Breastfeeding while fat… in public.

Hi – sorry for the ‘long time, no write’ situation but life has been incredibly busy; my older set of twins have just completed their first year at school, my younger set have been growing (they’re 7 months already, how time flies!) and my partner has had to pack in his dreams of being fully self employed and get a ‘real’ job which in turn has meant we’ve had to move cities for the second time in a year. It’s been hard work but not as hard as it could have been – the kids have responded admirably to all the changes and the babies haven’t been as much hard work as I was expecting – but it’s still been a tough and challenging time financially, socially, and mentally. We’re at the point now where things will still be quite tight for a while but we can all breathe a bit of a sigh of relief, sit back a little and just chill. Which is really nice :)

One of the things that has struck me is that having the babies has not been as full on and hectic as I was expecting it to be. I suspect part of that is because we’re not first time parents now (once you’ve been there once you know that there is actually little to stress over, it’s amazing how things will just happen in their own time and space) but I also think a huge part of it is that this time around breastfeeding is working, and working well.

I wasn’t expecting that. I live in New Zealand and we have a midwife-led maternity system which strongly encourages breastfeeding. It can be a bit of a mixed blessing at times if you come across someone who is particularly dogmatic but it does mean that there are a lot of different pathways for breastfeeding help and many are fairly pragmatic about feeding, an attitude which I (personally) think helps encourage women to give breastfeeding a go. I was quite lucky with my first set of twins; I had issues with my milk from the beginning and they ended up with jaundice and a two week stay in hospital. But while they were in there I was given amazing help and support to get breastfeeding established (thanks to Margaret from the Palmerston North neonatal unit!) I still had supply issues though and by the time they were 6 months old they were fully formula fed. I didn’t mind so much – I don’t have an emotional attachment to breastfeeding – but formula feeding twins can be a right hassle, and it’s expensive too.

For some reason I was expecting the same issues this time around, especially as I ended up needing a c-section. But it didn’t happen. That night after the surgery my partner stayed in hospital with me. It was lovely – each time a baby cried he’d pick her up and give her to me for a feed, then he’d take them away again, have a little cuddle himself, change her nappies and pop her back into the cot. And I remember lying there watching him with them and thinking “I wonder how it’ll go this time?” I’d even bought bottles and a tin of formula just in case. But I didn’t need them. I seemed to have enough milk and even when one of my wee girls ended up in hospital at 11 days old with a chest infection I was still able to feed because I was able to board at the hospital and have my other baby with me too, so I could continue to feed both (as I said, New Zealand hospitals are set up to support breastfeeding). I even got to say a proper thank you to Margaret for teaching me to breastfeed the first time around :)

But the breastfeeding success has brought an with it an issue I didn’t need to face the first time around; breastfeeding in public. With the older two by the time they were old enough to get out and about with me to places other than family and friend’s houses they were mainly formula fed. I had breastfed them in other people’s homes but never *really* in public. With this set I found that we were going out and about much earlier. Expressing has never really worked for me, and I was terrified that if I gave them the occasional bottle of formula I might set off a chain reaction that would lead to my milk supply decreasing, or worse, cause mastitis through ‘overfilling’. And going home after a couple of hours or so was not only a pain in the rear end it also curtailed everyone’s fun, mine included.

I was going to have to learn to feed in public. I wasn’t worried about the feeding per se – some people object but I was fairly confident that most wouldn’t. No, what really worried me was how people would react to seeing *my fat* as I fed. Silly, I know, but… that was my issue. I’d heard so many (thinner) women discuss ways they arranged their clothes not to hide their breast or nipple but to hide their bellies. Well, my belly and my breasts have something in common: they’re all very large  :)  And I’m not sure if ‘discretion’ goes with ‘fleshy’. I’ve heard so many comments over the years – and I’m sure you have too – about how fat flesh is gross, etc. I was expecting shame.

