How to Nurse in Public — With Modesty!

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There’s got to be a way to talk about nursing, modesty, and covers without painting the uncovered breastfeeders as selfish exhibitionists or the covered ones as selfish prudes, right? In duly respecting nursinghood as a time for openness of many things — including our minds, hearts, and shirts — we help re-normalize a society that inaccurately views breasts as sex organs.

I hate to hear this: “Here’s XYZ method that will allow you to breastfeed in public without anyone even knowing you’re breastfeeding!”

Wait! But… I’m proud of this body’s ability to nourish that of another’s, and happily willing to embrace this directive of mother nature that began with my womb’s habitation and swiftly progressed to my boobs’ habitation.

In the public environs, I feel no reason to hide what we are actually doing, with child on breast: nurturing, trust-building, play-time stimulating, etc. I don’t pretend I’m “just holding” my child when I give him a kiss or a hug, or rub his shoulders, or treat his cut with a Band-Aid. Why am I pressured to do so when we’re breastfeeding?

In a mother-baby utopia, we may see a baby on almost every pair of breasts in every direction we look. Because that milky dreamscape isn’t a reality today, I care more above anything else that babies are being fed when they’re hungry than whether they’re fed on breasts at all, much less on breasts with or without a cover. But I think it’s important that, no matter our own comfort levels with breastfeeding, we all need to understand breastfeeding does not cross the boundary of dignity.

Why does it matter so much to me?

Well, I want my son to grow up seeing women feeding babies with their breasts, to know the power, sweetness, and beauty of it. I worry that if he sees enough women nursing under covers as the norm in his world, he’ll learn to view it as shameful, embarrassing, or inappropriate. I want him to grow up feeling comfortable with normal functions of the human body, and normal functions of a mother’s love.

Who Decides What’s Modest?

My son MaiTai and I don’t make an effort to “make it look like we’re not breastfeeding” when in fact we are (read the back story in “Coming Out From Under The Covers“).  If you see me breastfeeding in public, feel free to sidle up and chat with me about it, or the weather, or anything else. (Just keep your hands off my child 🙂 …)

Besides the immemorial swatch of skin possibly showing during our breastfeeding activities, the rest of my so-offensive human body is, in public, sufficiently hidden by clothing, which personally makes me feel rather modest. Please excuse my bare elbows and shoulders and — good Mother Mary — chest, at times. The horror.

Here is how we nurse in public modestly (see more in this post):

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I base my own definition of modesty on Mother Mary — regal, cloaked, divine, oft bare-breasted Virgin Mary, nursing Jesus in virtually every museum and church in the world. But I simply share my view, rather than attempt to brand the masses with it (please let me know if I’m failing this goal).

I feel that all aspects of mothering are inherently modest, therefore need no filter, censor, or sheath. But it seems everyone has their own mind made up about both of these M-words, mothering and modesty, as if at times one risks defying the other. I don’t expect everyone to nurse in public exactly like we do, though our refusal to change serves as a gentle suggestion for any woman who may find uncovered breastfeeding to be empowering. Feel free to take it or leave it.

Now, The Modest Mom’s (TMM) idea of modesty. She opines [bold emphasis mine]:

“Every woman is unique in how she handles the issue of modesty and nursing. Some ladies are very vehement that it is a natural thing that God created, so there is not problem in exposing yourself while you nurse. I’m sure my boys have seen more than I would want them to, but I do try to keep myself covered up with my shirt while at home, and with a nursing cover when in public. I just can’t imagine baring all in public-as I’ve seen some nursing moms do, simply because I’m feeding my child.

Very vehemently,” says she. As if standard vehemence doesn’t do us “exposed” mamas’ feelings true justice. Is she talking about people pulling down their trousers in public, or the nurturing of children? Offering a child (or satisfying his need for) the breast when necessary isn’t “exposure.” Breastfeeding is not an indulgent partaking for either party involved, as it fulfills a need for both.

