In theory, I am a strong supporter of nursing in public: it is the perfect way to demystify and promote breastfeeding, and the only realistic way to feed your baby when you’re on the move. In practice, I have always struggled with it. In the first few weeks, when it was excruciatingly painful, and the latching on ‘dance’ (as it is optimistically termed) C and I performed actually resembled a boxing match, my reticence was understandable. Three months later, with a finely-honed technique, I had run out of excuses.
One weekend, I decided to get some much needed public nursing practice in on a trip to a family-friendly department store. Previously, I had fed C in the car, or in the specially provided breastfeeding area. One trip to this part of the store was enough, however (it was an open-plan extension to the nappy changing facility) and I decided to feed C in the cafe, where I’d previously seen lots of other women breastfeeding.
To set the scene: this particular store is packed with the kind of educated, middle class parents who understand the importance of breastfeeding, and wouldn’t dream of raising any objection. My husband J went off to get some drinks, and I settled down to feed C. She was peckish, but not overly so, and was happy enough to spend some time performing the short suckling movements that help initiate let-down. Ten minutes later, she was starting to get frustrated. What was going on? Nothing was coming out! I hadn’t nursed for several hours, so had plenty of milk on board, but for some reason my let-down reflex was failing to function.
After another five minutes of suckling, and a bit of time reassuring a very confused C, my milk finally kicked in. I’m not quite sure why my let-down deserted me on this particular day, but I can only put it down to the noise and stress of feeding in a public place. In situations which other mothers find problematic, such as expressing milk when their baby is absent, I have no problem at all. When I think someone might be watching, however, I often end up in a vicious cycle of stress->no let-down->more stress.
As time has gone on, I find it easier to relax, and haven’t yet had a repeat of this particularly serious let-down failure. Although I can still suffer from performance anxiety from time to time, I try not to let it put me off completely, and as ever, things are improving with time.