Target nurse-ins across the U.S. and getting into some friendly but undoubtedly heated debate with some friends about the issue, thoughts about “covering up” are on my mind.
I cover up when I nurse in public. Sometimes, I cover up when I nurse at home – like if we have guests besides my mother, my sister, or a friend I know won’t care. I am one of those people who likes to keep people happy and avoid tense situations, and I recognize that other people may be uncomfortable if I nurse uncovered and have an accidental nip-slip (which is very possible given that Bee likes to stop and take in the scenery mid-nursing). If others are uncomfortable, I feel uncomfortable. So I cover up. I’ve learned lots of tricks over the past few years. Those darn nursing covers are useless. Better to tuck a blanket under a bra strap to hold it in place. Or, my favorite trick last winter: throw a cardigan over my shoulder and tuck in under my elbow – that’s a mom-trick for when you reach the point of being too lazy to carry an extra blanket around.
Covering up is a pain in the butt. With newborns, it’s challenging because they don’t know what they’re doing. As a nursing mom, you need to be able to see them to watch them latch on and guide them to the breast – which is hard enough without trying to maneuver around a blanket and worry about whether everything is staying covered. There’s a period of a couple of months when it’s not so bad – baby has finally gotten the hang of latching on and off without much trouble, and stays pretty calm and focused while nursing (i.e., the cover stays on). But that period doesn’t last long before the antsy-baby phase hits. This is when the baby starts wiggling and squirming, grabbing the cover and trying to throw it to the floor – probably all the while continuing to nurse. They get distractible and want to stop and look around, and certainly don’t want a blanket on their head. This is all in the first year, when babies need to nurse every couple of hours (newborns) or at least every few hours (older infants) – meaning mom is going to have to nurse in public, unless she wants to be confined to the house or deal with the other pain the butt, pumping. (Pumping isn’t an option for everyone, for reasons that can range from difficulty pumping to a baby that refuses to take a bottle...plus it is time-consuming so most moms don't want to do it unless they really need to.)
Besides the fact covering up is a pain, it sucks that so many of us feel we need to cover up. Lots has been written on the myriad of reasons it shouldn’t be necessary – and it certainly shouldn’t be required. I’ll throw in a few of my favorite links at the bottom of this post. But here are the reasons that resonate most with me - a few reasons I don’t think moms should have to cover up:
- First and foremost, we cover up things that are shameful or embarrassing or, perhaps, just need to be kept private. What is shameful or embarrassing or even private about feeding a baby? Or, as I’ve heard recently, “Gross”? Is a woman’s body what is gross? A child eating? I just don’t get where the “gross” part comes in. Unfortunately, our culture still seems to confuse breastfeeding with sex and exhibitionism. There is nothing obscene about nursing. Moms are not nursing uncovered because they want to expose themselves or want attention or want to make you uncomfortable. They are just doing it what they need to do to feed their baby in a way that is convenient and efficient and works for their child – so that they can keep breastfeeding, because it is important to them to do so. Your discomfort is a side effect and it isn’t what the mom’s breastfeeding is about. If it makes you uncomfortable, DON’T WATCH. It’s that simple.
- Mothers are being asked to put others’ comfort before the comfort and needs of their children. Some babies simply won’t tolerate being covered (check out this video) – does that mean their moms should stop breastfeeding them or not nurse them unless they are sitting at home? Babies nurse a lot - some moms would be stuck at home all day! More and more medical associations and other groups in the U.S. are recognizing the value of nursing and promoting it…yet, as Best for Babes, puts so clearly: “If we want to see more mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals, we need to make it as easy and convenient to breastfeed in public as we have made it to bottlefeed.” Telling moms when and where and how they can nurse undermines any support our culture might claim for breastfeeding.
- I wish I was one of those moms who had the courage to nurse without a cover. Why? Because we won’t get comfortable with breastfeeding until we see more of it. It’s the basic concept of desensitization – we get less distressed/uncomfortable/excited/etc. by something the more often or longer we are exposed to it. If we saw women nursing uncovered every day, in all settings, it would stop being an issue. It would just be. So, to all you moms nursing in public without a cover (and those nursing with one, too) – NURSE ON, MOMMAS!
No one asks bottle feeding moms to put a blanket over their babies’ head while they give a bottle in public. Most moms would feel really ridiculous doing this. No one asks bottle feeding moms to go in a different room to feed their babies. Most moms would quickly realize how isolating and inconvenient this is. I bet you wouldn’t take your lunch in a changing room to eat alone or put a blanket over your head while you eat. So why are nursing moms so often expected to do these things?
Yes, I cover up. I don’t have to and I wish I didn’t feel the need to.
Great pages to check out:
- PhDinParenting – Covering up is a Feminist Issue (video version) and 50 Reasons for Breastfeeding Anytime, Anywhere
- Youtube video, “Nursing Etiquette”
- Best for Babes – Check out the FAQ on the Target Nurse-In and
- All but five states have laws protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed in public (Idaho, Michigan, South Dakota, Virginia, & West Virginia – y’all need to get up to speed!). Over half of these states specify that breastfeeding is not public indecency.