Nursing in Public as an Immigrant
Welcome Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! This month we are writing about Nursing in Public. Please read more of the posts, found at the bottom of this post. More links will be added through Monday
Whenever I nursed my first two children in public, in the United States, I was almost always confident and sure of myself. I never used a cover-up, and I nursed just about everywhere I went. Restaurants, stores, parks, museums. Sure, in the first few months of nursing my first child, public nursing made me a little nervous. But once I got some practice, there were no worries. But here is the important point: the United States is my home country.
Nursing in public changed entirely for me once I arrived in Costa Rica. My family and I are immigrants here. Although my newest child, born in Costa Rica one month ago, is a Costa Rica citizen, my family and I are still somewhat like strangers in the culture. We may be in the process of achieving residency here, but we haven’t exactly become natives. There is so much that is unfamiliar to us here, including the language. Although my goal is to become fluent in Spanish, learning has been a lot slower than I’d like simply because I’m a really busy mother. Sometimes when I walk around town, I have no idea what the people around me are saying.
You might be wondering what all this might have to do with breastfeeding. Well, ever since coming to Costa Rica, I’ve been really stressed about nursing in public. It’s not because Costa Rica has any laws preventing public breastfeeding. It’s also not due to Costa Rican breastfeeding culture. I mean, Costa Rica is a country that really values motherhood, fatherhood, and family life. Heck, I’ve seen teenagers here walking down the street and happily holding hands with their parents or grandparents. The reason I’m suddenly uncomfortable has a lot to do with my own sense of cultural awareness, or lack of it.
You see, in the United States, I knew that if anyone ever confronted me in public about breastfeeding in public, I would be armed with information about the law which I could share with the offended person. Or I could just tell them off. Here in Costa Rica, it’s not so easy for me. Not only am I not that familiar with the laws, but I would be unable to explain myself in Spanish if I were ever confronted. This really stresses me out.
I also sometimes have trouble reading the cultural signals. For instance, when my family and I were sitting in a park one day, an older woman once gave me and my husband some very negative looks. We had no idea why she was looking at us this way. Was it because my kids were climbing on the metal fence at the park? Was it because I was wearing shorts (in some instances, shorts are not socially acceptable for adults here). Was it my nose-ring? Or maybe the woman was just having a bad day?
In a public breastfeeding situation, I fear that I won’t be able to read the signals that people are giving me. For instance, are the men who avert their eyes from breastfeeding just being polite, or are they horrified to see a woman with her breasts out in public? Am I expected to using a nursing cover-up, or can I just lift my shirt with no problem? Will people be uncomfortable if I nurse my four-year-old? And what about nursing in restaurants and other public places? Will breastfeeding be OK everywhere?
Just the other day, I nursed my four-year-old for the first time in front of our maid, Olga. Even though I was nursing in my own house, I was a little nervous about what her reaction would be. Would she be shocked or embarrassed? Would it be a source of discomfort for us on the days when she was cleaning our house? When I nursed J, Olga luckily smiled right away and put me at ease. That made me feel so much better. But a few minutes later, she asked me something in Spanish about it. I didn’t understand much of what she said, but I got the feeling that she was asking me if it was OK to nurse both children in tandem. She ended her questions by saying, “es bueno?” So I said, “Si! Es bueno.” But I wish I had a better handle on the language so that I could have understood what her concern was, and so that I could have explained myself better (such as, “Yes, I have plenty of milk” or “Yes, I don’t mind nursing both of my children”, etc.). But lack of language skills prevented me from doing that.
On the other hand, maybe part of the reason I’m so stressed about nursing in public here in Costa Rica has more to do with my experiences in my home country than my new country. Even though I’ve never actually had anyone harass me for nursing, the stories I’d hear on the news coming from the US make it clear that there is much legal and social work to be done before all US women can fearlessly nurse in public. Regardless of our legal rights, there are occasional incidents where women are harassed in the US. In this new country of mine, it’s hard to put aside my history of living in the United States. My friend W, a LLL leader here in Costa Rica, tells me she has never heard of anyone being harassed during public breastfeeding here. But still, I worry.
As a volunteer who supported mothers in their efforts to breastfeed in the United States, I admit that I really didn’t even think much about the immigrant breastfeeding mother. Most of the mothers that I helped were US citizens, just like me. But now that I’ve put myself in this entirely new culture and country, I wonder more about how putting a woman in an unfamiliar situation affects her willingness to breastfeed, whenever and wherever. After all, many of us would be more able to be brave on our own turf than in a strange place. I’m wondering how I can better support the immigrant mother in her breastfeeding efforts. Definitely something to think about.
More posts from the Carnival of Breastfeeding on nursing in public:
- Grudgemom: Nursing in a room full of people you know
- Lucy and Ethel Have a Baby: Nursing in Public (Boobs) Out and Proud
- PhD in Parenting: Would you, could you nurse in public?
- Dirty Diaper Laundry: Breastfeeding in Public – Talents – I haz it
- Kim through the looking glass: Here? At the restaurant?
- MumUnplugged: Aww, is he sleeping?
- Massachusetts Friends of Midwives: Nursing in Public: Chinatown, the Subway, the Vatican, and More
- Mother Mary’s Soapbox: June Carnival: Breastfeeding in Public
- Mommy News & Views Blog: Breastfeeding in Public
- Breastfeeding 1-2-3: To Cover or Not to Cover
- Stork Stories: Little Old Men…& Nursing in Public
- Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: Why Worry About NIP?
- Warm Hearts Happy Family: Breastfeeding and the Summertime
- Blacktating: Thank You For Nursing in Public
- Musings on Mamahood: NIP, no tuck
- Motherwear’s Breastfeeding Blog: Get kicked off a bus for nursing in public? Here’s how to respond.
- Mama Knows Breast: Adventures in Breastfeeding: Products That Can Help You Breastfeed in Public
- BabyREADY: A wee NIP in the park!!
- Tales of life with a girl on the go: Planes, trains and automobiles – we’ve breastfed in them all
- Breastfeeding Moms Unite!: Nursing in Public: A Fresh Perspective on Nurse-Ins
- Never a Dull Moment…: Breastfeeding Hats? YES! Nursing Covers? Uh… Not So Much
- Breastfeeding Mums: Nursing in Public – What’s a Breastfeeding Mother to Do!!
- Hobo Mama: Easy, discreet way to breastfeed a toddler in public