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August 20, 2004

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I have four children, three of whom I breastfed. That said, I am only uncomfortable with public nursing if the mother is indiscreet. (Please note I am not saying that you are indiscreet, just answering your query as to what offends me about public nursing). It's okay with me as long as her breast is covered by more than just her baby's mouth. Wouldn't you be offended if a young, childless woman lifted her shirt and exposed her breasts (however briefly) while sitting across from you and your husband? Not to mention said young woman could be cited for public indecency. Breast-feeding women who don't think twice about exposing themselves really get on my nerves. It's not somehow more appropriate to be naked in public because you are nursing. I agree that nursing should in no way be compared to urination, but comparing breasts to earlobes is also taking it a bit far. Breasts, at least as viewed in our culture, are first and foremost sexual. You don't see too many women having their earlobes enlarged in order to attract the opposite sex. Lactation shouldn't be an excuse for immodesty. Feed your sweet little one, but keep your nipples out of sight--I know from experience that it's really not that difficult. Just my $0.02. God bless you.

Thanks for your comments, Denise.

It's a priority for me to make sure my shirt covers me when I'm nursing in public, but it no longer throws me if a woman makes different choices. This article from Mothering really made me think when I first read it:

http://www.mothering.com/12-0-0/html/12-1-0/bashful-brazen.shtml

It's not my own approach at all, but I hear where she's coming from.

The way I look at it you were damned if you did, and damned if you didn't. You obliged your son and kept him happy and content by nursing him- for shame, you bad mother! Or you didn't, because nursing in public is disgusting and wrong, and he cried for the rest of the trip- for shame, you bad mother!

Congratulations! I think you handled that situation like a champ!

Frankly, I'd much rather see a mom breastfeeding her baby, even if she doesn't have the discreet thing down yet, than to see these girls in their string bikinis and thong bottoms. And I disagree with Denise, breasts were made primarily for lactation. Maybe if more moms nursed the over-sexualization of the Pamela Anderson Breast model would disappear.

Just to clarify, Elena, I didn't say breasts were *made* primarily for sexual purposes, but that they are primarily viewed that way in our culture. I don't think that is how it should be, just how it is. And I find scantily clad women more offensive than breast-baring nursing moms. I'm on the same side here, I just think breast-feeding moms should respect the modesty of others, the same as they want others to respect their right to feed their child.
Blessings to all you loving mommas.

I'm just sqeamish enough about a bared nipple to avert my eyes. I suppose if I were in a neck brace or whatnot I might be offended

But I want to commend you on taking the tired and worn "Wall" cliche and making it your own by adding the image of "jarring your arms" to explain your tremors an hour after the fact. It was a very creative rescue of a cliche, something very rarely done in this day and age.

You know, in my experience it takes a long time to get that discreet nursing skill down to a science. In fact, my son and I are just getting it down now and he's in the second half of his first year. The baby blanket/tent never worked for me because, really, I need to see what I'm doing.

As much as I strive for modesty (and a comfortable, out-of-the-way armchair), with my large breasts and squirmy baby, sometimes it just doesn't happen as perfectly as I'd like. I really wish people would just give each other a break. I mean, we're all adults, right? Can't we have the maturity to realize that when you latch on a hungry baby for the millionth time to your over-worked breast that sex is about the last thing on your mind? For crying out loud, I can barely get my HUSBAND to think about sex when he sees my breasts anymore! :) We call my breast my "Working Girls" now because they feel like the unsexiest thing ever these days.

Well, I realize that I'm rabbitting on a bit here, but I just wanted to share some disjointed thoughts.

I'm with Sarah. I consider myself a discreet nurser -- I own lots of nursing tops b/c I'm more comfortable with multiple layers for maximum coverage, and I certainly don't just "let it all hang out." However, the reality of feeding a real live wiggly distract-able baby is that the nipple is sometimes exposed, for a moment or two. And it's no big deal. To me, it's no more of a faux pax than a bra strap that peeks out from a tank top or blouse.

Blankets and other tent-like covers work for some nursing pairs, but theyr'e hot and easily batted or grabbed away. They've never worked for us.

And while I'm still getting comfortable with nursing an older baby/toddler in public (my son is 14 months old), I think it's a good thing if it makes toddler nursing seem more common and normal.

And I hope that if I'm ever confronted about it by a stranger as you were, Jamie, that I will have the grace and presence of mind that you did to respond calmly and rationally. I suspect that I would be angry and defensive, however...

