After yesterday's post, I had a discussion about being a "Nursing Ninja" with some of my friends and decided it would be helpful if I share my personal steps to attaining the esteemed position of Nursing Ninja- The Shadow Breastfeeder.
First, understand that mastery takes time. Just as no one can become a skilled ninja overnight, no woman should be expected to master the art of comfortably breastfeeding around others in the few weeks (or even months...or years) after birth. Just as you master one technique, a variable will change and you might feel like you are starting back at square one. Basically, any normal milestone that baby reaches is a variable in your nursing relationship. Sometimes it changes things for the better, sometimes it doesn't really affect it, and sometimes it changes it for the worse and you have to work a little harder to address the issue and keep a good nursing relationship.
Second, understand that your skills will develop at a different pace than other Nursing Ninjas. I nursed Sassy and Diva for the first few months after their births, but always used a receiving blanket to cover in public or around anyone other than a few family members. I was the typical nursing mom, filled with anxiety over the blanket falling off my shoulder, exposure from the baby moving, and trying to latch under the blindcover of the blanket. So my skill set did not reach Ninja Nursing Level: Uncovered until my last child. Some women develop their skill set quickly with their first baby, others never quite attain Level: Uncovered, which is ok.
Finally, understand that I am not a professional. Only a mom who has "been there, done that" with many of the aspects of parenting and I am sharing the things that have helped me the most, my own personal wisdom. Here the steps I took on my path to becoming a Nursing Ninja.
1) Preparation is Key
In order to be comfortable nursing around others, you must first prepare yourself. Give yourself a pep talk. Practice at home. Know that no matter how prepared you think you are, you will still feel anxious and unsure those first few times. Know that latching and unlatching can be awkward in front of others. Many of my friends practice this skill in front of a mirror at home so they can see how it looks to other people and make any adjustments that they feel are necessary.
Another part of preparation is education. Learn as much as you can about breastfeeding, preferably while trying to conceive or while pregnant. Seek out support groups in your area. Personally, one of the best resources I found for breastfeeding success when I was pregnant with Monkey is a local group that offers information and support on pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. Mama*ology has been a driving force behind my research and decisions in the past few years.
Can't find parenting groups in your area? Create one. Use social networking sites to search out resources. Gather some friends to act as a support group. Or you can always turn online. There are countless online parenting communities that have options to meet every aspect of your parenting needs. Some of my best friends are ones I met through online parenting communities.
Much of this preparation will need to start while you are pregnant. Some of it will wait for the early weeks in the newborn period. But all of it will lead to the next step.
2) Just Do It
I know that NIP (nursing in public) causes anxiety for many nursing moms. Heck, I had anxiety nursing around my father-in-law when I had my oldest. But, I honestly think that one of the best things about nursing my oldest is that I was a college student. There were not many private places on campus to comfortably nurse a baby, so I would often go to the student center's restaurant or would sit on benches underneath trees in the middle of campus, watching the students walk by.
I like to think of this as my first NIP trial: nursing baby while surrounded by college guys who have likely never been exposed to anyone breastfeeding. I was nervous and slightly scared those early weeks, but Sassy needed to eat when we were on campus. I learned that most people just thought that I was holding a sleeping baby under the receiving blanket I used as a cover. I learned that the same male students that whistled as a girl in tight clothes walked by would also see me, notice I was breastfeeding, and just smile and nod hello as they passed.
You read that right: MALE students would KNOW I was breastfeeding and they would smile and nod hello as they passed. On one particular windy day, I was leafing through notes for my afternoon exam while nursing and a gust made some of my papers fly away. A student walking nearby saw my papers blowing away, saw me struggling to go after them and keep the blanket covering me, and he yelled, "Stop, I'll get them for you!" And that kind man chased down every one of my papers while I finished nursing my baby.
I have rarely had a rude comment when I NIP. Most people who even notice that I am nursing look away because they are uncomfortable or think I will be embarassed, or they basically ignore the fact that I'm nursing and treat me the same as they would if I was holding a sleeping baby. My early NIP experiences showed me that I would rarely encounter rude people, often encounter people who didn't care, and would be lucky enough to meet those select few who would give me the equivilent of an emotional high-five. So my first step to becoming a Nursing Ninja is to just do it. Overcome the fear and anxiety by trying it.
3) Respect Your Limits
Part of the wisdom that comes with being a Nursing Ninja is to know and respect your limits. If you know that you will not be comfortable nursing in a location, find a more comfortable place if you can. There have been times that I have left a room to nurse in a quieter location just to give myself a break. Just as you shouldn't let the feelings of others prevent you from discreetly nursing in their presence, you should not think that there is some feminist mentality forcing you to nurse in front of others.
