I just left to Colombo, Sri Lanka after a two week stay in Kerala, India with my two year old and three month old. We met my husband there on the way to Kerala (at our connection in the Abu Dhabi airport) and stayed with his mother and sister at their home in Kerala.
Much of our time in India we spent working remotely and visiting with family. We were able to get away for a quick mountain retreat in the shockingly green, ever-ending sea of tea plantations in Munnar (the subject of my next blog). We also had the honor of going to a beautiful traditional wedding, which required that I wear a sari.
Saris are beautiful, and I was looking forward to my husband’s sister assisting me fold, pleat, wrap, and tuck the large rectangular piece of cloth. I chose to wear a traditional Kerala sari, which is white with simple gold and red trim. However, I was a bit nervous about how I would breastfeed both my infant and my toddler wearing my sari in public at a formal wedding celebration, particularly considering how conservative the general public in this area of the world is when it comes to breasts, women showing skin, and breastfeeding.
I at first thought I was doomed to sitting in a hot dark corner, or worse a bathroom, unpinning my sari and sitting on a toilet seat feeding my baby- and nursing my toddler would be impossible. However, when I inquired with my sister-in-law how I would manage, she shrugged and showed me how to just keep the sari blouse unclipped for easy access. There are about six metal loops that hook into the front of the sari blouse, so it’s closed in the back and hooked up in the front. The sari material covers this entire area with the folded material, anyway. So, I simply hooked the top two clasps, and the bottom.
When I needed to breastfeed, it was actually quite simple- I just unclasped the bottom hook and lifted up my bra. It seemed, actually- and probably- that saris are quite well designed for breastfeeding. The sari material across the chest perfectly covers the nipple area and drapes across the chest perfectly. So, even my fussy 3 month that does not like his head covered I could position perfectly so he could nurse freely without his head covered, but the material provided just enough coverage that it appeared almost as if I was just holding him and not nursing him at all.
However, if I were to design a completely breastfeeding-friendly sari, I would simply make the bottom part of the sari blouse stretchy elastic. Instead of unclasping the hooks and keeping it open (with a gaping hole showing my breasts and bra, even though covered by sari material), one could easily just pull up and stick baby’s mouth on. But I won’t be wearing saris often enough to make that a big deal, and I am sure the breastfeeding women who do wear them often enough are pros at quickly flicking the clasps to make way for baby.
When we arrived at the wedding ceremony in a large hall, I was admittedly still cautious about where I would feed my little ones. As much of a public breastfeeder I am, I was already drawing enough unwanted attention due to the color of my skin and didn’t care for drawing more attention. But as my infant began to fuss the milk fuss, and my toddler began to whine, “want mommy’s booby juice,” I glanced over to a quiet corner with empty chairs obstructed partially by a large column. There was a mother sitting quietly with her two year old in her lap contentedly breastfeeding just below her sari.
So I sat next to her and nursed my infant a we exchanged quick glances and affirming smiles while my husband provided a little bit of shelter from the curious gazes. And soon after, if it was time for a delicious lunch feast. By the time I arrived back home, though, my sari was a mess after a day of my children in my lap, under and over my sari. My mother-in-law was right when she shook her finger at me and my toddler earlier that morning and warned me, “Children spoil saris.”
My sari was indeed spoiled, but having my children close by me and experiencing the wedding through my toddler’s eyes made it all the more fun to wear a sari for the day. And now I have a new respect for how breast-feeding friendly those not-so-complicated saris are.