Dear Nursing Mothers,
I wholeheartedly support and encourage breastfeeding. I nursed both my children and valued that experience for their sake and for my own as a mom. I highly recommend it for anyone who is able to do it successfully.
That said, I strongly disagree with the notion that asking moms to be discreet while nursing in public is some kind of evil. Daring to suggest that breasts aren’t simply bared in public at will for the purpose of feeding a baby can bring much criticism.
There are satirical videos circulating which aim to show the ridiculousness of placing a light cover over breast and baby because none of us grown ups would want to eat at the table with a towel over our heads. You’re not comparing apples to apples; this comparison makes you look silly.
First of all, let’s narrow this down: No one is suggesting a breast cannot be bare in your home, which is likely where you do most of your baby feeding. Of the times you are in public, only a few will require a breastfeeding session. And on those few occasions, I completely disagree that being discreet will affect your baby’s overall nursing experience and make them feel as awkward or uncomfortable as I would be sitting at a table trying to lift food from plate to mouth under a tea towel. A baby can quite comfortably nurse, often with eyes closed, even with a cover (and no, they don’t overheat; seriously, this argument is ridiculous. Use some light cotton!) And yes, I know that sometimes the baby can pull it down, just as the video shows with sarcasm. But at least the effort is made, and an unintentional flash of breast is received with much less reaction than a point being made by someone who doesn’t seem to care about discretion. I have seen mothers nursing who manage to be discreet even without a cover, successfully feeding their babies without baring their breasts.
Secondly, there is the argument that if women are allowed to bare cleavage in other ways every day, breastfeeding moms shouldn’t have to cover up in public. Just so you know where I stand: I DON’T NEED TO SEE BREASTS BARED IN PUBLIC, PERIOD. On one hand, I see your point that if one is acceptable, the other should be as well, the problem is that one is about immodesty and a lack of respect for the people around the cleavage, and the other is about a beautiful and intimate experience between mother and child. Do you really want to put these two things on the same level? They are NOT the same thing.
Do you really want your main arguments to be that 1) if adults don’t put towels over their heads to eat babies shouldn’t have to nurse discreetly and 2) if immodest women can walk around baring their breasts in public you should get to do the same?
Thirdly, the videos make the suggestion that covering up teaches older children that it is shameful to show breasts being used for “the other” purpose for which they were made. Again, silly. Most of the time you are nursing at home and you are free to show off your other purpose to your other children any time you wish. Covering up once in a while if nursing in public teaches your children respect and discretion, and that sometimes things done in the privacy of your home between family members are not done – or at least are not done in the same ways – in public places. Book and movie covers in stores show couples making out, and some people are quite indiscreet with their intimacy in public places, but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t use this argument to teach your children that it’s acceptable for you to become intimate with your husband in public the way you would at home. So just because some breasts are freely bared doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do.
I don’t agree when a restaurant owner asks a mother nursing discreetly – covered – to leave. But I do find myself losing sympathy in general for the breastfeeding in public argument when it seems that you are pushing all limits in the same way that other groups do today. Taking it to such a level demeans the whole thing. I’m not a prude, but I believe that in this matter, and in many other matters that are becoming big issues today, discretion is a good idea. People who push too far to have things exactly as they wish often lose support along the way.
Seriously, WHAT is the big deal? Are you fighting this because you CAN? Do you really think it affects your baby?
I rarely (and I say rarely only because I want to say “never” but there might have been that one time…) found the need to nurse my babies in public. If I was going to a Church service on Sunday, I nursed before I left home and they were fine for the hour at Church. If I was going out to a restaurant or to shop, I nursed before I left home. When I was at someone else’s house and needed to nurse, I used a receiving blanket to cover my breast and my children were not digestively challenged or overheated because of it. Yes, looking at your sweet baby’s face while nursing is a lovely part of it, and realistically most of the time that is exactly what you do – at home. While I didn’t personally see the need to breastfeed in public myself, I have nothing against it when done with discretion. It doesn’t offend me.
I also recognize that some mothers choose to feed on demand and would be appalled at the idea of scheduling a feeding to accommodate a public outing. I won’t argue that point, but I will suggest it falls into the same category as anything else you choose to do for your children in your own home that might not work well outside your home, such as allowing certain behaviours, foods, or complete silence while they nap, as you cannot expect that others will comply with your chosen system everywhere you go. That’s how it works when you are a parent.
Lastly, your push for bare breast nursing in public to be widely acceptable does put an added discomfort on those moms who choose to remain discreet and covered, as if they aren’t supporting your cause. I am aware that even within the vast circle of moms who advocate for breastfeeding in general as the best source of nutrition for their babies, there are differences of opinions on how to do it, when to do it, where to do it, and how long to do it. And just as it happens in groups supporting any other cause, some very strong advocates can make things uncomfortable for others among them. As with any aspect of parenting, your choice is your choice. But your choice shouldn’t be pushed at other people.
No one is trying to stop you from breastfeeding. No one is condemning you or taking away your rights. Is this fight about not wanting to cover up once in a while in a public place to use discretion really helping people to understand the value and importance of what you are doing for your baby? Nope. It’s about you. And it’s making people very aware that your biggest concern is being allowed to bare your naked breast in public because others looking for sexual attention do. Think about it.
Signed: A Middle-Aged Mom with Life (and breastfeeding) Experience