Public displays of affection

Apparently, the Carnival of Nursing in Public is currently in full swing. I’m not really clear on what a “carnival” is, but I’ve read some interesting posts from bloggers participating in this festival of sorts, and it’s gotten me thinking about the hot button topic of nursing in public, or “NIP”, like the cool kids are calling it.

As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, my biggest pet peeve is hypocrisy. It kills me. Makes me switch political affliliations more often than Carrie Bradshaw switches shoes. (Actually, you could blame most perceived “flightiness” on my part – a trait for which I am well known – on my hatred of hypocrisy.) And this nursing in public controversy screams of hypocrisy, at least to my highly sensitive eye.

As mothers, we are inundated with conflicting messages: Be a supermom/Don’t over-parent. Stay home with your kids/Go back to work. Get back in shape/Relax, your kid should come first. Nurse for at least a year/Don’t let anyone see you nursing.

It’s ridiculous. We put all this pressure on women to breastfeed exclusively, and then we urge them to be discreet about it. After watching nearly every one of my friends nurse their children into early toddlerhood, I think I can safely say that even if you WANT to be discreet about it, it’s damn near impossible to do so. At the beginning, you and your babe are still figuring it all out – how the heck does anyone expect you to get a good latch when the parts involved in the process are covered by a sheet, even if it is a designer Hooter Hider? In my case, it took about an hour of fumbling and several highly trained adults to get my child to even latch a little bit. If I’d had to do it alone and sight unseen, forget about it.

By the time you perfect the art, the kid has probably become a little more in control of their bodies and minds, which means they likely have an opinion about being all hidden away from the world. I wouldn’t want to eat in the dark (although I seem to recall a weird trend in the early part of the decade where people purposely ate at expensive, completely darkened restaurants… but I think that trend died out pretty quickly. Probably because it was messy. I feel bad for the busboys at those restaurants). It’s probably pretty stuffy under those things, too.

I don’t even want to get into the whole nursing in a bathroom thing, because it just infuriates me. No one should have to hang out in a public restroom for more time than it takes for a quick pee, let alone a small infant who needs to eat.

I think the problem is that America, like it or not, is still a puritanical society. And unfortunately, I don’t know if promoting nursing as “normal” is going to solve the problem, as much as I believe it needs to be solved. I know that’s an unpopular opinion, but I hope that by discussing these things, we can try and figure out a way to alleviate the angst of this rock-and-a-hard-place situation for nursing moms, right here, and right now.

Our society is messed up on so many levels; we’re a nation of extremes. There’s no reason that near-pornographic fashion ads should be allowed on giant billboards in Times Square, while a mom can be made to feel weird about feeding her child in public. But that’s the world we live in. While for new parents, pediatricians and breastfeeding activists, it may seem like everyone cares about how we feed our kids, the fact is that most people just don’t. Even parents of older children tend to forget about all the drama over bottle vs breast as they start to deal with other battles, like learning and behavior difficulties, school budget cuts, and the REAL causes of childhood obesity or it’s ugly cousin, eating disorders. Ask your typical father of a 14-year-old girl what parenting causes he cares about, and I highly doubt breastfeeding rights will be tops on his list (even if 14 years ago, he cared deeply about this as he watched his wife struggle). And that’s a parent. What about all the childless folks who think kids are just annoying, short versions of adults that disrupt their meals, movies, shopping trips, etc.? (And come on, now… can you blame them? I wouldn’t want to be seated next to my child in a movie theater, which is why I’d never take him to one. )

This is not to say that any of this serves as an excuse, that we should just give up on trying to change public perception or cultural norms. My point is just that these issues go far deeper than breastfeeding, and we need to try and address our cultural attitude to the human body first and foremost. That may take awhile. And while it’s in the process of happening, I worry about the moms who actually need to deal with NIP at this very moment.

So, in the meantime, while smarter people than I work on the larger issues at play, I think it might be useful to address some of the more personal aspects to the NIP conundrum. Because here’s the thing: I live in a very pro-breastfeeding area, where we see people NIP constantly – and yet many of my friends never felt comfortable without a hooter hider, even if it was just a bunch of us girls hanging out in someone’s house. It struck me as strange, especially as time went on and it was just the status quo, nothing novel… I mean, at this point we were all friends, all thought nursing was “normal”…. and yet my friends were still more comfortable covering up, even 11 months into the whole breastfeeding thing.

I’m afraid that’s the thing no one talks about when they discuss NIP: it’s not always other people that make us feel weird about nursing publicly. Sometimes, it’s our own hangups about our bodies that are the true culprit.

