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August 04, 2010

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The only time in my 4.5 years (and counting) of nursing that I (borrowed) a nursing cover was when I was wearing a strapless dress as a bridesmaid nursing a 19 month old. I only knew a few people there and after being separated from me for hours of prep + ceremony, my toddler wanted to nurse during much of the reception and I couldn't find a reasonable way to pull that off and was grateful another bridesmaid had a cover.

Jamie, I hope you never stop blogging. I adore you so.

The way to get comfortable with breastfeeding is to be around breastfeeding.

This, exactly.

I love the fact that a number of times i've nursed in public (at church, in the pub, at a restaurant) and people haven't even realised that I am nursing until they say ask if they can hold the baby and I say, well, when we're done!

I know what you mean about those covers, they just draw attention to the situation.

When I used a nursing cover in front of a rather earthy British friend, she said to me, "Oh yeah. NOTHING screams you've got a baby up your vest like that thing you got draped across your [word commonly used in England for breasts that is considered to be incredibly vulgar in American English]."
I had to agree.
That being said, I used the cover more to cover stray exposed back fat than anything else.

AMEN AMEN AMEN.

I do not own a nursing cover and I never will. The tail of my sling works fine if I find I've poorly planned my wardrobe...

I remember trying to use a blanket when my first baby was born. But, I couldn't use it AND see what I was doing at the same time. I figured we were all better off if I could just sit still and tend to my business.

And you're right--I dislike the message they send that nursing breasts are this secret, private thing that should be covered. The regular, decorative breasts, sure, but mostly covered breasts that are doing a job? Nah.

And if I hear one more person compare breastfeeding to going to the bathroom--I will scream!

Jamie, you deserve a PhD in YOU ARE SO RIGHT.

When my son was a newborn, it was deepest darkest winter, and on our first few outings I tried to nurse with a blanket over my shoulder. It didn't work. I felt awkward and obtrusive, and my son hated it. He simply wouldn't nurse with a cover over his head, which makes sense to me. I don't even like to have blankets over my head when I'm sleeping, so why should anyone have to eat under a blanket? I gave up the blanket and quickly realized that no one could easily tell the difference between nursing and just cradling the baby in my arms.

I've seen hundreds, thousands of mothers and babies out in public over the years, and the only times I've been certain on first glance that breastfeeding was occurring have been when nursing covers were involved, and that one weird time I saw an obese woman at a bus stop who had flopped her breast out the top of her V-neck shirt in order to nurse her tiny newborn. (As I drove by her, I thought: That's a really weird way to nurse, but you go girl. Nurse that baby without shame. You're making it easier for the rest of us who just discreetly lift the bottoms of our shirts.)

Brilliant.

Preach it, sister!

I do use a blanket when I'm out, especially for a new baby who's not big enough to help out by holding the breast, but most of the time I do the thing where one hooks the thumb under the shirt to hold it close. And it works.

Heh, last night I was more than 50 ft from home for the first time in 2 weeks and figured out how to walk back from our community garden while nursing the brand new baby in the ring sling. Go me! I don't use the ring sling much, but it does seem easier to nurse in it than in my preferred slings. Good to know.

Not shockingly, no one screeched to a halt in their cars to stare at the postpartum woman nursing as she walked down the block.

I hear you, but I am glad they are out there to help more women breastfeed. And I think they do make it easier for some women to do so because they aren't comfortable "exposing" their breasts in public and yet they feel like with the "hooter hider" they can leave the house and breastfeed. So I'm for that. Now, SHOULD such women feel weird about exposing a brief flash of skin to get a baby situated on a breast? That's another question, but if the HH means some women will BF longer or at all, then fine.
To illustrate how uncomfortable some women feel, I was part of a new mom's group where some of the women refused to BF in front of the other moms without covering up. In fact, I was the only one of 9 or 10 who would BF there, in the mom's group, without a cover.
And, to illustrate the harassment that is still genuinely a problem:
<http://themamabee.com/2010/08/02/suck-me-long-island-railroad/>

I hate those lampshades - they look so weird and Victorian - I am so sick of all the gear, my kid just needs to eat.

I disagree. I breastfeed my children until they are around two years old. I'm pregnant with my seventh. I love breastfeeding! But, I'd much rather see a pretty "baby au lait," which I use in public, than a woman's nipple or bared breast (which I've seen often in church). A male friend of mine actually commented that he feels more relaxed when a woman uses such a cover. Why would you ridicule intended modesty? I don't think everyone must use one when nursing, but, for pete's sake, can you find something else to pick on???? How about thong underwear for children, or breast implants???? Apparently, I'm cranky, too ;)

Dear everybody, but especially Shivaun, please keep doing what works for your family. No ridicule of anyone's desire for modesty intended here, nor any exhortations to let the back fat hang out or to just flop over the top of the strapless dress. Modesty matters to me, too.

