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Dear Abby on Breastfeeding

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Today's Dear Abby column features a reader letter about a new mom that breastfed in front of her.

DEAR ABBY: A couple of weeks ago, some friends and I visited a family friend's niece who had recently had a baby girl. While we were visiting, we noticed that the baby was hungry.

Being a good mom, the new mother unbuttoned her shirt, took off her bra, and breast-fed the baby right in front of us. Abby, was it right or wrong of her to expose her breasts in front of visitors when breast-feeding the child? -- RACHEL IN PHILADELPHIA

You'll have to click through to read Dear Abby's response...but here's a copy of what I just sent in.

Dear Abby,

I'm writing in response to your letter about the mother who breastfed her new baby in front of her guests.

I'm not sure if you've ever been a new breastfeeding mother, but as someone who spends my days cover this topic, I wanted to point out that while nursing is natural and normal, it's also a learned process. New mothers often need all the "view" they can get to make sure baby is properly positioned and latched on. The first few days after a mother's milk come in can also include painful engorgement of the breasts making even nursing bras highly uncomfortable while nursing.

Finally, I'd note that newborns can sometimes eat as often as every hour. If you match that feeding schedule to the number of guests that tend to parade through to see a new baby, you can imagine how many times a new mom is faced with the task of feeding her child with guests around or of retreating someplace more private. In just the second day of my own child's life I found myself with a hungry baby and a porch full of guests. After a moments hesitation I lifted my shirt and nursed my son. No one minded at all.

I want to commend you for promoting breastfeeding as normal and natural and for pointing out that the mother was in the privacy of her own home, but wanted to offer up an explanation for why some new moms may show a little more skin than even they would like to in those early days. While we all love to curl up with our new babies and just love them, an every hour or two feeding schedule and our own need for adult interaction means that some day, some one is going to see you breastfeeding. The more often it happens, the sooner our country will recognize how much of a difference a supportive attitude can make for new mothers.


Jennifer Laycock
The Lactivist Blog

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  1. Blogger Nevanna | 2:30 PM |  

    Abby's response could have been much worse. :) Guess I was reading it more as that she was being informational (about the bras) as well as supportive. Overall, I thought her response was fine.

    (Of course, I just plain walked around topless at home for the first month, teaching mine how to nurse...lol)

  2. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 2:42 PM |  

    Oh, I didn't think her response was bad at all other than thinking that a brand new mom can be more discreet and that she just hadn't "learned" yet.

    Just wanted to make sure she understood WHY new moms are often less able to be "discreet" (and yes, I still hate that word.)

  3. Blogger MKM | 2:55 PM |  

    I commend you for being so level headed (as usual). My initial response upon reading Abby's reply was to get a little hot headed. I mean, this woman is in her own home! She should be able to do what she wants and if her friends/family can't deal with that then they are welcome to leave the room. Whatever happened to "you have the right to look away"?

    I am glad your response took such a civil tone, thanks for being on top of the issue.

    And like nevanna I was also one to go topless as much as possible to ensure a good latch and also to just enjoy snuggling!

  4. Blogger Eilat | 3:31 PM |  

    Im with MamaBean, its her house.
    I didn't even own a nursing bra until my son was 4 days old. I didn't want to buy one until my milk came in and I knew what size I would need.

    The morning of the day that I bought my first nursing bra I sought help from the nurse practitioner at my son's pediatrician office.

    4 day old baby, terrible latch on the right side, totally confused. I just took my shirt + regular bra off. Hey, its the dr's office -- right? (after that, the nurse told me where to go to buy a nursing bra, LOL!)

    new moms have to be given some leeway.

  5. Blogger Strikethru | 5:44 PM |  

    I definitely was not nursing my baby in any sort of a discreet way the first few weeks. I just had no idea how, it was all I could do to position her right and get her latched on. Not easy to do with a bra and clothes in the way. Nursing is one of those things you just don't get until you do it!