I have more than just respect for those who are comfortable feeding their children, sans cover, in front of others. I have envy. I’ve had body image issues my whole life, and they’ve only gotten worse in my post-natal state. So when I see women who are strong enough to either not have those demons at all, or overcome them in order to feed their babies more freely, I want to cheer. But I also think we need to acknowledge that even if we change society’s attitude, right now, in our generation, there are women who are not going to feel comfortable being seen with their shirt off, or even just pulled down, in public. Even if it is in the name of love and nourishment for our children, for some of us, breasts are something we’d rather not share with the eyes of the world. And that needs to be okay.

Therefore, rather than dwell on what other people think of nursing moms, in the spirit of the Carnival of NIP, I’d like to propose two ideas to help new moms feel more at ease with their own feelings about this issue:

1. Encourage all malls, hospitals, and office buildings to have “Mom Suites” – places where all moms of infants or toddlers are welcome (both nursing and bottle feeding), with comfortable seating, and privacy. I’ve been in a few of these and I think they are the coolest. It couldn’t be that difficult to designate a small space for this purpose, could it?

2. As part of breastfeeding support groups or pre/post-natal classes, include help/advice/support for women with body image issues or particular anxiety about exposing their bodies. Rather than making them feel ashamed for not having the emotional fortitude to nurse in public, help them find solutions – ways to serve their babies’ needs without giving themselves more anxiety, because what new mom needs more of that? I believe this would help increase nursing rates among those who are afraid breastfeeding will chain them to the house; if there was some way to help them feel more comfortable in public situations, maybe it would make a year of nursing seem less daunting.

Anyway. Just two measly cents from someone who never got the chance to even attempt NIP (although I did actually nurse in front of a camera – we were the subjects of an internet series on pregnancy and they did film me that first week with one of the lactation consultants I saw… they never used the footage though, as it was probably too darn pitiful, what with the tears and screaming and all). I would’ve had to pump in public (PIP??). Now THAT would be an accomplishment. If I ever witnessed a mom pumping in the middle of Starbucks, I’d buy her a Venti Frappucino. Full sugar and all. She’d deserve it.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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44 thoughts on “Public displays of affection

  1. Wonderfully written, thank you for your insight. I am not one of the breastfeeding mamas who think that covers are shameful – I simply think that covers should be at the option of each mother and not something that is forced upon us. So I agree with you. Body image hangups? Cover away! But you're right – I wish there was a way to help each woman come to love her body as it is, pre- or post-partum. I guess I'm lucky, my body image has definitely improved post-partum, what miracles our bodies are capable of! That being said, I've worn a nursing tank top every day of my life since my son was born. But that's more my Southern Baptist upbringing than poor body image.
    As far as #1 – I understand you mean that for women who might not want to nurse/give a bottle out where everyone is walking past, but I see the potential drawback as being an attitude that such rooms are where we are “supposed” to go. And that, of course, is where cultural attitudes need to be adjusted (and mothers need to be supportive of each other).
    (Please excuse the ramble, it has been a week of very little sleep and it is late!)

  2. @Dionna,

    Oh gosh. See, I didn't even think of that. Ugg. You're totally right, of course.

    So maybe #2 is really the way to go. I guess I just like the idea of a nice lounge, especially in a big place like a mall, where a mom could even pump (if she has one of the portable ones) if need be, or just take a load off, or nurse more comfortably (sometimes public places are also places where it's hard to find a seat). But I see what you are saying, b/c then it would be really easy for someone to say, “Dear, wouldn't you be more comfortable in the Mother's Lounge?” (don't know why but I picture a blue-haired, overly perfumed department store saleswoman saying this). And that would suck.

  3. Thank you for this lovely post. This is one of the things that drives me crazy–we push breastfeeding, but don't you dare nurse in public because that's just WRONG. Seriously, we're damned if you do, damned if you don't as mothers. As you say, the hypocrisy is just infuriating.
    That being said, NIP is something I never thought I would be comfortable with…until I had the squirmiest, wriggliest baby who has been able to strong arm any kind of cover off of me since he was about 3 months old. And yet, I refuse to hide away at my house, so sometimes we have to NIP. There are places where I would prefer to be private, there are times when I've chosen my car over sitting in public, but if my choice is out in public or in a bathroom…well, welcome to my boobs world.
    Body issues, both our own and those of the culture at large (in the US) makes NIP a difficult thing for many women. I'm lucky that I have a very “go ahead and say something to me” attitude about it (and that I live in a very pro-breastfeeding area), but for women who don't share those benefits? It's an area full of minefields.

  4. That was a lovely post. Really. I am humbled by your obvious care for moms afraid of nursing in public.

    I agree with Dionna about the “Mom Suites”. My main hang-up on them is that we have to stop what we're doing and go somewhere separate to nurse—likely with a screaming child in tow. If moms always went to those rooms to breast- or formula feed, people would never see it happening and it would become even more of a social faux pas.