But you have to bite the bullet sometimes, and when I do I prefer to do it with a certain amount of style, or in-your-face-ness. So for my breastfeeding in public debut I picked a very public place indeed: a playground on one of the busiest pieces of waterfront in our capital city! I sat in the shade of a lovely tree and fed them one after the other. Yep, I showed belly flab – I was wearing a t shirt, it was a hot day and they don’t make the specialised breastfeeding tops in my size – but no-one seemed to bat an eye. A few weeks later I did it again, this time twin feeding in the back seat of our new car while parked at a popular picnicking spot. I got one double-take from an older gentleman who walked past and saw me (he came back for another look with a lady of a similar age!) but again the earth did not crumple into dust as I exposed my flab to the gaze of passersby.

I can’t get over how much of a sense of freedom it has given me to be able to do this. In some ways it’s a hassle to feed in public but that’s more a physical thing, because I use the football hold (the cradle hold would be more comfortable and easily done without pillows but I can’t do it for the life of me, no matter how much I try!) But being able to bundle the babies into the car and think “Ok, I’ll just feed ‘em when they get hungry” is amazing. And yet it’s one more thing I could have missed out on, if I let the whole sense of shame surrounding being fat get to me.

And talking of breastfeeding… it’s from August but it is a very interesting article and made me think http://wellroundedmama.blogspot.com/2010/08/breastfeeding-in-women-of-size.html

Apparently large women have lower rates of breastfeeding than thinner ones. Whereas I don’t doubt the figures – actually, I have no opinion on whether they’re real or not – I suspect the difference is probably due to a number of factors and I’ll bet that many of those factors come out of fat phobia. For one, breastfeeding takes an incredible amount of energy and calories to maintain. Considering obese women are often told to lose weight during *pregnancy* I can just imagine what they’re told about eating and calorific requirements once the baby is born. And larger women are more likely to have interventionist births – many for no good reason – and interventions can sometimes intefere with the establishment of feeding. And then there’s the lack of information on, and pictures of, the football hold which is particularly good/comfortable for women with large breasts (as opposed to the almost universal cradle hold). And I think we can’t underestimate the amount of influence that years fat and body shaming have on a woman. Hell, it did for me. Add all those together and I’m surprised any of us breastfeed at all :)

But it can be done, as you can see!

My two wee ones laughing at Grandad

 

 

 

 

7 Responses

  1. Thanks for a great post about breastfeeding! My “baby” is ten years old now, but I still feel the sense of empowerment I got from breastfeeding her for over 2 years. I was not “allowed” to breastfeed my first baby, born in 1985, because I was still living with my parents and my dad told me I absolutely could not nurse her. So, 13 years later, I couldn’t wait to breastfeed, and thankfully had perfect success within minutes of giving birth.

    I had trepidations about feeding in public, but the ease of feeding surpassed any potential embarassment. My baby’s needs came first, and if others didn’t like seeing my fat stomach or part of my breast, they could bite me. Yes, I was discreet, but never ashamed of doing one of the most natural things a mother can do. I even had pictures developed of me nursing, and I’m glad I did because it was fulfilling and confidence building…and just plain gratifying to be able to meet my child’s feeding and comfort needs so readily and easily. I didn’t care about the stares, nor did I care about strangers seeing the fleshy parts of my body…I was a mother, and I was not going to allow THEIR unease to interfere with my baby’s needs. I nursed in my car, on a bench in the mall, at the park, on airplanes…..wherever we happened to be when the need arose. People would do a double take, but no one had the gall to tell me I should be ashamed….because I wasn’t!
    I’m thrilled that you are finding such ease in nursing your twins. I’ve always wondered if, with twins, you nurse both of them at once…because I would have LOVED that! Those babies looks so cute and well fed!

    ps….When my daughter started sleeping more during the night, I would wake up so engorged that the slightest pressure would start a stream of milk flowing out of me. Our yellow lab Murphy once got a stream right in his face….and wasted no time cleaning it up! I’ve nursed a baby AND my dog! lol

    • Thanks :) Did your father ever say why he didn’t want you to breastfeed? It seems like an odd attitude, especially as formula has only been developed fairly recently (in the last 60 odd years or so).

