Breastfeeding and Bass Playing: Navigating Early Parenthood While Playing in a Band
By Hallie Switzer, Mom, Musician and Certified Lactation Councillor, @good_mammaries
I am going to try and distill the experience of playing music while exclusively breastfeeding my infant into three somewhat readable posts. Here we go. Before my pregnancy and until I was 36 weeks pregnant, I played bass for @lunaliband. I loved it so fricken’ much.
People were into the fact that I was visibly pregnant on stage. Especially playing rock-adjacent music that could be quite heavy. I felt happy, representing the experience of pregnancy/parenthood in a space where it is very rarely seen. In all the support and excitement about my pregnancy I did wonder what would happen once the baby entered the scene. I figured I would have to step back, at least for a while after they were born before returning to shows, which I did. An awesome musician and friend subbed for me on bass for the first 3-ish months of my child’s life.
When the time came for me to return to rehearsal and playing shows, my partner and I tried to introduce a bottle so someone could feed our baby my expressed milk while I was away. After many attempts, (different bottles, positions, people, times of day…) we called it quits. Figuring there would be a way I could nurse my baby around the show or ensure I would be gone for only those few hours between feeds. I had spent basically every moment with my baby since her birth, so truth be told, the pending separation was stressful for us both!
It turns out, it takes a whole team of support to allow an exclusively nursing parent to play a show, (especially when the show is late and the venue or promoter is not prepared to be supportive of your needs.
Body-feeding I suppose is not very rock and roll? (Because there is very little precedent for it!! (Omg I could go onnn about the view of motherhood in the music industry… but for now… )) How about the image of a person with engorged breasts spraying milk onto an audience while ripping a guitar solo?!? That’s pretty rock and roll! (Granted, this is not something I have ever seen/done…. But would that not be amazing!?) I digress…
Here is a little peak behind the curtain at what it was like for me to play a show with an exclusively breastfed infant:
For context, this venue would not allow my baby in the building. I reached out to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission and they said that although it is legal to bring a nursing infant into a 19+ venue, the business has the right to turn anyone away (my 3 month old baby). I considered spreading the word about their discriminatory policy but decided to cool it for my first show back and not say anything. Maybe this was a mistake.
So, no baby in the building. It was a chilly September night so circling the venue in a stroller for several hours was a no-go, but being a car drive away from my baby for more than 2 hours was not something I was comfortable with.
It went like this:
5:00- We drive to my parents’ house, my partner (who is the drummer in the band) takes my bass and leaves for the venue.
Between 6-8 the rest of the band is sound checking; they check MY bass for me. (Not ideal but very accommodating and I appreciate it!) Meanwhile I am nursing my baby to sleep at my parents’ house.
9:00- She sleeps, and I get ready.
9:30 – My mom and I carefully place her in her car seat and drive to the venue.
10:00 – Little band photo shoot before the set, I come back to the parked car where my mom is sitting in the back seat with my sleeping baby. All is good.
10:30 – My mom texts, baby is awake. I nurse her in the back seat of the car, she falls back to sleep, and I pass her back to my mom.
11:00 – We play our 40 minute set.
11:40 – I pack up and plan to head back to the car to check on them. Baby is awake! My mom has her in the carrier and is walking around outside the venue, dodging the people smoking outside between sets. I see them and am flooded with so many feelings: Happiness (I get to do what I love and then see my baby!) Relief (that we pulled this less-than-ideal situation off), Guilt (is this bad? My baby loitering around College street at nearly midnight? Will this ever actually work?)
Midnight – We pile back in the car; I nurse my baby once more and we drive back to my parents’ house. I wash off my glitter and fall into bed cuddling my little baby, exhausted and preparing myself to nurse again in the next hour or so.
This is more more-or-less how it would go. Although shout out to @thedanforthmusichall who let me BRING my baby INSIDE and we nursed in the Green Room like queens.
When we were offered to play Halifax Pop Explosion I was so excited to do it and bring my little one along! However, pulling this off required what felt like months of planning and forethought. We flew versus drove, ($-out-of-pocket choice), a band member’s awesome mom was going to be in Halifax as well and was happy to be with my then 5-month-old (still EBF) during sound-check and our set. Thankfully our accommodations were super close to the venue (the festival director gave us his own apartment!) so I was able to nurse my baby to sleep and then sneak away to go play the show. I came back pretty much right after our set, which is not ideal for music-festival schmoozing and just enjoying the festival in general, but I was happy to be snuggled with my baby after a good show! The rest of my awesome band mates tip-toe-ing in hours later knowing there was a sleeping baby crashing with the band tonight. Even when it felt hard, this trip was the best of my life!
We were gearing up for a multi-city tour with @bornruffiansmusic when covid hit. My baby would tag-along, and it was going to be nuts. So many moving parts; traveling with the car seat, reaching out to each venue to figure out their polices re: baby backstage, getting accommodations close to the venue so I could get back quickly even if I didn’t have car access (the band might need the vehicles to load gear), It would be winter so loitering near the venue wasn’t an option, scheduling grandmas to come with us…Woah… It felt like I was trying to make the impossible possible. I felt like a burden, I felt like I was exhausting not just myself but the people around me but was determined to make it work! Covid of course put the brakes on touring, so I never got to see how it would have worked out.
This space was not designed for parents, and that is challenging. I share all of this to expose some of the obstacle-navigating and crazy mechanics that make amazing things possible but are often unseen.
Moms in music, keep making it happen!