    I believe that covers are a wonderful thing. If that is what makes the mom more comfortable to nurse in public, then it's great for her! I used one for a short time before Peanut decided that she hated it. The problem with covers is when moms are told they HAVE to use them. If I would have given into the social norms when Peanut decided that she didn't want the cover, I probably wouldn't be nursing today.

    Thanks again for your post!

  5. I actually have pumped in one of those lounges! And that is something I would never be able to do in public, so I was very glad it was there.

    I get what everyone is saying about moms being hidden away or made to feel like that's where they “belong”, but if that's what makes the mom comfortable, she shouldn't feel pressured to step outside her comfort zone to support the cause of normalizing breastfeeding. Leave that to the women who will tell the blue-haired lady to suck it when she suggests they retire to the lounge.

    I, for one, wouldn't have been able to go as long as I did without the privacy afforded to me by my nursing cover and private lounges like that. And I'm not particularly interested in what that says about me or what kind of breastfeeding advocate that makes me.

    I just wanted a cozy place to sit and nurse Charlotte. And, really, lounges like that became necessary as she got older. Even if I nursed without a cover, she would be easily distracted by noises and people, so feeding her in a crowded mall wouldn't have worked regardless of my personal issues.

    So, yeah. I say the more lounges available (for those who want them) the better.

    And another paragraph where I use the word “lounge”!

  6. @Dionna, I'm glad you were able to change FFF's mind about nursing rooms. Those, and “hooter hiders”, don't sit well with me–they seem like a watered down version of the Saudi Arabian purdah rules (which mandate covering women's bodies, segregating them and their children from men, etc.).

    @FFF, I think you cut too much slack to the childfree crowd, but that's JMO. Also, what did you mean about “changing the law”? I am given to understand that the law already protects women's right to NIP in every state.

  7. @Alan- Sorry, but that's insane. If Hooter Hiders and nursing rooms were required, you'd have a point. But, affording moms who WANT to be more discreet opportunities to do so, is hardly oppression.

    And, I don't appreciate you imposing your agenda on the way I chose to nurse my daughter in public. It was never political for me. It was just feeding my baby.

    I really think lashing out against methods of nursing discretion (unless they are being mandated) is a pointless battle.

  8. I agree with you, it is hypocritical to push nursing and then have to hide it. I really LOLed at the PIP comment, because I exclusively pump and could just imagine what that would be like!

  9. Neither of my children would have nursed well in a busy place (like in the middle of a store) anyway. Having a quiet lounge to go relax in, with fewer distractions, would have been better.

    Especially since covers were never an option. After 6 months with my first, and 12 months with my second, I never got the hand of nursing one-handed. So I had no hands free to arrange a cover or be discrete in any way. And no, I'm not comfortable making a public show of things (more concerned about the exposed belly flab than the boobs).

  10. @Megan: You're right, it's nowhere near as bad as the situation in Saudi Arabia where the covering up of women's bodies unless they are segregated from men is part of the law. But I do think it's a little like the controversy we are seeing in Europe over the wearing of the hijab or burqa. And I just believe that these things send a subtle negative message to other women about breastfeeding, even if they are not required. After all, I doubt any formula feeder is going to buy a “bottle hider”.

    It's possible that my stance on this is counterproductive to my goal of increasing BF rates, at least in the short term (I think long term, having it be as open and public as possible is the best medicine). But I speak here more as a feminist than as a lactivist. Also, I should be clear that I'm not saying these methods of “discretion” should be banned or anything like that; just that they don't sit right with me.

  11. “Sometimes, it's our own hangups about our bodies that are the true culprit.”

    Amen sister. That's my issue. It's not a big deal if I'm wearing a nursing shirt, since they're easier to maneuver, but if I'm not? You'd better believe I'm covering up, since I think I would die if people saw my stomach right now. That to me is way worse than exposing a little boob. And by the way, those Hooter Hiders ARE stuffy. Wearing one makes me warm – I can't imagine how uncomfortable an older baby might be.

    And you're right about the early days – now is tough, since we're still figuring it out. It's getting easier, but it's not simple. For that reason (and others), I appreciate nursing rooms. For example, my local mall has some, with room for a stroller and nice big comfortable leather chairs and ottomans. Frankly, to me, that's preferable than sitting on a mall bench or a chair in the food court. I'm in total agreement with Megan on that aspect – lashing out against things like that is pointless.

  12. @Alan-Okay, fair enough. You weren't suggesting they be banned. Doing so would be as anti-feminist as it gets.

