me nurse everywhere. In fact all the kids have. This summer they would often tell me when they thought Violet wanted to nurse. And they all learned about the word “Lactavist”.
My niece (who was breastfed until she self-weaned at almost a year old) and I were sitting on the couch this summer together when Violet decided to nurse. My niece smiled and said, “She sure likes her milkies doesn’t she?” “She sure does!” I said. “You know, I know I was breastfed but I can’t really remember what it taste like. Isn’t that wierd?” “It is strange that we can forget something we love so much when we’re babies so quickly.”
I really hope and pray that these two girls remember their lactavist sister/aunt when they have babies of their own one day. I hope and pray that they remember how normal and wonderful it is to nourish a baby in this way and that they never feel ashamed to do it in public.