Breastfeeding: To Cover or Not to Cover?

The question of whether or not to cover up whilst nursing in public is a very personal one. Nursing in public seems to be the #1 anxiety amongst expectant mums – will they be able to do it ‘discreetly’? Will people stare? Or worse, will they make rude comments?

So nervous we are about feeding our babies in public, that many a mum has made the decision to only feed expressed breast milk from a bottle in public. This is to blame for many nursing relationships failing, because it interferes with the supply and demand of nursing (especially in those all-important early weeks).

I have never been worried about feeding my children in public. If Squish is hungry, I feed him. And it was the same way with Monkey. Thankfully, we live in a town in which breastfeeding is common, and is generally accepted as normal and natural. Some people I know have had derogatory comments aimed in their direction but I have never experienced anything but positive feedback, even while nursing my 20 month old on the bus.

What got me thinking about this topic in more detail was something that happened the other day – we took Monkey to his eye test appointment, and when we arrived I settled down in the waiting room to feed Squish whilst we were waiting to be called in. Immediately, the very pleasant reception staff came over and asked me if I was happy to feed there, or did I want to sit in a private room. I assured her that I would feed anywhere and didn’t mind, and that was the end of that.

This got me to thinking about how breastfeeding is still seen as something to be ashamed of. The reception lady didn’t mean anything by it; she was simply being polite and friendly, and thought that she would let me know that I could have privacy whilst nursing if I wanted it. But I wonder, are the kind and friendly faces who offer us a private room in which to nurse actually unknowingly helping to perpetuate the idea that breastfeeding should be hidden away? In a society that constantly touts the benefits of breastfeeding, and in which some women feel immense pressure to breastfeed and subsequently feel judged if they choose not to, why is doing it in public even an issue? Breastfeeding is awesome and brilliant, so why are we all so ashamed?

Half of the time, nobody can even tell if you are feeding your baby in public. People have this idea that women will want to strip everything off in order to nurse. Sure, there are some exhibitionists out there but the majority of nursing mums will simply pop out the part that needs to be out (which will then shortly be covered by the baby’s head!). There are plenty of nursing covers on the market but I personally feel that they add to the problem. Some would argue that they simply cater to a need, but I disagree. By having these covers for sale and advertising them as a must-have to feed ‘discreetly’ (ugh I hate that word), it’s sending out a very clear message that women should be ashamed of the perfectly normal and natural function of their breasts.

What do you think? Do you cover up when nursing in public?

Comments

  1. says

    I must confess, I hate nursing in public. I schedule any trips out so that I’m home before my son needs a feed. I don’t even like doing it at relatives houses, especially when there are males around.

    I remember when we had to buy a new car when Zachary was barely a couple of weeks old. It took us ages to get the paperwork done and we had to drive somewhere else to get tax. There was nowhere I felt comfortable nursing (the sales office was too pokey and the forecourt was full of people browsing) and we were out for about 5 hours. Zachary was surprisingly good being out that long without a feed, but he was getting grouchy towards the end and I felt terribly, terribly guilty. Since then, I don’t go out for more than a couple of hours and only immediately after a good feed so I know he can go without for a short while.

    I’ve never seen anyone else NIP, except for at the baby clinic which doesn’t really count. I do feel sad that it isn’t more commonplace, if it was I would feel far more comfortable giving it a go. As for whether or not we should welcome kindly staff offering us a private room, I’d have to say yes so that shyer mums like me will have somewhere to nurse our little ones. I don’t think its right that we should feel like we have to do it somewhere private, but I do appreciate the option.

    • says

      Youve never seen anyone else NIP?? thats shocking! Although i
      have to admit, most people i see NIP are at various baby groups. i had to stop on the way home from town to feed Squish the other day and i got some funny looks, but i think it was down to the fact that it was about 8pm and i was sat on a wet bench next to the main road, lol.

  2. says

    Oh, and I forgot to add that if/when I do NIP, I wouldn’t wear a cover. I feel they draw more attention than just quickly pulling up/down whatever you normally wear, not to mention it’s something else you’d have to cart around in the changing bag.

    • says

      this is mostly my argument with the nursing covers, they def. do draw more attention, so whats the point? like you said, just pulling up your top is much less of a pain. i used to use a muslin cloth to cover when jack was little and i was still shy about NIP.