    I understand about wanting nursing to be something seen as normal and natural and something you see every day. And maybe if it was, I would have been more comfortable.

    I just don't like the vilification of something that helped me be able to nurse. Also, the rooms aren't just about “hiding”. I think it's nice for any mom, bottle or breast feeding, to have a quiet place to feed her baby.

    I guess my beef is that we complain about the pressure to cover up while nursing, but depending on your area or company, there can be pressure NOT to cover up, and that's not fair either. I was out to dinner once with a friend and her friend. When I pulled out my cover, she scoffed and made me feel like I wasn't doing it right. I don't see how that's any better than if she had been telling me to cover up. Either way I'm being pressured to feed my daughter in a way that is uncomfortable for me.

  13. Thank you. One of my problems with breastfeeding is I didn't feel comfortable nursing in public. When I brought it up to a breastfeeding support group, I got “you just have to be confident.” Unhelpful to say the least. I would have loved areas where I could have gone to feed my child and feel comfortable.

  14. (Disclaimer: I am not a parent.)
    I think the “Mom Suite” is a fantastic idea. We can work on the public perception issue (it's not like it would be new) after the fact. I think, given the option and the time, I would want to feed in a quiet place instead of while doing things. I think it would help reduce the conditioning toward eating on the go, which has proven to compound our obesity problems. I think not campaigning for safe, quiet spots for parents in public places because we're afraid of people relegating us to them misses the point. It's not about them. We're not going to be able to convince everyone that NIP is normal anytime soon, but I don't think “Mom Suites” would undermine what progress we've made.

  15. You all are definitely making some good points. I guess the issue is not as clear cut as I would like.

    It actually reminds me of the issue of gay rights, another issue of mine (of my many, lol). Leaving aside the people who are actually anti-gay, there is a serious divide between those who are all about protecting people's right to privacy as to their sexual orientation, and those who feel that each person who stays in the closet harms the overall cause a little bit, with the cumulative effect being substantial. I tend to agree with the latter perspective, but (just as here) I can sympathise with the individuals who don't feel comfortable being part of the vanguard, if you will.

    @Megan: I think it was rude of your friend to give you a hard time. But what I wonder about those hooter hiders: doesn't it feel like you are calling more attention to yourself than if you just nursed? Is it then the thought of someone actually seeing a bit of your breast that is more alarming than having a lot of people know you are breastfeeding?

    BTW, Brittany seems to have a somewhat different take on this than I do (how dare she! j/k); hopefully she'll officially weigh in soon.

  16. @Alan- I get the analogy to gay rights (and that is a HUGE issue of mine), so it did help me relate to your cause a little.

    Regarding the Hooter Hiders, I have heard that argument many times. And, well, yes, it does draw more attention to the fact that I'm nursing. But, that doesn't really bother me. I would hate to be uncovered while getting her latched, and after that, I don't know. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad considering nothing would really be visible, but it just felt more private and invited less comments or stares.

    So, maybe, like I said, I would be more comfortable if NIP were the norm. Probably, actually. But, until then, I would also not like comments and stares FOR using one, you know?

  17. You know, I wish we could all just feed our kids however, whenever and wherever works best for us. Formula or breastmilk. In public or in private. Based on our own needs, not what our culture and society tell us.
    @Alan My feeling is that for most people, covers are more about not exposing their breasts and not about hiding breastfeeding. That's how it was for me when I was able to use one, and how most of the women I know (in my very pro breastfeeding area). Which is why they are wonderful, because they allow mothers who might not be comfortable otherwise to breastfeed wherever they are.

  18. While I'm not breastfeeding my son due to complications, I remember wondering what I would do in public places. I had a cover, but once I had him never used it because I was still getting a hang of the latch and I had a hard enough time without a cover and just a shirt.

    I love the idea of there being more mom suites. I know Babies R Us has one, but that's about the only other public place I know of at the moment. Occasionally at some posh restaurant there will be a lounge section, that's also nice, but not as nice as a lounge for moms.

    That said, I think society it self does need work and pushing moms to breastfeed without a cover when they are not comfortable with that is not going to help. A good first step in my opinion would be more mom lounges, but even that that's going to be hard as it's hard enough to find a public bathroom with a changing table in it. I've had to change my son on the floor numerous times as it is. Really, I think society just needs to be more aware of moms, babies, and the many things that change when women have babies, ie nursing rooms, changing tables, etc.

    @Alan, I personally don't care if the hooter hider draws more attention to me. Again, I'm speaking about myself. I tend to be a very modest person and if the person wants to stare at the cover, so let them. As long as their not staring at my boobs or exposed midsection.

