When my daughter was born, I had a lot to learn: How to reside in my new postpartum body, that had literally changed over the course of one night; how to breastfeed; how to soothe my colicky baby; how to function on less sleep. Not least of my new challenges was figuring out how to get out of the house with a newborn in tow. A newborn who needed lots of gear, who screamed often, and who seemed to believe that her expensive new car seat was a torture chamber.
She also had the inconvenient habit of wanting to be fed frequently. After a few outings, I realized that this was more than a little inconvenient. It was exasperating, because she was quite vocal when she got hungry and insisted on eating immediately. But I felt ill-equipped to feed her at her first sign of hunger, while out and about, because I had no idea how to breastfeed without exposing myself completely. Besides, I’d never seen another religious woman breastfeed her baby, unless she was in the privacy of her own home with no men present or hiding under a giant nursing cover, which I could never get the hang of. So even if I could figure out how to nurse discreetly in public, was I even allowed to? After all, I’d never seen it done.
After a few weeks of breastfeeding-related anxiety and inconvenience every time we left the house, I finally figured out that I absolutely could nurse in public and exactly how to pull it off. Finally, I could leave the house without worrying that my baby might get hungry and scream her head off until I could find somewhere private to feed her. It gave me one less thing to worry about when venturing out into the world with my newborn. I owed much of this newfound freedom and (relative) serenity to Jewish mothers on social media, to the women in my Facebook mommy groups who said that they regularly breastfed in public and posted selfies of themselves doing so.
But as I’ve gotten comfortable nursing in public and spent more time speaking to other new mothers about it, I’ve come to realize that I’m far from the only one who faced anxiety about nursing in public. Lots of moms stress about leaving the house with a baby who may need to eat at an inopportune moment. Many new (and not-so-new) mothers have trouble figuring out how to nurse discreetly. They may feel uncomfortable nursing in public, because they have never seen others in their community doing so. Some are nervous about trying it, because they’ve heard stories about nursing mothers being shamed and harassed for having the audacity to feed their babies while out in the world.
It bothers me that so many women feel that they can’t nurse in public, so I wrote an article explaining why I’m so adamant about its importance and how I make it work. The positive feedback that this article garnered was overwhelming, and made me realize how necessary public breastfeeding role models are for new mothers.
So I decided to compile photos and selfies of other Jewish women nursing in public, to create more such role models. These incredible women, who all feel that they are just doing what they have to do, demonstrate that it’s possible to modestly and comfortably feed our babies wherever we may be. I’ve included women of various sizes, with varying amounts of skin exposed, whose children range in age from newborns to toddlers, in order to demonstrate that nursing in public isn’t and shouldn’t be a privilege reserved only for a select few.
The more we see public breastfeeding in our community, both in person and online, the more commonplace and normal it will become, which will make it that much easier and more comfortable for all of us to feed our babies wherever we happen to be.