      I do ‘twin feed’ (feed both at once) as often as I can, because it keeps them on a similar routine and takes less time. Occasionally when we’re out I have to do one at a time though but that’s usually for physical/comfort reasons (we take up a lot of room!).

      One of the cutest things I ever saw in relation to breastfeeding was the first time my 2 year old niece (breastfed herself) saw me doing it. She came up to us, gently touched my breast and said with a note of wonder in her voice “Da babies are having a drink, eh?” and when I replied yes she said “Wow” as though it was the coolest thing she’d ever seen :)

      • My Dad was old school…meaning he wasn’t comfortable with it because of the sexualization of women’s breasts. This, from a man who had 6 girls and a feminist-before-feminism wife. Being 19, I felt required to comply with Dad’s request, though I secretly nursed my daugther a couple of times in her first days. This was back in the day when they used to give you a shot to dry up your milk…which didn’t work for me because I still had some milk. They also strapped my hands and feet during delivery, which was in an operating room. Imagine not being able to touch your baby as she lay on your stomach after delivery….I had bruises for a week on my wrists.

        What a difference one coast makes over the other. I was living in Buffalo, NY when my first was born, and live in the Pacific NW now for my second. My husband and his parents were breastfed—something much more commonly practiced here, in the same generation and time frame. It was just assumed you would, never questioned, never hidden, and no one was uncomfortable with it, except me initially. How times change!

        I love that you twin feed….my breasts would have thanked me for that, as they filled up so quickly and my little one always fell asleep before I could get her to empty the other one. Dual drainage—-win!

        Your niece has the right perspective…and one more people should have…Wow is right!

  2. That is very cool, that you put yourself outside your comfort zone and just did what you had to do. Also cool that you received no hassle over it. I kept reading waiting for the other shoe to drop–to read about someone who went out of their way to be rude or cruel–but surprisingly the shoe stayed on! Bravo!

    Oh, and your little ones are just ADORABLE! ;)

  3. I second the adorable babies thing! I love their big smiles. Thanks for sharing a picture.

    I was thrilled to read that breastfeeding went much easier for you this time. It often does improve the second time, though of course there are never any guarantees. Glad it worked out this time.

    Thanks for the shout-out to my post. I have some more posts on bfing in the works. I also want to add more pictures of fat women breastfeeding to the site; if you have any you want to share, feel free! They can be anonymous or not, as you prefer.

    I was glad to see you bring up the football hold. Nice to find someone else who was never able to make the cradle hold work but who had luck with the football hold. I nursed four children and never could make the cradle hold comfortable or useful. I know some women with big breasts who have been able to do it but I never was able to. So the football hold was a LIFESAVER for us. Glad to hear of others for whom this was true!

    I too found nursing in public incredibly challenging at first. I was less worried about exposing belly fat (if they’re offended they can darn well look the other way) but I was embarrassed to show my giant rack. I was good at using my shirts creatively to show very little—but only once baby was latched on. There was usually some flashing of flesh during the latching process. And I was raised to be extremely embarrassed about my rack, so public bfing was one of the hardest things I had to learn to do as a parent.

    But in the end, it was also very freeing. I was never one to bf openly if I had other choices, but I stopped shying away from it if it needed to be done and there wasn’t a decent place to do it.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on your bfing journey, and hope you are wiling to share some bfing pics for my blog at some point!

  4. Congratulations!! I am still proud of the fact that I was able to breastfeed my son for 22 months. I, too, got over my initial worry by just forcing myself to take the attitude that if people had a problem with seeing a bit of skin/flab, that it was their issue and not mine. No one ever did comment or even look twice.

    I was able to do the cradle hold fine, although I supported my little guy with pillows at home and bags when I was out and about to get him at the right height. My challenge was never being able to pump which, I suspect, may have had to do with the fact that many women with PCOS have supply issues. I never had too little milk for my son but I never got engorged, never felt letdown, and wonder if I had lower supply than many women. Because many large women do have PCOS, that may affect their breastfeeding also?

    In any case, I will always be grateful for the UK’s excellent breastfeeding support and maternity leave – if I’d been here in the US when my son was born, chances are it never would have worked!

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