  19. I never used a cover or blanket because my babies wouldn't tolerate it. But when my son was 4 months old, we went to a family dinner for my H's grandmother's birthday and I took my son to the bathroom to nurse him because I was seated next to my brother in law. And I diubt he would hgave cared, but I was not comfertable trying to latch my baby sitting elbow to elbow with a man I'm not close with, and I didn't want him to see my boob. One of the aunts came in to pee and said, “You could do that at the table, you know,” and I could have, but I didn't WANT to.

    What seems hypocritical to me is to encourage a woman to breastfeed and then force her to do it the “right” way, whichever that may be. Some women are comfortable without covers, some are not, and some would prefer more privacy. Yes, my breast is just a breast, but there are still people I don't want seeing it under any circumstances–My BIL, my dad, my boss, my creepy leering neighbor.

    And yes to the squicky post partum stomach comments! In the early days of BF, I did try to do the blanket thing because I was more concerned that someone might see my icky saggy stomach.

  20. @Kayris,

    Yeah, that's where I was trying to come from, too. It's a hard thing, b/c I certainly see the other side – the concept of designated “nursing rooms” contributing to the concept that NIP isn't kosher and all…but at the same time, the point of my post was to encourage ways that ALL breastfeeding moms could feel more comfortable – and just like Megan pointed out, I don't think it's the act of nursing, per say, but the EXPOSURE inherent in that act. It's not that I wouldn't want someone to see me nursing – as I said, in my community, it's a badge of honor to be seen as a “nursing mom” – but I wouldn't want to expose my flabby, stretch-marked belly or ridiculously huge nursing breasts (I went from a 34C to a 40F while nursing). So the cover up, or the act of nursing in a more private area, would not have been to say “I'm ashamed of nursing”, rather, “I'm ashamed of how out of shape I am right now”.

    It's a tough one, this “room” idea. I wonder if they were designated as MOTHER'S rooms, where bottle feeding moms, diaper changing moms, etc, would be apt to go, it might alleviate the perception of it being a hideaway for nursing. Incidentally, like Andrea said, there is a real shortage of good changing areas in this world, too. I've had to change FC on the floor of stores, etc. It's gross. And frankly, I never liked having to sit there in the middle of a store to bottle feed, either… I think I would have loved a nice, quiet place to take a break.

    I think this might come down to a matter of the good of the whole vs the good of the individual. My m.o. is to side with the individual, but I certainly understand and sympathize with those who want to focus on larger, societal attitudes, also. I just wonder if there is a way to help both sides achieve what they want – the normalization of breastfeeding, but while protecting the rights of every mother to feed in a way that makes her the most comfortable.

    @Alan- Sorry, the “law” thing was a typo… I meant to say “society”. Freudian slip, maybe? I'll go change it now. Thanks for catching that.

  21. @FFF: You're welcome.

    “I wonder if they were designated as MOTHER'S rooms, where bottle feeding moms, diaper changing moms, etc, would be apt to go, it might alleviate the perception of it being a hideaway for nursing.”

    What about a father who is at the mall with baby?

  22. @Alan-

    You are absolutely right about the father thing. My husband laments this double standard all the time… he's a really involved dad, and there are times where he's alone with FC and the men's room has no changing table. It drives him nuts, and me as well (since he can usually get out of changing poopy diapers out in public with the excuse of “the men's room probably doesn't have a changing table…” ).

    I thought about this as I wrote that last comment, but then I thought we'd go off into a whole other tangent – father's rights – which is something I do feel very strongly about. In an ideal world, I think we should have a men's version of these “mother's rooms” too. But one step at a time. 🙂

  23. I nursed for 3 1/2 months and in that time I nursed in public a lot. BF has pretty high rates in my area, so that is probably why I never was made to feel uncomfortable.

    I used a cover all the time. Why? Because I didn't feel comfortable with my body. I am the women in the women's changing room at the pool trying to maneuver herself out of bathing suit and into clothing while keeping the towel firmly wrapped around. I also LOVE the room at the mall (Called a “parent room” for changing, feeding (by any means) and generally taking a break from the busy mall).

    I just find it so unfortunate how in the process of promoting breastfeeding, women are made to feel bad about HOW they breastfeed. I get that the goal is for it to seem normal and accepted. And I get the 'danger' of making it seem less excepted if it has to be hidden away. But it just perpetuates that cycle of negative feelings that women have about breastfeeding. There they are, breastfeeding away, they have someone tell them it still isn't good enough. They shouldn't use a cover or they shouldn't want a quiet room away or heaven forbid they want to only nurse at home. Could we just lay off each other?

    BTW- FFF love this post!

  24. “I wouldn't want to expose my flabby, stretch-marked belly or ridiculously huge nursing breasts (I went from a 34C to a 40F while nursing).”

