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:
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.)