Oh, and in many states, a woman is explicitly protected in the law from being charged with any kind of indecency for breastfeeding in public. Even in those states without explicit legal sanction, the law generally permits breastfeeding in public.

Which to me expresses the attitude that people should take about this: it's not sexual, it's about feeding children, and give the mothers the benefit of the doubt for gosh sakes.

And even the women I've known or seen who eschew bras and lift up their non-nursing t-shirts in order to breastfeed aren't nearly as exhibitionist or brazen as the women who wear rhinestone-bedecked thongs to display above their super-low-cut jeans.

Though I may flash my nipples here and there in public, I still consider myself more modest than most women of childbearing age. Of course, I live in Los Angeles...

I've been on public transit when people are swearing a blue streak and nobody says, Hey, there are kids here -- watch your language. Sometimes people smoke on the train and nobody says anything about it.

An excellent point. The Modesty-and-Decorum Police needs to go out and catch some real criminals.

Peony,

I agree that is a good point. I'm not sure if you're referring to me when you say "Modesty and Decorum Police" (I am the one pushing modesty in these comments), but I want to reassure you that my "Say No to Swearing and Smoking" badge is pinned right next to my "Don't Show your Nipples in Public" badge. I didn't mention it here because Jamie's question was regarding public breastfeeding, not generally offensive behavior exhibited by those riding a train.

Wow. That is the best writing on this topic I have read in a loooong time!

I love your blog, however it is getting a bit spooky b/c I have established astonishing similarities--Redhead with computer weekness who just tonight was going to resub to Flylady and loves birks and granola but is a social conservative and is intending to homeschool and really likes the selkie myth so much that I was thinking of using it in a business name. Whew! To my relief, though, I have established that we are indeed not the same person, as you are Catholic (I'm Anglican) your thirtysomething, I'm twentysomething, and you are much more eloquent and hilarious than I am (I tend to stumble over my words and take things too seriously)

Anyhow, don't know the point of that.

I know this is off the subject but can I add you to my reads? Um, I breastfed both of my children and the only thing that bothered me is even when you are discreet in public people still look at you like you are a weirdo oh well, my babies got a really healthy start and i am so glad i made the decision to do that for them. God bless! :-)

Hi there,
I stumbled across your blog and really enjoy it. You seem like my kind of person.

You asked for opinions so I may as well give mine. :) Let me preface this by saying that I have no kids and are very rarely among those with kids.

What makes me uncomfortable about breastfeeding? Basically, I do not want to see nipples. I was in a department store a while back and a woman was walking around with her shirt pulled up around her neck, carrying the baby who was nursing, and nonchalantly getting on the escalator. I don't know, I just don't want to be surprised like that.

Also I am somewhat uncomfortable with babies over, say, the age of 1 nursing. I can't put my finger on *why* though, to be honest with you. Something about the baby being able to ask in words for food just gives me the willies. Again, not sure why.

As for the "public urination" thing, I think that where that comes from is that some breastfeeding advocates just repeat "but it's a natural function" and the reply is "well, so is urinating, but I don't want to see that, either!"

I guess it comes down to discretion, as mentioned above. And respect, respect for the people who are uncomfortable with it.

All that said, I don't want to see the thong and the jewelled bikini, either.

Also, I'm glad you responded so positively to the woman who was, in my opinion, pretty rude to you. Perhaps with open dialogue like this, people can reach a common ground on issues like these. Thank you for soliciting our opinions!

Denise -- no, I did not mean you specifically, I was thinking of the woman on the train and others like her.

There are all kinds of things that we do in public -- eating, drinking, speaking on a cell phone, caring for babies -- and there are polite ways to do those things. Similarly, I think it's polite for a nursing mother to avoid needless exposure, using whatever means work best for her.

But if something slips, something slips, and I don't think moms should have to worry about it. My concern is that edicts like "ALWAYS USE A BLANKET" or "NO NIPPLES" do more harm than good in that they needlessly terrify new mothers who are worried that they're going to be publicly chastised if they make a fumble, or discourage women who might breastfeed because they think they'll have to pump milk or leave the baby at home if they want to go out for a latte. I have never seen any nursing mother casually expose her entire breast in public, but I have met and known mothers who stayed home for months, or thought their only alternatives were bottles or seclusion.