Do what makes YOU feel comfortable. For me, sometimes that means using a No Peek Nursing Cover. Sometimes that means using no cover. And sometimes that means going to a different location. My choice will change based on how I feel, how baby feels, and my surroundings.
PLEASE don't go out and try to NIP for the first time in a loud, crowded, or unfamilar place. Or if you do, realize that it will likely not go as well as you envision. As with any ninja, it takes practice to hone your Nursing Ninja skills. Know that it will take practice to feel comfortable when you NIP.
Start small. My first time NIP was at a mall. I sat there, debating on if I should try to find a private place or just nurse Sassy where we were sitting on a bench. I decided to stay and try it out. That small step gave me the confidence to try NIP in other places until I finally became comfortable nursing anywhere. If I had tried to NIP in some loud, crowded, or unfamiliar place, I might have become frustrated and lost the courage to NIP, paving the way for early weaning.
So start small. Know your personal limits. And respect those limits by doing what makes YOU comfortable.
4) Dress Like a Nursing Ninja
When you think about a ninja, you likely envision a warrior dressed all in black, including a mask, carrying concealed weapons to assist them in their deadly stealth. Nursing mothers are very similar. A nursing mother needs to have easy access for nursing, have that access be inconspicous and invisible to the typical bystander, and have a selection of weapons at her disposal.
Wardrobe options are seemingly limitless today, especially if you are shopping online. A nursing mother utilize nursing bras, nursing tanks, nursing shirts, nursing dresses, and nursing pajamas. All of these products are designed to allow easy access for nursing mothers through discreet panels that unsnap, unbutton, lift, etc.
The selection of tools has also expanded past my tried-and-true receiving blanket that I used with my girls. There are tons of nursing covers available for purchase. I know many crafty moms that make their own. Some blanket-like covers go around your neck, drape over your body, and bow out at the neckline so that Mom can easily see baby while nursing and skillfully latch without anyone else seeing. So, if you choose to use a cover, be sure to find the Nursing Ninja tool that is best suited to your skills and your needs.
5) Become Nursing Ninja- The Shadow Breastfeeder
Finally, you will put all your skills to the test. At this point, you have taken the time to prepare, practiced NIP, discovered and respected your limits of comfort regarding NIP, and found the proper attire and tools. The next level, once you are ready, is to become The Shadow Breastfeeder.
For me, I attained this status after nursing Monkey for a few months. If I choose to nurse uncovered, I can likely be finished before unsuspecting bystanders even realize there was an exposed nipple in their midst. I have mastered finding the environment where I feel most comfortable nursing uncovered. I blend in to my surroundings, masked by the background noise and commotion of the restaurant, mall, or other location. And it doesn't hurt that Monkey is now old enough that he is very efficient at nursing. Nursing sessions often last no more than 2 minutes, especially if we are in public and he wants to get back to watching his surroundings. So unless someone is intently watching me as I discreetly latch/unlatch, they will likely only think I held Monkey for a minute while I was really nursing.
Over the years, I have owned various garments specifically designed for nursing. Some styles worked better for me than others. That's not to say that some products will not work for YOU, just that I developed a preference for what works best for ME and my lifestyle. I prefer to wear a nursing tank or regular tank with a built-in bra. Then I add another shirt on top of the tank. When I nurse, I can lift my shirt to expose the tank, then lower the tank so I can latch baby.
THIS is my personal secret weapon to Ninja Nursing Level: Uncovered. I am able to adjust my tank before lifting my shirt, then position baby to nurse while lifting my shirt just enough to latch baby. My stomach stays covered by the tank. The top of my torso is covered by my shirt. The only thing exposed is my nipple and a small slice of skin surrounding it, which is basically blocked by baby's head. Monkey has even grown accustomed to me pulling my shirt against his cheek slightly, which covers the little bit of skin above his head.
So there you have it. My personal steps to attaining the title of Nursing Ninja- The Shadow Breastfeeder. Following this path, I am now able to nurse in stealth mode. I employ tools (covers) when I feel they are necessary for my personal comfort. I dress so that my clothing accommodates my desire for stealth. I have learned my personal limits, knowing when I am comfortable and when I need to change my surroundings and find a place where I will be more comfortable. I routinely practice my skills so they do not become rusty. And I continually prepare for what the next step will be in my nursing relationship. My Nursing Ninja skills are always evolving, but I am pleased to say that this journey has enabled me to feel like I can nurse anywhere, anytime. A Nursing Ninja in stealth mode, breastfeeding her baby discreetly, seemlessly blending with the shadows.