PS Go, Amy F!! Hope you are having a great time with your little guy. :-)

I'm with you. The funny thing is that during Breastfeeding Awareness Week someone is giving them out for free. It's been all the rage on my Facebook. People excited about free Hooter Hiders!! HA! I've never had one and it would be one more thing laying on the floor of my van. C'est la vie!

Ha! I totally forgot about the fact that I also use it to cover my extra flab, or back fat! I never used a cover until baby #6. I found a cute one (NO elephants) and like that it's lightweight and I can see the baby. You are SO running out to buy your own lampshade now, right? ;)

Thanks, Jamie, for your response. I found your blog today via Elizabeth Foss' links. I enjoy a lively discussion of opinions! God bless you.

Jamie,
You are funny and I totally agree. I nursed all of my babies and it makes ME uncomfortable and nervous when a nursing mother whips one of these out. I don't know where to look!

Thank you for setting me free. I have nursed one daughter until she was 2.5 years and I am currently nursing my 17 month daughter, all without a nursing cover. But due to seeing them everywhere now, I have been thinking that should I be blessed with another baby, I will have to get one.

I agree. I think those covers are a solution to something that I really don't see as problem. But then, I've been complimented for my discreet nursing prowess before. Maybe not everyone has that talent.

Wonderful wonderful post!!! Thank you so much for this. I agree one hundred percent. The other factor, which I don't think has been brought up here yet, is that Babies Want, Need to, and Deserve to be able to look around, interact with his/her surroundings, "talk" to his/her mama while nursing, and also to "talk" to other people while he/she is nursing. I will be giving birth to my 4th baby at home, unassisted, in a couple of weeks. I have breastfed all of my kids for 2 years each, without EVER using a hideous, ridiculous, and embarrassment-inducing nursing cover. I refuse to allow other people's discomfort with life get in the way of mine.

Someone sent me one of those covers before L was born. All I could think was that it would draw more attention, as in: "What's going on under that THING?" And it's just a plain light blue, nary an elephant or farm animal.

So we went to the zoo with the 4yo and the 4 week old. Baby needed to eat. So I found a nice quiet spot, away from curious people, and fed him. Twice. Without the cover; didn't even take it. I was so proud of myself! I never would've done that with J but I'm over it now.

I doubt most people realize what's going on when you're feeding him (unless you're whipping it out at the bus-stop. That is weird.). Unless you're looking for it, that is.

Thank you for your thought-provoking post. As a breastfeeding mother myself, I don't have a problem with seeing other women breastfeeding sans cover. I do, however, have a problem with the attitude that the discomfort of other people doesn't matter. Isn't this a bit discourteous?

Please don't take this as a criticism, but rather a question from a new mommy trying to sort her own thoughts about breasfeeding in public :)

Brilliantly written! So sick of those stupid things! Most of the time, no one even knew what we were doing and I didn't cover up. They just thought I was holding my baby.

I must respectfully disagree. I love these covers, and it doesn't bother me that people know I'm nursing under there, for the same reason that some aren't bothered that the general public can see them nursing in plain sight.
The discomfort has always been on my own part, and I really don't think it's because I don't see it as something natural or normal or beautiful, etc. To me it's a modesty issue (I keep them covered while dressed too!) and I wish these had been on my radar when I had my first baby. It would have saved me many lonely hours in the car BFing while out, or sequestered in other rooms by myself. I have breastfed 4 children, and I'm still nursing the 4th, so I'm over leaving the premicese now, but it would have been great to help me be comfortable nursing in public at first.
All of that said, I did enjoy your post and the discussion! :-)

Wonderful article. But: please don't use that terrible word discreet. It always thwarts women, keeps them suppressed and without the privileges of the ever-ruling male.

The concept and name Hooter Hiders deserve only hoots of derision. As for courtesy towards others, which someone mentioned, blacks were once assumed to be courteous only if they never used facilities intended for whites.

Let's please be careful that courteous isn't confused with bowing down to irrational prejudice, based on false assumptions, that harms everyone.

Hi, Katie, thanks for your comment. For me it comes down to the relative costs. Whenever there are barriers to breastfeeding, including the perception that breastfeeding is only acceptable in certain settings, we see declining rates of initiation, exclusivity, and duration. Those shifts have real costs, both short- and long-term, to mothers and babies and those of us in the same insurance pool with them. If someone is uncomfortable with breastfeeding, he has options that include looking elsewhere and getting more comfortable with breastfeeding.

