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True Confession: I Quit Breastfeeding After Doing it in Public. Once.

By Meredith Carroll |


For some reason these lips and my nipples did not get on famously

I read Katie Allison Granju’s piece today about breastfeeding her daughter in public until she was 4 with great interest. Or admiration. Or awe. Or something. Particularly since I couldn’t do it even once successfully without quitting.

I took a breastfeeding class when I was pregnant, quite determined to do all the things that so many will tell you (or insist) that good mothers do. I also scrapbooked. And I set up an email address with my unborn daughter’s name so I could send her emails in utero. And I established a 529 plan for her before she was born (OK, the 529 plan people wouldn’t actually let me set it up until I had a Social Security number for her. And the Social Security people wouldn’t give me a number for her until she was born. But I tried.).

I was to be a breastfeeding mama. I wanted to build my daughter’s immunity, reduce the risk of childhood obesity and stop people from looking at me funny if I bought formula. Until I breastfed in public. Once. And then it was all over.

To be fair, I had issues from the get-go. A day after we came home from the hospital we were back and consulting with a breastfeeding specialist because my daughter didn’t latch on. And then we realized I had very little milk. And then I got mastitis. And then I woke in the middle of the night to check on my days-old infant and she had blood coming out of her mouth, which was apparently from my nipples that she hadn’t latched onto. It was a bit of a horror show.

I tried. Really, I did. When my parents came to visit two weeks after she was born we were taking a walk through town and I told my mom we had to go home so I could breastfeed. Instead, she suggested we go to the hotel across the street. So I sat in the lobby with a towel awkwardly slung over my shoulder even though I couldn’t see what I was doing and my daughter was getting hot and people were staring at me (or at least it felt like they were) as I fumbled around to make it happen. It didn’t. She cried. I cried. And then I went home and used a breast pump for the first time. It was like I heard the angels singing. My breastfeeding non-streak ended at that moment.

I pumped for four months before stopping. It would take me an hour to extract 4-6 ounces. (Remember? Low milk supply.) Fortunately she’s barely been sick in two and a half years, her weight is completely normal for her height and if we were any more bonded she would be back inside my uterus.

Still, I wish it had been more successful and if there is a next time, I’ll try harder (and buy one of those My Breast Friend things, or whatever they’re called so that having some privacy in public isn’t out of the question while also suffocating or feeling blinded). I felt like a failure for a time, but the most important thing to me is my daughter’s health, which has proven to be strong.

This doesn’t mean I don’t advocate others breastfeeding in public, although I will admit to doing a double take if a child is old enough to come up and ask for the breast. And I certainly don’t advocate anyone telling women what they can and cannot do with their child in public as it applies to breastfeeding. Keep your laws off our boobs. I also get a little irked about people’s judgments about when, where and for how long others decide or not to breastfeed. You want to do it? Great! You don’t? Nobody’s business but yours.

As for Katie, her daughter is happy and healthy, just like mine. And that’s all that really matters, right?

Do you pass judgment on women if they breastfeed in public?

Image: Meredith Carroll

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About Meredith Carroll


Meredith Carroll

Meredith C. Carroll is an award-winning columnist and writer based in Aspen, Colorado. She can be found regularly on the Op-Ed page of The Denver Post. From 2005-2012 her other column, "Meredith Pro Tem" ran in several newspapers, as well as occasionally on The Huffington Post since 2009. Read more about her (or don’t, whatever) at her website. Read bio and latest posts → Read Meredith's latest posts →

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24 thoughts on “True Confession: I Quit Breastfeeding After Doing it in Public. Once.

  1. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    They call it a “breast burka.”

  2. Meredith Carroll says:

    Actually, I meant Bebe Au Lait, not My Breast Friend. Is a breast burka the same thing?

  3. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Yes, the Breast Friend is a pillow, like the Boppy. The breastfeeding tents are what I refer to as breast burkas. A woman’s gotta do whatevs makes them comfortable, but I feel like the cover ups send a negative message. It took me a while to become adept at nursing discreetely but I figured it was a preferable skill to wearing a fugly bib. I mean, how is anyone supposed to get the idea that they can nurse discreetly if we keep covering our dirty, dirty boobs? Or maybe bc my sons were summer babies, the idea of one more unbreathable layer was undesirable.

  4. mbaker says:

    I didn’t use a cover with my first kid and it was fine because he was easy to latch on. I’ve had to use one in public this time around though because my newborn is a distracted nurser who will look all over the place before he latches on. When I use the cover he is much better at focusing on eating.

