A Paean to Nursing Mothers

If you don’t have any kids and don’t know much about them, pay attention. Until recently I did not appreciate just what the job of a nursing mother entails, how difficult and important it is. Brain surgeons, Navy SEALS, and air traffic controllers have nothing on nursing mothers.

Let’s do a bit of math. In those early weeks, a breastfeeding mother must feed her child 8 to 10 times a day. That works out to once every two or three hours. The actual process of breastfeeding can take a good long time in itself, too: you may have five minutes or so getting the kid settled down and/or woken up enough to eat, and you’ve got to intersperse the feeding with frequent burpings. Add all that onto 30-40 minutes of actual nursing, and you’re looking at a good hour for the whole process. Which translates, when you look at it, into more than a third of your time. This is how it is both day and night, with no breaks—there is no such thing as even four hours of interrupted sleep for a nursing mother. And remember that while nursing your child is literally sucking energy out of you, so you’re likely to be a good deal more exhausted in the first place. And we haven’t even gotten into the details of the physical havoc that labor has probably wreaked on you, that you are struggling to recover from even as all these other demands are being placed on your time and energy. Nor have we touched on the fact that nursing is only one facet of the attention that a new baby commands.

So the next time you see that mother nursing at your favorite coffee shop, don’t avert your eyes, and certainly don’t mutter under your breath about how uncouth it is to nurse in public. Approach her respectfully and give her a snappy salute. And if she is a single mom, or has twins, then you must approach her on hands and knees and place your forehead to the floor at her feet. Remain there until she deigns to touch your shoulder and bids you rise. She deserves nothing less.