    I felt much the same way, but the fact that I did kind of bothers me. I mean, when it's hot in the summer all kinds of people wear shorts and tank tops. The people who have a bit of flab might not look great in that kind of clothes, but they still do it because it's the practical thing to do in hot weather, and nobody really minds. Same with men in swimming trunks. I don't think anyone would suggest men who are overweight should always swim in a t-shirt. Some people might think they don't look good but there is no cultural more that states they shouldn't be showing their upper bodies if they aren't perfect. I wish it would be the same with breastfeeding. I wish any woman could lift up their shirt and think that nobody is going to be checking out the little bit of skin they are showing because they would understand that they are just being practical and feeding a baby.

  25. Can't we just have a “parents' lounge” that is unisex?

    I find btw that quite a few men's rooms I go into have changing tables, to my pleasant surprise.

  26. Yes to the changing table thing too. My husband got really good at changing a baby in the stroller because so many places did not have a changing table in the men's room and he was out with the kids by himself. And now that they are older (almost 6 and almost 4), it creates an issue with him taking our daughter into the men's room with him. Some places have “family” bathrooms, but others don't. I distinctly remember my dad taking me into the mens room at the beach once when I was 5 or 6, and seeing men lined up at the urinals and feeling out of place, but I was also young enough that I couldn't go in the ladies room alone.

  27. In spite of my (many) body image problems and history of abuse, I intend on nursing in public UNcovered when I have kids. And here is my reasoning: by covering up such a normal, beneficial activity, in what way am I contributing to the body image problems of the next generation? What am I telling the children who walk by when I am covering my child simply eating? Am I telling them that nursing is normal and natural no matter what? Or am I telling them that it is shameful, and that it should be hidden from sight, something to be embarrassed about? I want the next generation to know that feeding my child is more important to me than what others, or my body dysmorphic disorder, tell me. After all, if I let my body image problems control me, I'd never leave the house! 😉

    That said, I don't expect everyone to do the same, and I would never treat someone disrespectfully because they choose to cover up. My motto? Don't make assumptions. I don't know your reasons for covering any more than you know my reasons for not covering.

  28. Also, I spent time at the pool with my kids today, some of their friends, and their mothers. I'm in pretty good shape these days, and wore my bikini to the pool, but ended up leaving my tank top on for a lot of the time because I was self concious about my body. I don't think it's so weird for a postpartum woman to feel badly about her body, when most of us are plagued by some sort of body anxiety even when we look pretty good.

    Unfortunately, I think a lot of the negative ideas about NIP are perpetuated by people who don't have kids. Just because breast pumps exist doesn't mean it's easy for every mother to express enough milk that way to bottle feed in public, and just because a mom's room or whatever may exist in certain places (like BabiesRuS) doesn't mean a mom should be required to go there. It seems there are many shades of gray that people tend to overlook.

  29. @Alan, I think a Parents Room would be wonderful. I also love the idea of a Fathers Room, my church actually has one and I was really impressed.

    That said, I wouldn't feel comfortable nursing in front of men outside of my husband and son. It's just who I am personally. Maybe they could make a Parents Room with a room for nursing moms who want privacy as well.

    I think if they were to design a perfect room for such an event it would have a section for those who don't care if other men see and a section for moms who want privacy. Heck, maybe they'd even have a few single parent rooms as well for those mothers who want complete privacy or silence. I bet moms with babies who are easily distracted would really appreciate that!

    As much as many people want mothers not to feel shame or shy and nurse in public without covers and all, it's going to take a LONG time to happen. On top of that, there are always going to be women who are shy and just want the privacy.

    For me personally, it may take time. In picturing myself breastfeeding the next baby (praying it works out), I don't see myself as one who wants to nurse in front of people I don't know. Even nursing in front of other mothers I don't know is a little intimidating. I'm a bit of an introvert though and tend to be on the shy side. In order for me to relax enough to latch they baby and not get embarrassed it's taking a bit, I'd probably have to be alone where I wouldn't feel pressure. Even if it's not really there.

    Like I have said and so many other women here have said, every person is different and has different needs.

  30. Fantastic, excellent, well-done post. I am so glad you are raising awareness of how body image issues affect breastfeeding, it is so important. I will make a concerted effort to include it as one of the reasons why no one should EVER judge a mom for not breastfeeding whenever I write about the booby traps and the judgment, guilt and pressure both breastfeeding and formula-feeding moms experience, and I will be sharing this post. Thank you !

  31. (cont.)