  5. Karen says:

    Even though I was raised without awareness of anything body related, I don’t recall ever judging a woman that breast fed in public. I remember when I was a server in a restaurant and a woman was hold a baby under a blanket (unaware she was feeding her babe) I asked if I could see her baby. She and her husband uncomfortably shifted in their seat and I realized right away what she was doing. The only thought that came to mind was to give them PRIVACY!

  6. Linda, the original one says:

    @Meredith, the ability to pump 4-6 ounces of milk in an hour is sooooooooooooo not low milk supply. Remember, a baby with a normal latch is much more efficient. It sounds to my like it was totally a latch issue. It’s great that you pumped for as long as you did. I’ve put in over 10 years breastfeeding my kids and I HATE pumping. When I pumped, I could pump for eternity and only get an pounce or two, but I sustained three babies for the first six month of their lives. Also, learning how to breast feed in public takes some time. I don’t think anyone starts out totally comfy. Someday you might have another baby and that baby might have a more natural latch and you’ll be just fine.

  7. Meredith Carroll says:

    @Linda — That’s really not low? I feel like people would tell me that they’d get twice or three times that amount. I hated pumping, but I felt obligated and was much happier giving her breast milk bottles than formula bottles. I know I gave up way too soon. I mean, I knew it would be hard, but I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be. I’m sure if I had tried harder and longer I would have had a much better chance at success. I still feel guilty about it, although, like I said, the most important thing to me ultimately is that she’s healthy, which she is. As for doing it in public, wrapping my head around it was just tough. Now that I know there’s gear that helps give you some privacy (other than a towel), I would do it differently. But the idea still makes me feel a bit awkward. I just feel very modest about it.

  8. Linda, the original one says:

    @Meredith, IME (which is uncomfortably vast ~ ha ha ha!) it doesn’t sound low at all. She was a young baby, so you have to figure that if she was nursing from the breast regularly at that age, she’d probably only be taking
    2-4 ounces every 2-3 hours. If you could get 6 in hour with an unnatural pump, that’s really awesome. I think the thing is that with time, actual nursing becomes easier (by 5-6 months, each of my kids could nurse on both sides and be done in 10 minutes) while pumping becomes more and more of a PITA. I really admire people who *can* pump. I always wanted to throw the damn thing across the room! Especially since there was bleeding involved (ouch!), I’d totally bet your issue was latch and not supply, which is really promising because another baby likely won’t have that problem. My first had latch issues and it was really agonizing. I’d have to properly position her with this giant tower of pillows and then latch and re latch her while she flailed and shook her head from side to side. My boys both had such natural latches that I kept asking the maternity ward nurses what was wrong with them and were they sure they were nursing right.

  9. Helpful Informed mom says:

    Most women CANNOT get more than one half to one ounce of milk combined from both breasts while pumping. In fact, MOST women’s breast do NOT respond to pumping at all. You actually were doing awesome. And as for “low supply” In the first few days, you aren’t going to have a lot coming out. You have to put baby to breast everytime it makes a peep. The more baby is put to breast, the more you will make. It is a supply and demand thing. Also, You are supposed to count diapers, not how much you pump…if she is gaining weight steadily at all after the first few days and if she is wetting at least 6-8 diapers a day, you are making plenty and she is getting plenty. You whole problem lied mainly in her incorrect latch. HTH Next time, you can go in better informed and maybe it will work out completely differently.

  10. Allison @ Novice Life says:

    I am a new, first time mommy to a 1.5 week old. I have been fortunate enough that he latched well from the get go and breastfeeding has been ‘a breeze’ thus far….if you leave out the feeding every two hours, 24 hours a day, and I am the ONLY one who can do it! So while hubby snores away, I am up and open like a 24/7 milk parlor :) But that is ok because I know it is what is best for my baby.

    I want to start pumping as well so we can get bottles introduced and accepted from others since I will have to return to work but still want my baby to have breastmilk. I pumped for the first time 2 nights ago – 4 ounces in 15 minutes – BUT oh my gosh did it hurt :( I would RATHER the baby! And since then, that boob is still sore :( However, I, like you, worry, how will I ever leave the house because I don’t know that I am comfortable breastfeeding in public. I would probably go back to my car to do it!

