Hazel’s Gift (Why We Need Moms Who Breastfeed in Public)

My mom was born in the 1940’s, during the era when baby formula was touted as superior to breast milk. Formula feeding was the norm, and everyone she knew fed their babies with bottles. I’m not sure if she ever even questioned it.

Then, while living overseas in the late 1960s, she met a New Zealander named Hazel. From my mom’s descriptions of her, Hazel was a bit of a hippie mama. She had a luxurious sheepskin rug she’d lay her baby on, which my mom thought was awesome. And when her baby was hungry, she breastfed without any hesitation or embarrassment or shyness.

Due to the pervasive culture of the time and the fact that she’d never been exposed to breastfeeding, my mom found Hazel’s nonchalance about nursing in front of other people a bit shocking at first. But shock quickly turned to admiration, and she was struck by how normal and natural the whole thing was. Hazel opened up a whole new paradigm for my mother, simply by breastfeeding in front of her. No qualms, no fanfare. She just did it. No big deal.

Thanks to Hazel, my mom decided to try breastfeeding her first baby a few years later. She breastfed my older brother for nine months, at which point she got comments like “Are you going to breastfeed him when he goes to college?”. She breastfed me for 2 1/2 years, and my younger brother longer than that.

My mom became a La Leche League leader. Then she became a Labor and Delivery nurse and helped new moms with lactation in the hospital. Ultimately, she became an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). Just this January, she retired from a 30-year-long career as a nurse, lactation consultant, and breastfeeding educator.

Hazel started my mom on a life path not only brought her great satisfaction, but also helped countless moms get started breastfeeding—including me—simply by nursing in public.

Thanks to Hazel’s influence, the question of whether or not to breastfeed my own babies never even popped into my mind. Breastfeeding was such a normal part of my upbringing that it was just a given.

Thanks to Hazel, I had a mom who knew exactly what to do when I was looking for a good nursing bra, when my nipples were on fire because my babies weren’t latching properly, or when I had a clogged milk duct.

Thanks to Hazel, all three of my children reaped the benefits of nursing through toddlerhood, I was able to pump milk to help feed my newborn adopted nephew his first year, and I never had any hang-ups with nursing in public.

Thanks to Hazel, my grandkids most likely will be breastfed, too.

You never know what influence you’ll have on the people around you. I’m sure Hazel didn’t set out to change my mom’s life, or mine, or my kids and grandkids. But I am so grateful to this woman I’ve never met for the simple act of nursing her baby in front of my mom.

I would never tell a woman that she should breastfeed in public, but we certainly need to stop telling moms that they shouldn’t. A lot of people’s hang-ups with breastfeeding are due to lack of exposure (pardon the pun). There’s a foreign/weird/ick factor for some people who haven’t grown up around breastfeeding, and the more it’s seen (with a reasonable amount of discretion, of course) the more normal it becomes.

I hope that nursing my babies in public over the years helped normalize breastfeeding for someone else. Boosting other moms’ confidence about breastfeeding seems like the perfect way to pay forward Hazel’s gift to my family.


More thoughts on breastfeeding in public from Motherhood and More:

What’s So Hard about Covering up to Breastfeed in Public?

More Breastfeeding in Public Concerns

Is it Immodest to Breastfeed in Public?

Helpful breastfeeding tools:

  • The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (La Leche League’s breastfeeding book)
  • Lansinoh (For nipple pain relief – this stuff is a Godsend.)
  • The Bravado nursing bra (Best reviews on Amazon.)
  • Hands-free breast pumping bra (Just about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.)
  • Medela Pump in Style (This was the pump I used when I was pumping several times a day for my nephew.)
  • Avent Manual Breast Pump (This was the pump I used to pump occasionally – it’s way more affordable, works really well, and is less hassle than the electric pump.)
  • Reno Rose Pirose Nursing Cover (If you don’t feel comfortable nursing in public without a cover, this one is awesome. It’s sheer so you can see through to baby’s face, but patterned so it provides privacy. I like that it’s lightweight for hot weather, and you can wear it as a cute scarf when you’re not nursing. And it doesn’t scream “nursing cover.”)
  • And just as a shout out to Hazel, here’s a luxurious sheepskin rug for baby. 🙂

 (These links are affiliate links, which means Amazon tosses a few pennies my way if you make a purchase through them, which helps support this site.)

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 3

  1. “the more it’s seen (with a reasonable amount of discretion, of course) the more normal it becomes”
    After all your advocacy, why would you find the need add ‘use discretion when breastfeeding’ to this wonderful article?
    I’m sure I don’t need to tell you all the ways this is damaging to helping breastfeeding in public (ie. to who’s discretion? is pulling a shirt down not discreet, but lifting a shirt is?) Every single time I NIP my confidence is slightly shaken by worrying who thinks I’m not being discreet enough and frantically looking around to make sure someone isn’t going to throw a towel over my baby’s head. It’s not too late to re-consider and edit your parenthesis out.

    1. Post

      Hi Elle,

      I truly appreciate and share some of your concern over that phrase, and I did think long and hard before including it. The reason I did is because to me a reasonable amount of discretion (which is obviously open to interpretation, but for me is VERY wide) helps to normalize breastfeeding in public, whereas having one or both breasts entirely exposed for much longer than necessary (which is uncommon, but I’ve seen it) doesn’t help to normalize breastfeeding in public. It actually turns off people who might actually come around. My feeling is that advocacy of all sorts should aim to change people’s minds and attitudes, and extreme exposure, while not bothersome to me personally, actually hurts that cause.

      I hear you about the subjectivity of it. What’s extreme to one person wouldn’t be to another, but there are some situations where it’s quite clear. I figure if even I am wondering why a mom is sitting there with her shirt still up while her baby has moved on to other things, that’s not going to normalize anything for anybody. It wasn’t until I witnessed that happen on a couple of occasions that I decided “a reasonable amount of discretion” is actually beneficial for breastfeeding advocacy. I do hate that that phrase could be interpreted as policing moms who worry about what people are thinking, and that isn’t my intention at all. It’s really about avoiding extremes. Maybe discretion isn’t quite the right word. Wisdom? Discernment? What do you think?

  2. I have some pictures of Hazel and her family (not breastfeeding, of course). I have often tried looking her up different ways, no-one on FB with her name, one with her son’s name but his mom wasn’t named Hazel. There have to be other ways that I don’t know that might find her.

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