Breastfeeding when others are shocked

This post is part of Mothering’s “Blog about Breastfeeding” event (
I’ve been proudly and enjoyably breastfeeding my child for almost 34 months. After a slow start, I’ve been thrilled to provide this amazing food for her into her toddler years. After initial embarrassment and some questions about my public and ongoing breastfeeding, the vast majority of feedback I receive has been positive. Lately in particular, people smile at me as she chows down in the mall, or congratulate me while she nurses at a public beach. I’ve even fed her on an airplane with zero response from fellow passengers or flight attendants, a sure sign of social progress from my perspective.

I’ve also noticed, a few times recently, a shift in that experience. I am more conscious of the rarity of public nursing toddlers. And a few responses have been not supportive, the first time this has happened to me.

We were at my doctor’s to look at my throat. Since my daughter gets nervous at the doctor’s, she latched on as soon as we got into the room. He came by, saw that we were nursing, and asked, “Did she eat breakfast?” I had barely answered (no, she hadn’t) when he said, “I’ll come back.” I tried to tell him that I was ready to see him, but he said, “I’ll let you finish” and left.

Finish? As in, he won’t talk with me or look in my throat while I’m breastfeeding? This is a doctor who takes a holistic approach to health and is a big supporter of midwives, yet I felt shamed for breastfeeding. And, unfortunately, I then encouraged my daughter to finish nursing so that the doctor could come back and see me. “Why?” she asks, does she need to finish breastfeeding before the doctor can see me? Why indeed?

We were at a local park, and my daughter began to play with another girl who was there with her grandmother. We were chatting, and the mother and new baby emerged from swimming lessons. We spoke briefly, smiled lots, and then my daughter asked to nurse. I got comfortable – turning slightly away – and the family left without another word or look. I saw them laughing as they walked away and for the first time, felt slightly embarrassed about how my breastfeeding might be viewed.

I’m not happy with the encounters, or with my response. I continue to feel confident in the reasons I breastfeed: nutrition, immune support, emotional bonding, relaxation, and as a strategy to deal with stressful situations. I’m equally committed to making sure that my daughter is proud of breastfeeding, not ashamed. I’d also like her to learn confidence in her body by seeing my confidence in mine. If she detects my discomfort or, please not, shame in engaging in this incredibly meaningful activity, she could transfer that to her body. No!

I’m not sure how I will handle further encounters like the ones above, but simply writing about what happened and why I know I will keep on breastfeeding helps. Talking with friends – a recent La Leche League meeting, for example – also helps. And seeing other mothers nursing their toddlers – I know you are out there! – will be an amazing encouragement for this process.


  1. Lorna Tureski

    I’m so happy to hear that breastfeeding is going well for you and your daughter!
    I wonder about your doctor’s response – the women at the pool sound like bad manners and ignorance in general – I’d be curious about the doctor’s thoughts, especially since he seems so supportive of midwifery, etc.

    My youngest daughter was easily distracted as she got older and would pop off the breast in a flash if she thought something more interesting was happening. When I read your post I wondered if the doctor was trying to let her finish her breakfast in peace. My older daughter, on the other hand, would nurse through anything.

    It’s wonderful to hear about the positive responses you’ve been experiencing – we can change our perceptions!

    • Thank you, Lorna! That is possible … there was something in his tone that made me think otherwise, but I don’t know for sure. I wonder if I will bring it up with him next time I see him!
      And I’m so glad to hear from you – I was actually thinking today that I must check in and see how your writing is going! An image of your novel stays with me.

  2. I like how the doctor wanted to offer the option to nurse in peace, at least that’s what I approached that as. 馃檪
    I can’t imagine how oppressing it can be to fee like that, I’m sorry. My toddler doesn’t nurse in public since he’s very easily distracted but I was super nervous to attend the Big Latch On since I actually “wanted” him to nurse in public for once! Anyway, nothing ever goes the way you want them to 馃槈

    Keep on doing what’s best for y’all.

    • Hi Theek, you are right, he really could have just been being considerate! I might as well take it that way.My daughter also can get distracted, but not enough to keep her off of me :). I hope your breastfeeding also continues as long as it’s working for you both!

  3. My three year old, soon to be four is not even slightly interested in stopping breastfeeding. At two years old I attempted to stop but she was not having any of that. We offend so many people in my family, my ex husband, friends. But this is our special bond. She had many asthma attacks early in her life and it is my hope that her continued breastfeeding has assisted her in being attack free for almost eight months now. What continues to amaze me is that in today’s world mothers who choose a more traditional approach to mothering are ridiculed. Does anyone stop to consider that there was no other way to feed babies not so long ago. And, shocking surely, wet nurses were common place at one time. I hope that many more mothers will be encouraged to choose what they feel is best for their children over what society thinks. It is our job to show them that they are safe, loved and secure. And what better way to show this. My oldest was playing with a friend yesterday and they were playing with their dollies. My daughter asked her friend, “why do I always have to watch your baby.” Honestly the little girl kept leaving her doll with the make believe babysitters. I was so proud to hear her say, “being a mommy is the best job in the world.” I hope she always feels this way.

    • Thank you for sharing your beautiful story! The health benefits are definitely a big reason to continue with breastfeeding – it’s interesting that the benefits just seem to grow and grow the longer you breastfeed. I also very much appreciate the bond you describe with your daughter, and how it teaches her about the importance of having that bond with her future children. Thank you again!

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