  11. Angela says:

    Meredith, some women have no trouble pumping plenty of milk but most are not able to release nearly as much as they would from normal nursing. When my son was 6 months old I went back to work 2 days per week and had to supplement with formula then because I was only able to pump about half of what he needed but on when I would nurse exclusively it wasn’t so much of an issue. If you truly have low supply next time around there are herbal supplements and other remedies that work wonderfully. I can completely relate to the issues you experienced and came very close to quitting myself around the 2-4 week mark. Thankfully I had a sister who had nursed 2 kids of her own who was very supportive and promised me that if I could stick it out a couple more weeks things would get drastically easier (it did). I would not feel guilty at all. It took a lot of determination to pump for as long as you did and your daughter clearly thrived.

  12. kp says:

    I’ve never understood the stigma of breastfeeding in public. We all eat in restaurants, at family gatherings, at church functions, etc. Why can’t our babies? Sure, there are those immature men/boys who may be turned on by the sight of a boobie, but there’s nothing sexual about an infant suckling its mother. It’s instinct. It’s nature! So, while I have not exclusively breastfed any of my children, I have also had no qualms when lifting up my T-shirt to nurse as I walk through Walmart or when pulling down the top of my blouse as I drape a light blanket across my shoulder to nurse at church.

  13. daria says:

    agreed with many of the comments above, but would also like to add that nursing clothing was helpful for me. i bought a nursing shirt or two so that it was easier to expose just the nipple. this helped for two reasons: 1) my babies knew exactly where to latch because that was the only skin available to them and 2) while latched, no one could tell i was nursing, other than the loud swallowing and position of my baby.

  14. goddess says:

    Don’t really care how mom feeds her kid in public as long as she feed them!
    I never BFIP, then again, never breast fed, didn’t want to, didn’t try and never regret.
    Live and let live when it comes to a woman’s choice about what she does with her body. And yes, those breasts are still hers, LOL.

  15. Sarah says:

    My son never latched (I think mainly due to him spending the first week in the NICU and being bottle fed when I wasn’t there)… but I pumped for 6 months. After 4 months though my milk pretty much dried up. I used to be able to get 12-14oz in 1/2 hour, and it went down to about 6.

    I love the idea of breastfeeding. It took me a while to get over feeling guilty for not doing it. The guilt that new moms feel at every decision is a byproduct of our current parent-centric culture. The idea that we must do everything for our children and forget about ourselves. One of the best things I did for my own mental health was release the guilt. For everything that you do “perfect” (ugh) for your child, there is something else that someone is “judging” you on. So I figure the best way to proceed is know that I know whats best for my kid, and I don’t really are what other people’s random advice is. At the same time, I wont try and tell them how to raise their kids.

  16. Tiffany says:

    The problem I had with the pump is I couldn’t get “let down” with it. So I could never pump more than an ounce or two at most. If I wanted to pump a whole bottle (for the next day or something if my baby HAD to be with someone else for a few hours) I would usually work all day on it. If you were getting that much consistently, I think that is awesome. Great you were able to give your baby breastmilk for as long as you did just with pumping. Good for you!

    And, just my opinion, but if you aren’t comfortable nursing in general you probably “shouldn’t” try doing it in public. The first several times doing it in public are nerve-wracking and stressful. You don’t know what to expect, how it is going to go, what people will think. If you haven’t established nursing BEFORE attempting that, you are probably doomed for failure. Next time, get comfortable with nursing in general before you try to do it outside your comfort zone (your house, the same chair, with the right pillow – whatever makes it easiest for you).

  17. Amy says:

    You don’t have to worry about her immunity. The antibodies that babies get from breastmilk are actually temporary antibodies that live in the intestinal tract. Your daughter has the same immunity as any other child her age who is no longer breastfed!

    Here’s one source for info:

  18. Amanda says:

    Amy – Thanks for the link. It was an interesting article.

