How my children pretending to breastfeed in public made me aware of how I felt about breastfeeding in public.
It was a beautiful summer day and my friend invited my family to join hers at her neighborhood pool. My children, ages 2.5 and 4.5 at the time, enjoyed an afternoon of splashing, swimming in their life vests, and tossing the beach ball back and forth with my friend’s husband. After awhile it was time to leave, so I had them towel off and relax on the beach chairs as I gathered their things. I don’t remember exactly how it started, but I do remember the peels of laughter heard as I turned and saw my oldest son with his swim goggles around his chest. “Look! These are my ‘nursies’!” he exclaimed to my youngest son’s delight. “Look at me! Want to nurse?” he asked. A nervous grin spread across my face as my youngest son ran over to his brother and pretended to drink from his swim goggle nipples. They both burst out laughing and then decided that the youngest one wanted to take a turn pretending to be mommy so that the oldest one could have “nursies”.
Buy this time, I started looking around the pool and found myself a bit torn about how I was reacting to their play. On one hand, I found it so adorable that my sweet oldest son wanted to pretend to feed his brother as he had seen his mama do it for over half his life. I loved that they were bonding and it showed that this was something that was a normal part of our life together. On the other hand, I was relieved that I was with friends who were supportive of openly breastfeeding children past infancy and that we were the only two families in the pool. There was a unnerving sense that they were doing something “forbidden” and I wasn’t sure how I would have reacted if the pool would have been full of strangers, even if they were just playing Mommy and Baby…just as every other child does with a pretend baby bottle from the time they know how to pretend play.
Why is it that I would feel embarrassed of my children acting out something that happened in our family each day and that I fully supported? Was it because they were boys? Was it because I had stopped regularly breastfeeding the youngest one in public about the time he was 18-months because of what others might say? WHY was it okay if they had baby bottles and were pretending to feed each other those, rather than directly from the source … how it was naturally done in our home and around the world throughout the history of our existence as a species? I was conflicted between the way I wanted to think and the way society had conformed how I should think about the situation.
These were questions that came up time and time again as my boys grew and I resolved to make meeting my children’s needs in public (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually) something that I was proud of, not something that I needed to apologize for or hide behind closed doors. I offer a kind word, a smile, or a ‘thumbs-up’ to mothers who are nursing their babies or children in airports and restaurants. I support organizations that work to educate and support mothers in their breastfeeding journey. I encourage lactating mothers to openly feed their babies and children at any time in my presence and in the presence of my children. I hold sacred space for mothers who need to talk, vent, boast, ponder, or discuss any aspect of their breastfeeding experience with me.
And as for my children? As they grow, I want them to see breastfeeding as normal … something miraculous and worthy of utmost reverence, yet something everyday that happens when babies are born until they are ready to wean. At six and four, they help prepare and deliver meals to families with new babies and we talk about the needs of the new mama and baby. We talk about the struggles some moms have, what support we can offer, and what options are available for feeding their babies. We discuss their breastfeeding history and talk about other nursing babies, toddlers, and children we know. They see animals nursing their babies … and they see my mama-friends nursing their babies, just as nature intended it to be.
Will we still have pretend baby bottles when my grandchildren play Mama and Baby? Absolutely! However, I would hope that the norm is that the child playing the Mommy role will nurse that baby in his swim goggles with giggles and pride. I also hope that his real-life mama will look at him lovingly, with adoration in her eyes, pride in her heart, and not think another thing about it as she packs up his swim gear and goes about her day, regardless of who was at the pool that afternoon.
About Amber Sparks
Amber Sparks is a mama to two boys, one breastfeed for 10 months and the other for 3.5 years. She supports mothers and families as a Mommy/Baby and Family Yoga teacher and blogs at Heart Wanderings.