I am sympathetic to those who feel awkward around breastfeeding, but I do not think their desire not to feel awkward outweighs the right of "the least of these" to be as healthy as possible in mind and body. (I have blogged a ton about this before, often with a less grumpy tone. If you're interested, there's a bunch of stuff in the "Breastfeeding" category.)

OH MY GOODNESS, my breastfed children did not get the memo that all that nursing was supposed to make them into peaceable people. Hope this makes sense.

And Mary D, it puts a big grin on my face to hear about your outing! Do you remember the first comment you ever left me about nursing in public? Maybe I'll link it later when I have put the kibosh on the internecine warfare.

If bare breasts were not a big deal, we would not have a multi-billion dollar internet porn industry. I do think it is inconsiderate to make others feel awkward because you are flashing your breasts. No one is mandating these covers. If you are skilled enough to nurse without one and not show a thing, good for you. If a woman perceives that "breastfeeding is only acceptable in certain settings" with a cover, so she's not going to breastfeed anymore, then she is a moron.

I hate nursing covers, too!
I never used them.
I don't hide under a blanket when I'm eating....why should my baby?

Katrina, momma to nine
www.mommyninetimes.blogspot.com

I apologize for my "moron" comment above. Can I blame pregnancy hormones for my mouthy outburst?! Probably not. Anyway, I think we can all agree that nursing is good for baby and good for mom. We'd also probably agree that nursing with modesty is a good idea, whether or not you employ a cover. For me, I like having the cover option, especially in a public setting, because I can relax and not have to worry about hanging out. ;) So, on behalf of other hooter hider homies, don't hate us because we are wearing "weird, Victorian lampshades!" Sometimes we just want to keep our stuff to ourselves and covering requires less effort than holding that shirt "just so." Thanks!

"(unless you're whipping it out at the bus-stop. That is weird.)."

:( Anything, anything at all like this comment, undermines the message. What the H*ll is wrong with nursing (or "whipping it out") at the bus stop, if that is where you happen to be when baby is hungry and/or needing comfort??

Thanks for this post (which I found via Continuum Family on Facebook). I agree....except the "discreet" part. :)

I agree that dedicated nursing covers are kind of chintzy. I don't agree that nursing with a piece of fabric (I use a rayon shawl), if it helps the mom feel more comfortable and less likely to get negative attention, is part of the problem. (It's true, nobody should be giving her negative attention at all, ever, but when you're nervous about others' reactions knowing that doesn't always help. Much, much better to nurse covered up than be too anxious to nurse at all!) As you note, covering the baby makes it more obvious I'm nursing--but then, isn't it good that I'm obviously nursing in public? I like being able to pull my shirt up far enough so it isn't resting against my baby's face, sometimes, and covering her with my shawl doesn't bother her and sometimes helps her catch a little nap. And with a cover, I can nurse in the Communion line and focus on Whom I'm about to receive rather than what the teenage altar boys might see if my baby comes off and squirms away abruptly.

I am concerned that treating covering up as "part of the problem" could itself be an obstacle to breastfeeding. Caught between worries that some people will judge her for nursing uncovered and that others will judge her for not being brave enough to nurse without one, some women aren't going to nurse in public at all.

All that said, I was kind of shocked when I was nursing--with shawl in place--in the Mother's Room at Babies R Us--and a lady, who may or may not have been an employee, offered to shut the door "to give you some privacy." I guess she was trying to be nice, but what the heck, lady?!

Thanks, everybody, for keeping the discussion pleasant. It's nice to be able to have an online conversation about breastfeeding where everybody keeps her hair on. :-)

I want to reiterate the point I made toward the end of the post: this whole thing was just me blowing off steam, not me prescribing how another mother ought to nurse her baby. If I had known I'd be getting ten times my usual daily traffic in response, I might have phrased things more cautiously.

My impatience with the culture as a whole doesn't translate into impatience with individual mothers. Some mothers will cover up more than I do (Shivaun, I'm glad you stopped back by, and that's a great point about a nursing cover allowing you to be less vigilant re: holding your shirt exactly right), and others will cover up less (Selene, I'm pretty sure Mary's comment was in response to Summer's description of a woman who lifted her breast through the top of her T-shirt -- Mary was also writing about nursing her little guy in public). I am not bossy in the least about such things; I am only bossy about not being called Bossy (as in the cow). Well, and about people not trying to push new mothers around, when new mothers have enough to deal with.

