This was originally published at Lactivist Leanings and is reposted with permission.
A Breast With a View: NIP Around the World
I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to travel around the world with my family, and as a nursing mother of three children, I have lived in Uruguay, Mexico, the United States, and Lesotho. Along the way, we have traveled as a family all across those countries, plus we have taken trips to Argentina, South Africa, Germany, and Poland. I’m one of those nurse-anywhere-anytime kind of moms, not only because that’s the best way to meet my nursling’s needs, but also because as a practical matter, nursing is often the quickest and easiest way to keep my nursling quiet and happy. Since "quiet and happy" is most people’s idea of how a child should behave in public, my breastfeeding then allows everyone to win. My child and I enjoy all the benefits of going out and about in whatever town we’re living in, while everyone around us does, too.
As I have traveled the world, breastfeeding in churches, museums, restaurants, and parks, on trains, planes, and boats, around local celebrities, ministers of government, ambassadors, and even a king (Letsie III of Lesotho!), I have found that nurturing my child at the breast has helped me cross many cultural divides. Whether it was the warm memory of a Basotho man as he told me how fondly he remembered nursing until he was 5 years old, or the big grin of the Tarahumara mother who couldn’t speak to me in Spanish but could point to her nursling as we crossed paths, or the tears of a new mother at a La Leche League meeting learning that she isn’t the only one who has struggled with working and pumping, the common factor of breastfeeding helped me to build a bridge with these strangers and revealed how much we had in common under the more apparent differences of our life circumstances.
On the more prosaic level, breastfeeding around the world, and doing it in whatever public I happen to be in at the time, has provided me with some great memories – and good stories! Here are some of my favorites:
- My daughter went on her first horse ride at 11 months, Riding a horse across the Uruguayan countryside with DH and some friends – DD was 11 mos old, strapped to me with the sling, and when she got fussy I just turned her around and nursed her. As she nursed off to sleep, I learned that the gentle gait of a horse was far better than a rocking chair for getting this chronic sleep-fighter to go down for a nap. Too bad our yard wasn’t big enough for a pony!
- While visiting the ski town of Zakopanie, Poland, we took a cable car to the top of a mountain. The cold and wind were biting up there, and after a freezing 15 minutes, my 14 month old son had had enough. We scrambled to get back on the next cable car down, but he kept on screaming even once we got out of the cold. I quickly latched him on and then gasped – those were some icy lips!
- The one and only time I tried to nurse with a cover over my daughter’s head, she was four months old and just coming out of a week-long nursing strike. We were in a tiny barbershop in Virginia waiting for my husband, and I was a little freaked out by the close proximity of tons of mirrors and the other customers. Thinking it would help my daughter focus on the breast, and keep me from inadvertently exposing the mirror image of my nipple, I pulled out a blanket and draped it over her head. She immediately started flailing and screaming, and while everyone stared at the spectacle we were now making, I thought, “So much for discreet.”
- My older son was 18 months old when we visited Teotihuacan, the ancient pyramids outside of Mexico City. It was hot, he was tired, and he decided that the best time for a nap was in the sling as we walked around. Did I mention he was teething his canines at the time and napping was only done while nursing? I ended up climbing the Pyramid of the Sun, all 248 steps of it, with him latched on, and to this day, my husband thinks I’m a superhero for that feat.
- We moved to Lesotho when my younger son was 3 months old. It seemed I couldn’t do anything by local mothering standards. My son simply wasn’t dressed warmly enough (in the 80 degree heat) and I was told by more than one older lady in the grocery store that surely my ring sling was hurting him. But the first time I nursed in public, in church on Christmas morning, all the comments stopped, and all around me were warm smiles, friendly handshakes, and a knowing, “Isn’t breastfeeding a wonderful thing?”
- Nursing at home can become nursing in public when you have company over. It never occurred to me that I had anything to worry about breastfeeding in my own living room until a Uruguayan friend came over. Doing the usual greeting, he leaned down to kiss me while I nursed my daughter – and then he leaned over even further and kissed her little cheek, too, full of milk!