It wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized how political the decision to breastfeed was.
I’d heard of the “normalize breastfeeding” movement but hadn’t felt the radical courage it takes to not give a f*ck about the way you’re made to feel breastfeeding a baby in public.
It’s important to note that I live in the Caribbean, where breastfeeding is highly normal, and women baring their breasts to feed their young is inherent in the fabric of the place.
The only time I’ve received shame living here was by a Western, white tourist and mother who shook her head in disgust at me breastfeeding my six month-old son on the beach.
She was so against this act, she angrily packed up her things with children and husband in tow and walked passed me again just to make clear these actions were because of me. This moment left me in shock and left this sense of lingering shame, which I tried immediately to shake off.
It wasn’t until traveling outside of the Caribbean that I noticed the more regular disapproval and discomfort of others from me breastfeeding.
A friend shared how she breastfed her three-year-old; another, her daughter until she was five, and my initial thought was that it seemed wrong and strange. I have to ask myself, why? Who decides what is normal and what is not?
If a child and mother feel naturally called to continue that relationship, at what point do we decide that it’s not right?
While the Western, normalized Standard American Diet (SAD) promotes highly inflammatory dairy (the growth fluid of baby cows) and drinks laced with high amounts of sugar—proven to be more addictive than cocaine and extremely detrimental to health. Breast milk alternatives are filled to the brim with artificial additives and preservatives.
Natural breast milk just so happens to hold all the vital nutrients and support for a baby’s gut health, brain health, and growth. Studies have shown breastfeeding until at least 18 months is optimal for a child’s development.
There seems to be this fear of children becoming clingy, forever attached, and codependent in the relationship between a mother and baby who are still connected in this way. Yet, everything in my experience seems to point to the contrary. It’s because I have such a close bond with my mother that I’ve felt the freedom, confidence, and independence to explore the world.
In the majority of cases, codependency originates from lack of presence, attention, and full support from a parent.
When we nourish children with our attention, they lose their need to act out and perform for it. Breastfeeding is just one way to offer presence.
Another element of breastfeeding in public is the potential of baring your breast to a stranger, and our society has long conditioned our minds to believe breasts are for porn, sex, and top-shelf magazines. To see breasts as anything else has become rare.
To breastfeed openly is to reclaim our bodies in another way.
My personal work has been to reclaim my breasts beyond breastfeeding and sex to being for myself.
Part of this process for me is to sunbathe topless whenever possible and to meditate in the sun. And also learn to enjoy my new body; since pregnancy and birth, my breasts have radically changed shape.
I had no clue, before motherhood, how much they would change daily, leak milk, and gravitate.
I share this writing to add to the normalize breastfeeding movement, and to do so with gratitude to all the mothers I live by who have inspired me to freely breastfeed, and to hopefully inspire and encourage any mothers out there looking for peers and examples.
Learning to ignore the discomfort of strangers builds up our confidence to do what matters in all areas of our life. Someone out there will always think you are wrong in your choices—do them anyway.
It’s a practice and it’s not always easy. I still find myself feeling self-conscious in certain settings. Then I remember that this is one form of activism and empowerment that I can do for the betterment of my son, and it may just inspire another woman to make her own choices for the betterment of hers.
Change ripples out that way.
Breastfeeding is normal, healthy, important, and should be celebrated—not shamed.
If you don’t like it, look the other way.