    (2) “I am opposed to them because they perpetuate the cultural taboos about breastfeeding. I understand some babies might not get nursed without them and I would rather see a baby get mama milk than not, of course. But that does't neutralize the message they send. Saying 'I wouldn't nurse without one, I am too modest' may be very true for some women and I am not going to go rip their nursing tent away and burn it, but the fact remains that such a statement is a reinforcement in and of itself, of the misconceptions and sexist view of breasts that our culture won't outgrow. It's all a sign that we need to keep up the lactivist work.”

    (3) “I had also never heard the term NIP until I began reading US sites. Its just called feeding your baby here: there's nothing public about it.
    IMO all you need to feed a baby (barring lactation difficulties) is a breast. All the other stuff is marketing and money.”

    (4) “I find them ridiculous,but not offensive. I think they attract more attention than a nursing baby would. And i think they are unwieldy.
    But, that said, some women are much more modest than I am and if it helps them feel comfortable enough to NIP, then I'm all for it.”

    (5) “I view them to be almost exactly as offensive as burquas. Perfectly acceptable if they are what a woman chooses to wear. Something she might want to consider giving up if she wears it just because of societal feeling and not her own beliefs. An abomination if forced upon her.”

    (6) “My DH has said those exact words to me. 'All these people over here use a coverup, why don't you just get one too?' 🙁 “

    (7) “To me a nursing cover is just one huge flashing light saying there is a baby sucking on a breast in here. I'm oddly drawn to staring at them…”

    (8) “I dislike nursing cover-ups in the sense that I don't think any woman should feel obliged to wear one. If they make a woman feel more comfortable about nursing in public, then of course that's fine, but I would rather that we cultivate a climate in which nursing mothers feel they have nothing to be ashamed of.

    “I was explaining to a friend the other day why I wouldn't wear one when nursing in public (not embarrassed, need to see the latch, don't want baby to get hot, etc.). He said 'but it's not just about you, it's about what other people are comfortable seeing.' I just gave him a surprised look and said, 'well, I guess I'm just not that considerate!' “

    (9) “dh came home from church with a comment about these yesterday…. 'She had this huge bright blue shield thing on… i couldnt stop staring at her. if she'd just been bfing, i wouldnt have even noticed.' “

    (10) “It's really a catch 22. Women cover up because NIP is not as accepted and normalized as it should be. But it's not as common and normal as it should be because *I think* so many women feel they need to cover up and hence send the message that *I'm doing something private that needs to be hidden*. And private to many people = don't do it in public! So where to break the cycle? It's not by discouraging women who want to use a cover, it's by those of us who are comfortable nursing without a cover doing it often and in public so that everyone sees that you CAN NIP discreetly without a blanket over your child's head.”

  32. At a local mall we have a Family bathroom as well as a “Baby Place”. The family bathroom is for moms or dads to take their kids & babies for a change or a chance to use the toilet. The Baby Place is a quiet room with changing stations (with sinks right beside them!), rocking chairs with demi-walls and individual lighting/speaker controls, and bottle warmers! This area near the supervised children's play place so you can drop your older kids off to play while you tend to the youngsters. It is one of the most family friendly places I've been and I'm more likely to spend time there as a result.

    Most of the malls around here have something similar but nothing quite as impressive.

    Regarding the rest of it…
    My Baby.
    My Boobs.
    My Bottle.
    My Business.

  33. @Alan – I'm not sure what appropriate etiquette is for reposting people's comments about the breastfeeding experiences, but I think that's possibly crossing a line. It's one thing to link it up, another to cite, yes?

    Anyhow, I wonder if men would feel equally as open to having it all hang out for the public to see… though knowing some of the men I know, it would probably make their lives easier, so who knows.

  34. @Brooke: Um, no. Are you serious? Get real–your distinction is absurd. If someone posts something on a public site, it's just that: public. Furthermore, it's not as though I was holding their comments up for ridicule or scorn: I was citing them as especially praiseworthy in a long six-page thread most readers of this blog are unlikely to want to slog through. And it's difficult for me to imagine that they would have any objection to being cited by a fellow AP lactivist!

    I get that you probably don't enjoy reading the opinions of those who post in the Mothering community; but please–be straight up about where you're coming from and spare me the faux concern for their privacy. Sheesh.

    As for your second paragraph: I go swimming several times a week, surrounded by people with physiques far more chiselled than mine. In the pool, all I'm wearing is swim trunks; in the locker room, nothing at all. And frankly, I roll my eyes at the guys who keep their swimsuits on in the shower and furtively change in the privacy stall. Life's too short for all that, as Europeans seem to have figured out long ago.

