During National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, there are several issues fighting for attention — proper latch, support from health care providers, how mothers balance breastfeeding and work — the list goes on. Among that list is how mothers are treated, and how they feel, when it comes to breastfeeding in public. Every year, I photograph moms in our community feeding their children and ask them to share their feelings and experiences with me for the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project. Breastfeeding mothers are often told they must be discrete when feeding their children. But by demanding discretion, we are assuming there is something shameful about breastfeeding and female breasts. There is not. Here are what several Jacksonville moms had to say on the issue:
“I’ve been breastfeeding my son for 17 months now. My first experience breastfeeding in public was when he was under a week old. It was an awkward, new, and kind of scary experience. I worried that someone would come up to me and yell at me to leave or tell me I was disgusting for breastfeeding my baby. But it didn’t happen. He latched, I cringed, he ate, and no one cared. It was glorious!” –Ashlea
“While we are in a good place now, that’s not to say we didn’t struggle with breastfeeding for a good bit in the beginning. Once we were on a smoother road, I started nursing in public. This was done with much hesitation due to fear of being judged, and quite frankly I’d be lying if I said that I don’t still get a bit nervous at times out in front of everyone. But then I always remind myself of what my daughter and I both went through to get to this wonderful place we are today. We fought, and we fought hard. I couldn’t be more proud of the both of us for everything we have accomplished, and I’m not about to let my own fears of imaginary circumstances take that away.” –Sarah
“Mothers all across the globe experience condemnation, ridicule, and isolation. We are given nasty looks, told we are not welcome, and treated as if we have committed a crime. We are told that’s what formula and bottles are for. We are shamed into this idea that nursing mothers should never see the sun. That we are somehow indecent and less ‘lady like’ compared to generations passed. That we have ulterior motives to nursing in public. Or that we will somehow taint another child if they were to see what we are doing. Every single one of these actions and thoughts are dangerous and down right ludicrous. Breastfeeding mothers need nothing other than support, support, support. The same way you sip your coffee on the way to the office is the same way my daughter sips milk on our family outing.” –Marisa
“I’m very thankful to have grown up in a family that openly discussed the importance of breastfeeding. I always saw examples in my mother, sisters, and in-laws and I knew that even though it could be physically taxing, it was important for my baby. Breastfeeding in itself doesn’t always come easily and I always hope that I can be an example for other mothers that, yes, not only can you do this, but you can do it at home or the mall or the park or a coffee shop.” –Rachel
“The first time I nursed my baby in public, I was nervous. I kept imagining I would be harassed, and mercy on that person if it ever does happen. My mama-bear animal spirit is fierce! My son is now 14 months old, and we have never been approached by anyone, except for a few people who have said kind things. I am sure we may get looks, but I choose not to lift my head. My wish is that feeding our children, even breastfeeding our children, no matter where or when it occurs, can be accepted as the natural, loving, nurturing experience it is.” –Kelly
“Being a new, first-time mom, latching can sometimes be awkward in public. I honestly don’t care if people see my nipple, but I don’t want to make anyone else uncomfortable. Once he’s latched and eating, I’m usually too busy staring into his gorgeous blue eyes to worry or notice if anyone is looking or staring at me.” –Brooke
“Breastfeeding has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Nothing came easy and many days ended in tears. Luckily at 9 months, I am happy to say, we as a family, have figured it out. Breastfeeding takes the whole family supporting the decision. I never expected the amount of people who have an opinion on how, when and where I should feed my child, even people close to me in life. Nursing a child often leaves mothers isolated as they are already giving up so much to make the commitment to breastfeed. Why expect them to nurse outside the public view? Every mother is struggling to make the right choices for their children and support is all they need. We need to show the next generation of mothers to be strong and proud in the decision to nurse.” –Leigh
“This has been the first time I’ve nursed past a year. Maybe with time and age I’ve realized that I didn’t HAVE to stop at the first-year mark. Nursing a toddler has been an mixture of patience and joy. At times she’s impatient and ready to nurse at the moment no matter how busy I am or where we are. The park, the playground, my job on my rare lunch breaks with her, or even a restaurant. Sometimes we get stares or comments, mostly from family, because she’s ‘not a baby.’ When compared to a lifetime, 24 months is such a small amount of time to have been on the Earth. Nursing a toddler is just a mama taking care of her baby. Nothing is better than looking at that sweet face and her saying, ‘Mama, milkos yum, yum.'”–Erika
“I actually am the first to breastfeed in my family. My mother did not breastfeed, nor did my grandmothers, sisters, aunts, etc. So for my family, to see me breastfeed my first child, who is now 3, was a real shock, especially when I chose to breastfeed in public. I used to always feel the need to cover, and boy, do we all know what a pain that is. I don’t really pay any attention if people are staring or talking about me feeding my child; I only focus on my task at hand — ensuring my child is happy and fed. Because really, isn’t that what we all want — to make sure our children are both happy and fed?” –Rachel
“I believe breastfeeding in public or continuing with breastfeeding despite the remarks, is only a sign of strength. I respect every woman, who continues on even through these hard and trying times. I look forward to continuing on with my breastfeeding journey with my daughter. I am making small goals to reach my bigger goal of one year. I have reached my first goal of three months, and already we are making our way to the six-month goal.” –Tammy
“To me, breastfeeding is a huge part of my life because it is how my son gets nourishment to grow. People drink milk from other species (cows, goats, etc.), yet they think it’s weird or inappropriate when a mother nurses her baby for longer than a few months. I don’t understand this and hope breastfeeding becomes more normalized in the U.S. Breastfeeding is tough in the beginning to say the least, but in the long run, it ends up being easier, it’s great bonding, it’s free, and provides less planning once you get used to it.” –Abbie
Photos by Megan Soto Photography.
About the Author
Megan Soto moved to St. Augustine in 2007 and is a regular contributor for the St. Augustine Moms Blog. She is a work at home mom to three rambunctious kiddos. Megan launched Megan Soto Photography in 2014 with a focus on lifestyle and birth photography. She is passionate about all things creative! Megan has a background in working with children on the autism spectrum and loves volunteering in the special needs community and is excited to begin homeschooling in the fall.