Beyonce fed her baby! In public! This might not seem like earth-shattering news, but since the superstar was spotted breastfeeding 7-week-old Blue Ivy Carter at New York City restaurant Sant Ambroeus, she has generated praise from moms and experts alike.
"It's really important to normalize breastfeeding," says Jill Wodnick, M.A., breastfeeding educator and Community Doula Coordinator for the Hudson Perinatal Consortium in N.J., who believes that every woman should feel comfortable feeding her baby in public.
When you have a newborn, it can feel like they're constantly hungry, and that's because they are! "A baby's digestive system is considered immature; a newborn baby's stomach is the size of a marble," says Wodnick. So, if you're taking your baby out of the house -- to a restaurant or wherever -- you're going to have to feed her at some point, because she digests the small amount of nourishment she can take in at a time so quickly. Feeding an infant frequently, says Wodnick, is developmentally appropriate and critical to that baby's developing brain.
"When you follow your baby's feeding cues, you're really setting up her brain for the rest of her life," says Wodnick, adding that breastfeeding lowers your baby's chances of developing asthma, diabetes, eczema, ear infections, obesity and heart disease, among other health benefits. You also reap health benefits when you breastfeed your baby, from lowering your risk of certain cancers to helping your body heal post-childbirth.
In fact, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding (if possible) for about the first six months of a baby's life, followed by in combination with food until at least 12 months. They also urge pediatricians and other health care professionals to assist women and children in the initiation and maintenance of breastfeeding as a health issue, not just a lifestyle choice.
That being said, it's OK to feel a little shy! "I really honor that someone feels shy about breastfeeding in public," Wodnick says. "I would never tell someone, 'just don't feel modest!'"
Wodnick says it's important to remember that "this is how mammals feed their babies." And, she points out, "It's very easy to discreetly feed your baby... You really don't see a nipple or areola when a baby is breastfeeding." In fact, she says, "You see more of women's bodies standing in a supermarket line looking at tabloids that you do when you see a human baby eating human milk!"
It's perfectly understandable to feel a little self-conscious, but if you keep these tips from Wodnick in mind, you can become more comfortable with making like Beyonce and feeding your baby when she needs to be fed, paparazzi or not!
1. Learn to recognize and follow your baby's feeding cues. If you are a mom who feels modest or shy, it's that much more important to understand and follow your baby's feeding cues, says Wodnick. "It's easier to latch a baby that's regulated," she says -- a baby, that is, who doesn't have to cry and cry to get fed. A "disregulated" baby in a crying frenzy, Wodnick explains, will have a harder time latching because of the position of his tongue muscle. "A regulated baby who is giving you cues like putting his hands in his mouth or licking his lips or bobbing his head is going to latch and breastfeed more easily, with less fuss," she says.
2. Take a little extra coverage with you. From the Hooter Hider to the My Breast Friend coverups sold at Walmart, there are tons of ponchos and cloths made especially for breastfeeding modesty. But remember, says Wodnick, "There's not that much to cover up!" A simple scarf will do the trick just as well.
3. Get mother-to-mother support. Wodnick says the more you breastfeed in public, the more comfortable you'll be with it. She highly recommends finding a mothers' group to join, like your local La Leche nursing support group, where you can connect with other breastfeeding moms.
4. Let your loved ones be your champions. "People in your life can be guardians of your space," Wodnick says, so share with your family and close friends why breastfeeding is important not only your baby's health but to your own, and how they can help you feel more comfortable when you need to feed your baby around them.
Finally, speaking of your health...
5. Remember that breastfeeding is good for YOU, too. Breastfeeding not only reduces your risk of breast and ovarian cancer, Wodnick says it's an important part of your physical recovery from childbirth. It also helps prevent postpartum depression, increases maternal-infant and attachment and has been shown to help melt off baby weight.