When Amira was born, I made it a goal to try my very best to breastfeed her. I would nurse her and also gave her bottles of breastmilk. She took the bottles without any trouble. Then, one day at a friend's Mehndi party (an event South Asian couples have before their wedding ceremony), Amira wouldn't take the bottle of breastmilk. She cried the moment it touched her lips. I tried everything to get her to drink from the bottle: I had someone else try to give her the bottle. I tried giving her the bottle. I made sure the milk didn't get spoiled and checked the temperature. I even checked to see if the lipase was the issue. Nothing. Everything was fine with the milk and the bottle, but Amira absolutely refused to drink the milk from it. She wanted to feed from me no matter what.
Thankfully, my mom was also at the party and was able to help me out. It was the first time I ever nursed Amira in a public setting, so I needed the help! It was also the first time I went to a large party after having a baby (she was 2 months at the time and my recovery was a bit difficult), so I already felt a little overwhelmed, self-conscious, and physically drained. I put on my nursing cover over my shalwar kameez and was somehow able to feed her Alhamdulilah. It was uncomfortable for Amira with all the beadwork on my dress (Pakistani dresses are beautiful, but not nursing friendly usually) and it was difficult for me, but I was just happy she was fed and felt much better.
For the next few weeks, Afroz and I tried feeding Amira milk from the bottle, but she continued to refuse it. Somehow, she developed a preference to feed only from me and nothing but. I felt grateful for the blessing of being able to breastfeed her, but I worried about what I would do when I was out and about. I had so many wedding events coming up and I needed to figure out an easier way to nurse her in fancy Pakistani attire. I didn't want to get custom dresses made or buy new ones, so I had to figure out how to breastfeed in the dresses I bought for the weddings.
Here's what I came up with when figuring out the best way to nurse in formal South Asian dresses while attending wedding events:
1. Less is more.
Wear elegant dresses that have a little kaam (beadwork) on them. Holding your baby will be much easier if the side you hold her on isn't loaded with beadwork. Your baby will be more calm and comfortable without beads and embroidery itching and scratching their skin. "But I need to look fancy for this wedding. I need more kaam on my dress!" The cut and form of the dress are what make it look elegant. Many people think wearing shalwar kameez and lenghas with loads and loads of kaam make them fancier, but in reality, less kaam and a well fitted dress will make you look much better.
I wore the dress above for my friend's wedding. It was so comfortable and taking care of Amira was so much easier during the event. I rolled it up and used a nursing clip (mentioned below). For similar dresses, check out Lena Boutique on Instagram.
2. Make sure the dress has buttons, a zipper, or is easily rolled up.
Most Pakistani dresses don't have a zipper or buttons in the front. If you can make a custom dress with buttons or a zipper, go for it! I had a dress with a zipper made for Eid and it made my life so much easier whenever I had to nurse Amira. If you can't get a custom dress or have already have a dress you really want to wear, try it on beforehand and make sure you can roll it up easily. Then, clip on a LatchPal Hands-Free Nursing Clip. This thing was a life changer for me! Half the struggle of breastfeeding in Pakistani dresses is holding the dresses up while nursing, so this clip holds up the fabric while your little one nurses comfortably. Just throw on your nursing cover (I love my En Babies 360 cover) and then put on the clip on the neckline for your shirt, roll up your shirt, and clip the fabric up. You can then focus on your baby and not on keeping your top folded up! It also works well for any other clothes that don't have buttons or zippers. Buy it on Amazon here.
3. If you feel more comfortable feeding your baby in private, see if there's a little room near the women's restroom with sofas or ask the bride/host in advance if you could nurse in the bridal room.
For one of the weddings I attended this summer, I was able to nurse Amira in the bridal room. The bride was a close friend and was completely fine with me going into the room during the party. If you don't know the bride very well, ask someone from her family or friends (if you can) if it's ok for you to borrow the bridal room for a few minutes. The room is not being used during the main event and is usually empty once the bride is done getting ready, so don't hesitate to ask!
For another wedding, there was a little room with couches attached to the bathroom, so I was able to nurse there. They also had the changing table there, so it was really convenient! You can also call the venue in advance to see if they have a private room you can use, so you know exactly where to go right when your baby is hungry. Before I attended a bridal shower, I called the venue the day before and they told me the perfect spot to nurse Amira when I got there. I felt so much more calm as a new mom who had just started attending parties with an exclusively breastfed baby Alhamdulilah.
4. Always remind yourself: Don't feel ashamed for nursing your baby in public, even during a wedding reception.
I could feel myself turning red the first time I had to nurse Amira during the Mehndi party. Feeding at a mall or restaurant was one thing, but during a wedding party with a bunch of judgmental aunties...no way! I felt like all eyes were on me, even though I wasn't flashing anyone and was very private about it. In reality, no one was looking at me. I was overthinking it and nervous for no good reason. Be confident and even if anyone says, "Why can't you do that somewhere else?" or "Why can't you just give her the bottle?" respectfully explain that breastfeeding is completely normal and that the baby won't take the bottle at this time. Keep your response short and simple and do your thing, because nothing is more important at that time than feeding your baby.
I worked so hard to keep my supply up and breastfeeding was going so well Alhamdulilah for both me and Amira. I wasn't going to give up just because it was a little more work for me and made some aunties feel uncomfortable. While looking in the mirror at home, I practiced nursing her with a cover and the nursing clip. I purposely went out with Amira and nursed her at the mall, restaurant, etc. I got her used to the cover and got myself used to doing it in a public setting. It wasn't easy at all, but it's possible! You can do it too! You'll overcome the anxiety just like I did. Trust me.
Disclaimer: Fed is best! If breastfeeding isn't working out or you prefer formula feeding your baby, do your thing. Never let anyone tell you that either option is bad. You know what your baby needs more than anyone else.