If it’s something a child can see — which happens in every instance of breastfeeding ever because it does take two to tango — I’m sure adults can handle it in the same context, too. Let’s say someone’s like, “But — I can see your boobs!” … all you have to do is inform them of the 100% foolproof solution: Stop looking.

TMM is sure her boys have “seen more” than she wanted them to — more of what? Babies nursing on breasts, just like they did on hers? Is the message that it’s okay to do but not okay to see? All I know is…

I can’t imagine covering up in public, simply because I’m feeding my child.

Click here for a photo shared by TMM showing how she nurses in public modestly.

She looks great, comfortable, confident, and doing her mama thing how she wants. Still, I can’t help but get bristly with her ‘tude, guys. Not after she also gifts us with this little gem:

“Besides the modesty issue, who really wants to see a postpartum mama’s tummy complete with all her lovely stretch marks?”

Not going to have this body shaming, sweetheart. If I were to cover for any reason, there’s not a Chinaman’s chance it’d be because someone thought my body was too ugly.

Covering Up Comfortably

If your definition of modesty says that you must be covered, fine — just take your baby’s comfort into consideration as well. There are many reasons why a mother may want privacy while breastfeeding out in the big, bad world, a few of which I covered (ha!) in my previous post, “Why Do Some Breastfeeders Wear a Cover in Public?

Let’s discuss different ways that self-conscious mamas can feel more comfortable feeding their babies in public without resorting to the attention-magnet Boob Burka (I hope I’m not offending, because real burkas are totally cool).

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1). LAYER UP – Try the “two shirt method” (tank top underneath, any shirt on top, pull top shirt up and tank top down to give access to nipple, which baby covers entirely). This way your baby can breathe, doesn’t get overheated, and you can see your baby’s face, which is important for stimulating let-down.

“Undercover Mama” brand undershirts (which clasp onto any bra) fit especially well under any shirt for this double-layer trick, rendering a new wardrobe of nursing-friendly tops an unnecessary expense.

Via undercovermama.com

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2). WEAR A HAT – Remove it and use it to shade the exposed area upon latch-on and afterward. Alternatively, put a wide-brimmed cap on your baby’s head for sun protection of his scalp and your bust. This lovely beanie is 100% effective at keeping your nipple hidden, if you’re especially concerned about the sensitivities of others. Nothing to see here!

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3). RE-PURPOSE YOUR SCARF/PASHMINA – Pull down shirt, latch baby, then cover your decolletage area with the fabric. Baby gets to enjoy the fresh air (not to mention can breathe in general!) and will probably enjoy playing with the fabric’s texture, too.

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4). PERFECTLY POSITION YOUR STROLLER/EMPLOY DISTRACTIONS – Find a place to sit. Pack your purse, diaper bag and whatever else in the stroller. Angle it in front of you while nursing. Whoosh! You’ve vanished right out of view, mama magician! Don’t have a stroller? Wear something distracting on the opposite end of the feast — that is, your feet.

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5). LEARN TO NURSE BABY IN A CARRIER – Nursing in public is easiest at first while baby-wearing because you can ensure that baby stays in one spot, helping you grow more confident about your technique. Also, this a great alternative to nursing bibs if the reason you’re inclined to cover is to keep strangers at bay. People are much less likely to try cheek-pinching a baby in a carrier or wrap.

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6). GROW OUT YOUR HAIR – Use your mane to protect your little cub. The only way this can interfere with baby’s breathing is if you simultaneously smother him in kisses. Oops…

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7). WEAR A BLANKET –  …if you really want to. Maybe it’s a bit nippy out?

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Mom on the left gets the receiving blanket trick correct. Mom on the right risks suffocating her baby.

Mom on the left gets the receiving blanket trick correct. Mom on the right risks suffocating her baby.

Hopefully now we can all find a way to breastfeed in public with pride, with modesty as we see it, and without feeling like we need to pretend we’re doing something other than breastfeeding.

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