What it means to have breastfeeding protected spaces:
A first time mom’s perspective
If you would have asked me 4 months ago, before my son was born, if I would breastfeed in public I would have said absolutely not. In fact, I remember having conversations with people about how weird and awkward it would be. Why would I want everyone looking at my breasts? What if other people were uncomfortable? (I certainly would be, since everyone would be looking at my breasts.) What if someone approached me or stared at me, how would I respond? Although I was breastfed, I had only saw a baby being breastfed on two occasions in my whole life. I thought breastfeeding was something private, and therefore it should be done in private.
Fast-forward 4 months, I now have an amazing, happy, thriving little person that I have the privilege of getting to spend my days with. He looks to me for comfort, warmth, nourishment, and encouragement (among other things). What I quickly found out when I became a mother is that I will do basically anything to ensure E. has everything he needs (including, and most importantly, the ability to exercise his right to nurse whenever he needs to). It doesn’t matter where I am, who I am with, or what I am doing; his needs are the focal point of my life. Meeting his needs isn’t always an easy task (if anyone ever tells you parenting is easy they probably aren’t parents!). I have only been able to do it with support from my friends, family, and community.
Community can mean many different things. It can mean people, places, and spaces that share a common location or demographic with you; community can also be something you build around yourself – a group of people you look to for support. In some cases, a community is built around you without you even knowing. This is the type of community that was created for me, by the dedicated team and supporters of Saskatoon Breastfeeding Matters through the Breastfeeding Protection Pledge.
Having spaces that are actively working towards normalizing breastfeeding is so important. Breastfeeding in public is very scary – but necessary – for many new moms. When my son was born it was a major source of anxiety and sometimes a barrier to me leaving my house. I would always wonder what I would do if there wasn’t a private place to feed him; I certainly would not resort to feeding him in a bathroom (I wouldn’t like eating on a toilet either). When I look back, it would have been very reassuring to know there were businesses in the city who openly welcome breastfeeding mothers and their babies. Since it was before the initiative started, I looked to my “built” community for support. I was lucky enough to be exposed to a few different breastfeeding groups in the city. It was through the advice, support, encouragement, and modelling from the women I met that I learned how normal breastfeeding really was. Seeing other women feed in public, and being provided safe spaces to learn ways to feed in public allowed me to become more comfortable nursing E.
Once you get over those initial nerves of feeding in public it becomes much easier. You quickly learn that people don’t actually look at your breast, because not very much of your breast is actually exposed. People generally can’t even tell that you’re feeding your child, and if they can it doesn’t really bother you because you are giving your baby what s/he needs, regardless of how others feel about it. Without spaces to try out feeding though, this wouldn’t be possible.
So what does having breastfeeding protected spaces mean to a first time mom? It means being able to participate in the community around them and gives them opportunities to build their own community. It gives them the opportunity to learn from other moms and to become comfortable nursing. Hopefully, it gives other mothers (whether they be new, experienced, or somewhere in between) the support and encouragement to breastfeed in public too so together we can #protectbreastfeeding and #normalizebreastfeeding.