  6. Blogger Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) | 5:51 PM |  

    What a great, well-worded, reasonable response. I remember those early days of mixing New Nursing with Guests and it was stressful - I had to make a decision whether to leave my guests or hide upstairs. Usually, I chose to stay downstairs, but it was still difficult to get it "all together".

  7. Anonymous Anonymous | 6:04 PM |  

    I like your response. I didn't think dear abby's letter was bad, but it did leave me wondering what she would have said if this had happened in public? It's all well and good to support someone's right to nurse in their own home (when one's opinion is quite irrelevant anyway) but it's the societal taboo of nursing in public I want to see changed.

  8. Anonymous Anonymous | 6:25 PM |  


    You should have seen me with my first trying to nurse!!! HA! I sat in a chair with this screaming, squirming being in my arms trying to latch on one breast, with a towel under the other trying to hold back the flood...all this topless, while my husband kept flinging open the front door!!! Taking off my bra in those early days was alot of fun...I had to do it facing the shower stall...I could give you a milk shower from 5 feet away! Ohhh the memories! LOL

    I am quite sure the baby books gave a list of needs for nursing moms, but obviously I missed that part! Thank you for the reminder of how hard nursing can be in the beginning!

  9. Anonymous Anonymous | 8:59 PM |  

    I hurt so badly from the day after my son's birth. I didn't even try to put on a bra of any kind for almost a month. I had to hold a folded cloth diaper on the other breast to keep me and the baby some what dry...the hospital was impossible everyone coming in and I was topless. I'm glad I told everyone I didn't want visitors.

  10. Blogger Michelle Constantinescu | 5:11 AM |  

    A wonderful response! I think I spent most of my hospital stay half naked, trying to nurse our son! It was funny and disheartening at the same time to see the reaction of nurses who were just not comfortable with seeing me nurse. There were about 15 newborns in the hospital at the time, and I was the only mom nursing! You're right - if this country saw more nursing moms, we'd be better off. Even the nurses.

  11. Blogger Unknown | 5:32 AM |  

    I think the response was "ok". But in the end, the expectation that the woman had done something wrong is just ridiculous. Here is the letter I wrote:

    Dear Abby,

    I was a bit surprised at your recent response to the woman upset by a breast feeding mother in her own home. Given that breast feeding truly is the most healthy alternative and that it is completely natural, no one should feel offended by this process. It is hard to learn and master and women should not be "locked away" or shamed into breastfeeding in "private". Babies need to breast feed very often and many public places do not have anywhere appropriate that is "private". Our society needs to accept that this is a normal process. It is not sexual, shocking, or rude. Woman need support and positive encouragement to do what is healthy for their babies. In no way, under any circumstances, should a woman be told that her breastfeeding was at the wrong time, in the wrong place, or inappropriate. When the baby wants to eat, it wants to eat. I do hope you reconsider the response and remind readers that if a mother is comfortable, they should be as well.

    Thank you for your consideration of this matter. Women everyday struggle against bias against or for breastfeeding. Let's look at this process as what it is - a natural one, not something to be locked away doing or ashamed of.

    Katrina Van Overbeke

  12. Anonymous Anonymous | 6:07 AM |  

    I wonder if this woman really took off her bra. It says she unbuttoned her shirt, not took off her shirt. It seems to me that she would've had to take the shirt off to take the bra off... Maybe the friend had never seen a nursing bra, so she thought that she was taking the bra off, instead of just unhooking it. Anyways, I think Abby's response was OK. And good for the mom for not having a problem nursing in front of company.

  13. Blogger Jessica | 7:28 AM |  

    That was a great response, Jennifer. You were more level-headed than I. Did anyone else read Abby's response as "breastfeeding is normal and natural, as long as you do it in the home?" Just my two cents. And yes, during the first month, every single one of my friends saw me shirtless because I needed to see to latch the little guy on...

  14. Blogger JudyBright | 8:58 AM |  

    I'm all for being discreet in public, coupled with a good dose of mind your own business from others, but other than criminal acts, new moms should get a pass on everything for at least a month after the birth. I thought it was funny that the letter writer bothered to write Dear Abby for such a trivial matter.