  35. Almost all malls here in NZ have PARENTS Rooms, with arm chairs (often with curtains to draw for privacy when feeding if needed), changing stations, microwaves / bottle warmers, and often a parent / child toilet also. These were a mixed blessing for us when I was out and about with my first baby. It was fantastic that my husband could sit and give him a bottle and change him whilst I ran chores in the shops, but I also had a lot of negative comments from complete strangers when I was bottle feeding him when he was very young. I even tried to use a blanket to hide the fact that I was giving him a bottle, much like hiding my breasts had I been breastfeeding, because of the stigma attached to bottle feeding here. The end result for me was to not go out anywhere and to avoid ever having to feed my child anywhere other than the privacy of his home. Parents rooms are awesome things in theory, but people need to recognise that they DO NOT have the right to judge another parent using these facilities.

  36. @ Alan – I understand it's a public forum, but I have seen many instances where people get really upset when they learn that their comments have been copy and pasted without their consent. I was only offering up as something to think about.

  37. Alan — One point just from my perspective, as far as body image. I am one of those who is more concerned about the belly flab showing than the nursing aspect. I know there's a certain amount of crossover between the AP/lactivist/organic-crunchy-hippie-vegan type communities. No, I don't have the best eating habits, and I have a very midwestern American body, which we all know is Bad.

    Tell me the truth, if you and your wife saw someone like me (5'5″ and 175 pounds) nursing and exposing some flab, would you or would you not have a feeling of disgust for my bad habits that are obviously on display? Maybe make a comment or 2 to each other?

    I'm not accusing you personally…just saying these are the thoughts running through the mind of someone like me. I actually would love to be a super healthy person but I just haven't got there yet, and I'm embarrassed that what my body obviously shows does not represent what I really want to be.

    I know, the answer is to change how I eat — but in the moment when I had a hungry baby to nurse, *I* feel more relaxed going somewhere private than enduring 20 minutes of embarrassment and self-flagellation.

  38. You can't ignore that people have varying definitions of what it means to be modest. A dear friend of mine is very religious, and while she believes that the human body is a beautiful thing, she also believes that it is a PRIVATE thing and that it's immodest to display it. She doesn't even wear tank tops, I'm sure she thinks my daughter's tankini bathing suit is immodest (compared to her child's swim shirt and shorts) and my bikini is definitely immodest, even at the pool. She's very healthy and in great shape, but her religion teaches that she cover up. Not everyone who covers up is fat, and not everyone who covers up is ashamed of their bodies, they simply believe that it's their job to keep it private.

  39. @Bonnie: My wife and I are late converts to the whole foods lifestyle, and we still struggle to get our bodies the way we'd like them. Fat cells are created when you gain weight, but are not destroyed when you lose weight–just shrunken–and the cells fight like hell to make your body gain the weight back (this is why people yo-yo). Once you've gained a significant amount of weight, it's extremely difficult to lose it and keep it off. But you're still much better off eating “superfoods” and exercising regularly, even if you stay overweight, as we have.

    Anyway, that's a long-winded way of saying I would never judge you poorly in a situation like that (I know my wife and I have never made comments about someone who is overweight, though we have commented on people who look anorexic, or people who put a bunch of junk food in their shopping carts). And honestly, when I see someone NIP I tend to be so pleased with them, I will probably cut them slack on other things that I otherwise might judge them harshly on (like driving a giant, gas-guzzling SUV, say).

    Anyhoo…Brittany doesn't like to show her belly either, but she wears a nursing tank with nursing bra and never has to show any of her midriff.

    Still: like the people I quoted upthread, I'd rather see someone do the other kind of NIP (nurse in private) than give up on breastfeeding altogether.

    And BTW, if you or anyone else wants some suggestions for healthy foods that don't taste like “rabbit food” (I could never, ever be a raw food vegan, trust me on this), email me:

  40. Nice to see some other people from NZ in here 🙂
    (p.s Alan you said i was Australian in a previous post and that is seriously offensive ;))

    I love the PARENT rooms we have here also. It so nice knowing that if either of us go to a mall we can get into a place to change ZJ, heat a bottle, or if I was breastfeeding, somewhere quiet to go.

    Saying that I have rarely bottlefed in public here. Its seen as such a dirty thing to do and I can't deal with the horrible looks I get for doing it.

  41. From the main post: “I think the problem is that America, like it or not, is still a puritanical society.”

    Here, here. Please note, I am agreeing with FFF's statement from the stand point of those who are uncomfortable seeing OTHER people breastfeed, not whether a woman feels comfortable NIP herself. If someone feels good covering up, perfect. Uncovered? Fine. Shouldn't be skin off anyone else's back. Which brings me back to the puritanical comment: is it too much to expect someone to avert their gaze if they aren't comfortable with NIP? I don't think it is. But I'm open to disent. 🙂

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