Before my son was born, I was sure I was going to be a mom who breastfed in public without a cover. I thought it was a normal, natural, non-sexual thing to do, so why make the baby suffer under a hot cover? I even had a friend crochet me one of those hats that looks like a boob. I was going to be an ostentatious, tits-out mama, damn it!
I thought a lot of things about breastfeeding before my son was born, like that it couldn’t ever be so hard that I’d want to give up. I was committed! I never pictured myself on the sofa, sobbing while my son ate and I told my husband that I hated breastfeeding. Breastfeeding was so hard for the first four months of my son’s life that I didn’t even consider trying to breastfeed in public, covered or not. The one time I did try, with a cover, ended in an epic meltdown for both baby and me. Thankfully, breastfeeding is easier now, if not entirely without issue.
My husband is in the military. A few days after my son turned five months old, we moved from the Washington, DC area to Germany. The cultural differences are many, and breastfeeding is a big one. When we first arrived we were looking for housing, so we stayed at a hotel on base. One day, I was in the hotel alone with my son and housekeeping knocked on the door whilst I was breastfeeding. I told the German maid to come in. She saw the baby and immediately walked over to get a better look at him. No hesitation. No asking if I minded. What I was doing was just normal and no big deal. She also, later, repeatedly asked my son if he wanted to come home with her, but that’s a different story.
After we got our house, we went shopping at Ikea. While we were there, I needed a place to change my son’s diaper and headed to the bathroom. Much to my surprise and delight, there was an entire room for us where I could not only change his diaper, but sit in a comfortable chair and nurse him. Sure, as my husband pointed out, everything in the room was for sale, but that didn’t change the fact that it was great to have a well-appointed room to care for my child while out shopping. And it didn’t hurt my delicate American sensibilities that it was a private one.
Every week on base here, there is a briefing for spouses on German culture. It’s an all-day briefing, primarily from a German soldier married to an American military member. It is full of useful information. I was unable to attend the briefing until we had been here for three weeks, so I was already pretty familiar with a lot of things, but I had one big question. I knew the Germans wouldn’t care if I breastfed in public as I’d already done so at a festival we’d attended. But what about at a restaurant? Restaurant etiquette here is much more formal than I realized and I had avoided feeding my son at restaurants so far. Meals here are social occasions where we are meant to linger and enjoy ourselves. They are not trying to turn tables. There is only so long my son can go without eating, so I asked, is it okay for me to breastfeed at a restaurant?
The answer I got was not entirely what I was expecting. I was told that once a woman was breastfeeding her child uncovered at the food court of the big mall on base and another woman called the cops on her. A not-so-gentle reminder that we may be in Germany but, when on base, we are still subject to American customs and Puritan ideas. Our briefer then went on to tell me that it was perfectly fine for me to breastfeed my son at a restaurant. In fact, he said, if I were to breastfeed with a cover I would likely get a lecture from an older German woman wondering why I’m forcing the baby to endure such torture.
I have yet to breastfeed my son at a restaurant here, but I’m comforted knowing that it shouldn’t be a problem, at least not for the Germans in the room. Any Americans will just have to deal. They’re just boobs.
We are sharing stories this week about our triumphs and travails with breastfeeding in honor of World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August 2015, coordinated by WABA).*
“This World Breastfeeding Week, WABA calls for concerted global action to support women to combine breastfeeding and work. Whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, it is necessary that she is empowered in claiming her and her baby’s right to breastfeed.”
For more information please visit http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/.
*Disclaimer: Rainbows & Unicorns does not discriminate against how any parent chooses to feed their child. We honor that families always choose the best thing that works for them, whether that is formula feeding, breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, or a mixture of any of these.