My friend Katy made me laugh and laugh with her email about Hooter Hiders today: "What I'd really like to see is one with blinking LEDs and the words, 'Unleashed BREAST under here.'" :-D

Thank you for this post, it is, as someone else posted - thought provoking :)
I have had a love/hate relationship with nursing covers. I got a tiny one for my baby shower that only "worked" while my daughter couldn't grab at it. But, we had so many issues for the first couple of months that I was so frustrated because trying to get her to latch on while trying to see what I was doing was impossible! I needed 4 hands! Then I got a Bebe au Lait tha has the bonding so you can see and then I loved it for a while - until now when my daughter fights it so much! Before I became a mom, I admit that I was a bit bothered by moms nursing without covering up. Then I found it so difficult to manage to cover up at the beginning that I changed my mind (it's a woman's perogative, right?). But at the beginning with a better cover, I liked it because I could expose everything and fuss around without worrying that I was wagging my boob around in public! ;). It also worked well for a while to keep my daughter from being distracted in public! Now she's distracted by the cover! It has also helped in many occasions to get her to sleep, so like I said before - love/hate :)
Personally, I have no problem (anymore) with a mom whipping out as much boob as needed to get the job done - you go girl! But I also have no problem with her covering up, whether it's because she's more comfortable, other people are more comfortable or it's keeping babe from being distracted. I personally use it now only for other people's benifit (ie - keep them from feeling awkward). Oddly enough I'm more likely to nurse without a cover on the bus (or bus stop) then in my own home in front od my FIL. What really needs to happen is a change in the perception of our society... But that's not going to happen for a while!

My children never tolerated being covered, never, from my first baby. I seriously gave up and I know I show less breast while nursing than most people walking around the mall I work at. Now if I could only get a back fat hider.... lol.

Why question women's rights in Afghanistan who are wearing burqa's if a portion of the mothers in your own country is hiding under a breastfeeding burqa? It is simply the same type of suppression of women.

All five of my babies have hated to be covered and I think the giant nursing tents are garish and obnoxious. I'm not intentionally immodest while nursing in public, but if I happen to momentarily expose my nipple to the world, so be it. By some sort of twisted irony, I am far more concerned about displaying my gut and my love handles and my back fat. I have found that wearing a 'belly band' (the type worn during pregnancy to extend the wear of your non-maternity pants) under my shirts provides excellent coverage without adding any extra bulk to my also ample bosom (like layering a tank top would).

Thank you thank you thank you! I was playing on Facebook and found the Normalizing Nursing In Public League (NNIPL - cute, huh?) and there was a post endorsing a nursing cover. I was surprised that that group, of all groups, would ever post something like that. Then I posed this link on my FB NIP page (Hey FB: Breastfeeding In Public Is FINE - Advertising Formula Is NOT!) and got yelled at for the first comment. *sigh*

I agree that my belly fat is what I want to hide, so I like the idea of "modest middles" or soemthing along those lines instead - I am a modest person in general, but that doesn't mean my baby has to be under a blanket to eat!
~Melissa Evans

Jamie, thanks for the explanation of Mary D's comment referring to Summer's comment....but my response is still the same. I almost always lift over the top of my shirt (unless the neckline is too high) an can't imagine why that would be weird. The description of the woman at the bus stop leads me to thing maybe she was more at ease with exposing a whole breast than exposing a breast *and* the rest of what is under her shirt. To me, either would be fine, but I do feel like I am exposing less when I do the lift-over-the shirt rather than lifting the shirt itself.

Jamie, my friend shared this link on my blog after I talked about porn's role in the whole 'discreet nursing' issue. http://onesimplemama.com/2010/08/05/life-giving-breasts/
I share your sentiments about nursing covers pretty much exactly. They do come in all sorts of cute fabrics and if I did want to use a blanket, these new-fangled nursing covers are very handy. Though I also think the names are a bit odd. Though it would be funny to breastfeed with a Hooter Hider at Hooters.

Here is the point we need to get to ladies, you tell me if "covering up" helps or hinders...
my 18 and 16 year old sons were breastfed for years and see me nursing baby and toddler several times a day....
at a family party my sister-in-law, a beautiful gal with an AMPLE BOSOM was nursing my 1 year old niece without a cover, you could see about as much of the sides and tops of her breast and clevage as you might on a beach...
my 18 year old son goes right up to her, bends over and kisses the forehead of his nursing goddaughter while cooing "you love your ummies don't you" and then kisses said aunt-in-law (who BTW is only 6 years older than he is!) on the forehead with a jaunty "Hi Aunt X!" and lopes his 6 foot frame away...
this normal healthy male knows what breasts are for and when they are being used as such, the erotization is removed in that situation!
It is just a woman feeding and a baby eating...really, that is all it is....
help the next generation see the truth and beauty of breastfeeding and make this discussion moot in 20 years!

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