It's highly unusual for adults to criticize the manners of other adults, particularly strangers. I've never seen someone just go up to another diner at a restaurant and say, you know, you really need to chew with your mouth closed, you are grossing out the entire restaurant or those scanty clothes are really inappropriate or your coarse language is offending everyone within earshot or even please stop speaking so loudly on your cell phone? Today I witnessed a revolting act of public expectoration in a grocery store, but I didn't run up and correct the man or storm off to the manager's office -- I just averted my eyes.

And yet some people think it's perfectly okay -- that it's their duty somehow -- to walk up and berate a nursing mother, even a nursing mother who is fully covered and sitting in an inconspicuous place, or to huff off to management and demand she be removed. If the Decorum Militia want to make my world a nicer place, they can start by targeting pornographic ads and coarse language and people who spit in public. Nursing moms whose sense of modesty differs from mine are hardly a threat to public morals.

When my dd was only about 2 months old, I was nursing her in a campus computer lab/learning center. There was a table a short distance away with two girls and a guy talking and pretending to study. Amariyah started crying and I started to feed her. The two girls gave me dirty looks and started talking loudly about how disgusting that was. I started to turn red and get embarassed, but then realized I should be getting upset instead. Then, a wonderful thing happend. The GUY spoke up and said there was nothing wrong with it--not only that, but that he would rather see a breastfed baby than a crying one or even one with a bottle. He talked about the health benifits for the child and the mother and told the girls that he hoped when they had kids, they would not only chose to breastfeed, but that they would be as comfortable doing it in public as I was. I wanted to hug him, but all I did was smile. It's so nice to see/hear a well informed person, more rarely a well informed guy.
dd- 7-31-03 and still bfing!

I totally agree with everything you said, Peony. My issue is more with the women who make no effort to be modest, like Mary's comment above described. If it is obvious that a woman is trying to be discreet, I don't hold it against her if she unintentionally reveals too much of her breast. Instead I would offer to help her arrange the blanket around herself, or be a temporary human screen while she gets her baby to latch on.

Thanks for hosting this discussion, Jamie. I enjoyed it. :-)

Thanks to everybody for an interesting and peaceful discussion -- I was a little worried about where comments on this post might go! Thanks too for your encouraging comments about the blog. I'm still getting the hang of blogging and I appreciate your feedback.

I so enjoy reading your blog. I, too, think the name is perfect.

I am a breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, Teva-wearing, conservative-christian mom to 3 boys, ages 9, 6 and 3, who go to Catholic school, and a baby girl. I experienced 4 miscarriages in 2002 before conceiving and carrying my 5 month old daughter to term. I am also a registered L&D nurse.

I just wrote on my blog about an issue I had this week about nursing a toddler. You handled your situation so wonderfully. I am in touch with the emotion of feeling the tremors for hours afterward.

Jody

I am a homeschooling mom to 3 kids, the youngest of whom is six-months old, and of course (!) nursing. I am also a new Catholic, having come into the church at Easter. My baby was born in February, at which time I was still in RCIA and sitting in the VERY FRONT PEW on Sundays with the rest of the group. Well, a hungry baby has no idea that we are in the middle of mass. I too, needed to see what I was doing and decided that I would just have to do it. So I did. No one said a word! I really expected them to say something about it being a church and all, at which point I would mention that it was God Himself who made the milk to come out of my breasts and God Himself who gave me a hungry baby. Luckily, I was spared. I have looked for those articles against public breastfeeding and have had a hard time. I can pray that it's a sign of change. The more of us who keep doing it, the better it will be.

Oh, and I'm big on modesty. I don't wear tight skimpy clothes, and I'm very particular about what my children are allowed to wear. That said, I have ABSOLUTELY no intention of worrying about modesty when I nurse. At what point do the other people have the responsiblity to look away if it's something they don't want to see? Come on! And I'm VERY conservative.

This post is quite old (but I do love reading your archives!) but I just had to comment:
- I definitely think that breastfeeding moms get significantly more negative comments because they are women, and even moreso generally younger women. People thus feel more comfortable calling them on (supposedly) inappropriate behaviour since the power dynamic is already working against the mom.

- re:" John Morgan, the defenestrated former etiquette columnist for The Times of London, who opined, "It is bad manners to expel any liquid from any orifice in public and breast-feeding (sic) is no different""
I wonder if he's ever sneezed in public? heh.

Love the blog. :-) All the best!

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