  3. says

    I don’t use a cover, it always seemed like too much of a hassle. I did once or twice use the tail end of my sling to cover her during staff meetings a work, but that was about it. I agree with you that they perpetuate the idea that it’s shameful. I think one of the biggest service we can do for one another as women is to not hide that we nurse and to make other new moms feel comfortable if we see them nursing in public. I often talk about Nora nursing or post pictures of her doing it on my blog and Facebook page; I consider it a sort of PSA for breastfeeding!

  4. Caroline says

    I’m still very much in the ‘learning’ stage as Alicia is only 19 days old and we have had a shaky start to breastfeeding. She takes ages to latch on, so I end up having a boob hanging out for 10-15 mins trying to get an increasingly loud baby to latch on. This is not especially discrete so the three times I’ve nursed in public I’ve used a cover until I’ve got her latched on, then I take the cover away. I don’t see how anyone can be offended by the back of her head ;)

  5. April says

    I usually have a blanket thrown over my shoulder when I nurse in public, but that is more to have something I can grab to stop the flow when he pulls off mid-stream and it shoots him in the face. Plus, I try to wear layers or something to cover my tummy. That I don’t really want shown off.

    On the other hand, I think I’ve only seen one other woman nursing in public. She and I were both with our families at the science museum and had been passing each other all day. I haven’t attended any baby groups, etc. I myself have nursed everywhere, restaurants, work, the car, while standing in line at the grocery store. I had to be out and about so soon after he was born that I hadn’t really had the time to spend getting the hang of everything.

    I’ve only had one person say something at my other son’s dentist appt. She said that she was glad to see someone nursing in public because she was a breastfeeding counselor and so many women told her that they thought they would be stuck at home if they were nursing.

  6. says

    First off, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog. I found it looking for discussion on this exact topic in doing research for my own blog. I am an on demand breastfeeding mama of an 8 month old and I am happy to feed her whenever, wherever. But, while I have never had any negative comments made towards me, I surely have a lot of stares and people looking away uncomfortably. I was given some of the nursing covers which I attempted to use at first, but my daughter was never a fan. It was really more for my husband then anyone else because he didn’t want anyone looking at my boobs…but I think he finally realized that it wasn’t about my boobs at all, but rather all about feeding my baby. Now he is proud of me to feed my daughter in public.
    Thank you for raising awareness for this. I look forward to following your blog.

    • says

      Thank you for stopping by to comment :) how lovely that your husband had such a turnaround of opinion. These babies are very good at changing our minds, haha. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with on this subject :)

  7. Emma says

    I always wear a nursing vest under my shirt so the shirt comes up and the vest down, leaving very little exposed. I’ve had long conversations with people while breastfeeding and then found they had no idea what I was doing!

    In the early days I used to choose little independent cafes to feed in, the kind of place where you can catch their eye and get them to bring more cake if the feed is going on for a long time, and where conversations happen spontaneously between total strangers. I found that sitting on my own breastfeeding made it more likely that people would catch my eye and smile, or even start a conversation.

    These days, my son is a bit more distractable and keeps coming off to look at things, but you’d still have to be up pretty close to see anything. The reaction I’ve encountered most often is people (often older ladies) coming over to say how lovely it is to see a mum feeding her baby. The one or two negative comments were from people I knew, and there wasn’t much left by the time I’d finished with them. As I pointed out, the “oh, do we all get a turn” comment from older men is about as appropriate as asking a girl in a bikini on the beach if you can have a feel.

    The only times I’ve really made an effort to cover up were at a very Orthodox bar mitzvah party and at a christening. In the church, no one noticed, and at the bar mitzvah everyone did and smiled approvingly!

  8. says

    I generally did, but it was for my own modesty and comfort. I didn’t care how others felt about breastfeeding, but I wasn’t comfortable with other people staring or seeing my boobs. So I generally covered up. Not always though. When on vacation in Key West it was too damn hot to cover myself and the baby, so I didn’t. I figured I was in Key West, a nursing mother wasn’t the craziest thing the natives have ever seen. After that, I was a lot less modest about it.

  9. cat says

    Yeah I live in Florida and if I’m outside I’m not using a cover. I care more about my baby not overheating than other people’s comfort. I did get one lady who told me to go do that in the bathroom. I told her to go eat in a dirty bathroom and tell me how it is

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