  19. LC gramma says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I just want to comment that I completely agree that it was likely a latch issue-not supply. A newborn should be taking in under 2 oz in the first week, & gradually move up to about 3 per fd. I think moms assume babies need more because babies will take more volume of formula. Breastmilk & formula do not equate when it comes to volume. Bottle fed babies seem to take more in because the baby feeds much faster w/a btl than @ breast, due to the much faster flow. Baby is obligated to drink because the btl keeps flowing. As a former BF mom, & now grandma, and also as a long-time practicing Board Certified Lactation Consultant, I see many women with this same issue: believing their supply is low, when it’s really great! As for pumping-many women w/huge supply are poor pumpers! Unfortunately, there’s a lot of crappy pumps out there, which only adds to the problem. There are many ways to nurse discreetly. I highly recommend talking to some moms who have done it-or try your local La Leche League group, Baby Cafe or another mommy support group. Meredith-I’m sorry you had such a negative experience. I hope if you have another baby, your experience will be much more positive, as it really can be a lovely part of your mothering experience. Kudos to you for all you did to hang in there, & make the best choice for you & your daughter. Because ultimately, as moms we can only do the best we can with what we have to work with at that moment in time. We MUST stop beating up ourselves (&others) for our choices. Moms are AWESOME!

  20. Crystal says:

    Hey, congrats to you for pumping so long! I have enormous respect for mamas who are able to get their babies breastmilk that way. I have a pretty abundant supply, but it’s frustrating and stress-inducing not to get what I think I *should* get out of the pump. I also had mastitis, and have to give you hugs there. It was horrible! Though I think mastitis is usually a sign of too much milk and not too little — I think I got it because I had a sleepy c-section baby who was not too great at getting the milk out at first. Maybe you got it because the babe was taking out more than the pump at first. Just a thought. (My number one plan with the next baby is not to get mastitis so I’m trying to learn what I can!)

  21. Crystal says:

    Oh, I was also going to say that I think women get a little female-competitiveness going on with how much they can pump and how fast :P So I tend to take that with a grain of salt, knowing that it’s going to vary from day to day based on several factors and also that you’re what you produce for the pump doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what you would produce for the baby.

  22. Kate says:

    Agreeing with everyone above. It doesn’t sound like low supply at all. The two things you cite for low supply are both perfectly normal (milk hasn’t come in by day two or three, totally normal, as is pumping about 4-6 ounces at a time). It does sound like you had latch problems, and maybe bad advice early on. And you should feel great about how long you pumped for her — pumping is really, really hard, much harder than directly nursing. The good news is, you could probably nurse another baby, if you have another and you want to try. And I hope you don’t feel bad for how it went with your first child — you sound like a very loving mother.

  23. Merry says:

    My son is 26 weeks old and I’ve breastfed him since birth. He’s never had formula. The breast if definitely best. I wasn’t breast fed myself, but I knew it was best for my son and I was convinced I was going to do it. Luckily, I’ve not had any problems and my son is a wonderful eater with a great latch! I think the problem is that so many women give up and don’t get the support or encouragement to continue to try. Seek out your local La Leche League. I’ve been to meetings and they are very friendly and helpful. As far as feeding in public, I wear the cover from “Udder Covers”. He is now getting to the point where he will pull it off. I’m not ashamed of what I’m doing-providing nutrition for my baby-but I do realize that it does make some people uncomfortable. I will NEVER feed my son in a bathroom-no one else would eat in a bathroom-why should my baby have to? I think our uncomfortableness with a mother breastfeeding her child is societal. In Europe, it is very common to see a woman feeding her child in public. I had a friend from Germany and she would just take out her breast and nurse her son-no one thought anything of it. I’m tired of our society that sexualizes the breasts and only sees sexual pleasure in them not nutrition source for our children. Nursing my son is one of the best things I’ve ever done with the exception of having him of course. It is such a marvelouos bonding experience! I do not believe you could get the same experience from bottle feeding your child (just my personal opinion). Good luck to all who tackle breastfeeding! It is a real committment.

  24. Jessica G says:

    Save for the first couple of weeks when I need 3 hands to latch a baby, I haven’t covered up while nursing either of my kids. I think that for people to see breastfeeding as ‘normal’ (and it is, it’s not ‘best’, it’s ‘normal’. formula is not the ‘normal’ way to feed an infant) women have to do it, be seen doing it, and not cover up while doing it. It won’t be normal if it’s something that has to be done in a special secret room or under some wildly colored paisley apron. What is normal about just donning an apron out of nowhere anyway??

    I also take issue with this idea of not nursing a child once they are old enough ‘to ask for it’. Both of my babies were born crying–in other words, asking to breastfeed. A child’s need for closeness and nurturing does not stop when they begin to walk, talk, or once they reach their first birthday. The reason doctors and experts recommend stopping bottles at 1 year is because there isn’t a dietary need for formula and having a latex or silicone nipple in their mouth for so long is bad for their teeth. That’s not true of breastfeeding.

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