    Also, I copied this from the article "Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips"

    How can you also be known as some name totally different? That's just strange.

    -Betty McKinley

    aka Judybright

    ps. Good call on becoming the Lactivist in comments, rather than Jennifer #32063 :)

  15. Blogger Nevanna | 9:18 AM |  

    Glad I'm not the only one who used a towel to catch the flood. (:

    I also forbid anyone from visiting for the first month. Mostly because I felk like crap, and when I don't feel good, I get antisocial. But, I'm glad I did it, because it was a lot less embarassing trying to get the nursing thing to work without a crowd of people staring at us! (And fending off the inevitable "Just give him a bottle" remarks.)

  16. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 9:57 AM |  

    Yes, well a certain husband kept getting confused while reading the Jennifer vs. Jennifer war of words on the Morgan Gallagher thread a few weeks back, so I figured I'd better clarify. ;)

    And the "also known as" is because Dear Abby retired and her daughter took over. Her daughter goes by Dear Abby in the column for continuity purposes. (In other words, because "Dear Jeanne" doesn't have the same credibility...)

  17. Blogger Sarahbear | 10:15 AM |  

    I wasn't really upset by 'Abby's' response. I was more offended by Rachel's question.

    Right or wrong of her to expose her breasts in the company of female friends and family? Is that really a questions of morality?

    Rachel's niece should respond with 'just a second while I adjust my peri-pad strap and waddle over to you and smack you for asking such a stupid question.'

    Better for poor Rachel to see her niece's booby than for her niece to have to sit there in a milk soaked shirt for the entire time the baby ate.

  18. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:55 AM |  

    I had exactly the same thing w/ my first son! Showering was such a huge process- I would lay out my clean nursing bra (had to wash them everyday cuz i leaked through even the best pads!) and would stick my nursing pads in them, then get the shower running take my bra off and jump in before spraying the whole room, and then after would grab my bra and stick it on as quick as possible before dripping everywhere- Luckily w/ my 2nd son I didn't spray nearly as much...except of course in his eyes if he dared latch off mid-let-down:-)
    Oh and I too walked around topless the first 6 weeks, adn I lived in my parents basement and my dad just knew not to come downstairs unless he wanted an eyefull:-)

  19. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:50 PM |  

    I remember reading sometime back that the original Abby actually died. Interesting that it's her daughter that took over -- I didn't know that - I just assumed it was some other advice person who was given the syndicate. :)

    My first reading of the answer was "that wasn't so bad" but now that I'm rethinking it, I tend to agree with those that sort of read it as a backhanded endorsement of breastfeeding.

  20. Anonymous Anonymous | 4:51 PM |  

    When I first read Abby's response, I felt as though I had committed a major faux pas when I went topless in front of family the first week postpartum b/c I was engorged and sore from mastitus. Thanks Jennifer and everyone for replying; it really helped me normalize my experience. I know better now than to have anyone else around first month pp. Far too many just do not get it!

  21. Blogger Ahmie | 12:01 PM |  

    Jen, I love you :) I couldn't have been that calm. I got YELLED AT by my (evil) stepmother for nursing my then-2wk-old son in THEIR living room (after driving 350 miles with a newborn who only gave me MAYBE 45 unlatched minutes at a stretch while conscious, to house-hunt and visit them, mind). And I WAS being discreet - I'd intentionally worn double layers (a t-shirt under a Hawaiian shirt that was unbuttoned) to cover the belly flesh and have something to pull down close to the baby's face, and a nursing bra... I turned to the wall to get him latched on, then had just gotten settled with a pillow and the arm rest of the couch for support when she walked into the room from another part of the house and YELLED at me ("that's a sacred bonding experience that should only be done behind closed doors"). Which of course startled the baby and caused him to de-latch. I couldn't have been that calm responding to "Dear Abby" myself, given that experience. It's also the last time my father saw my son, his only grandchild (as far as I know), who turned 3 years old today and breastfed for ~31 months all over the place, even in the Ohio statehouse a couple times!

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