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Nine Months Later: Thoughts on Nursing

April 11, 2011

This is not the post I planned on writing today but it is something I feel is important to put out there.  This morning while cleaning up in the bedroom, I found a piece of paper torn from a notebook with the date 6/20/09 written in the corner.  O was three days old and our breastfeeding relationship was anything but harmonious.  Upon looking at this torn notebook page, one scribbled line in particular stands out:  3:10-4:10  1/2 hour each side  1.25 ounces.  My goodness.

Lately it seems everyone I know has a new baby.  Naturally, there is a lot of talk of breastfeeding and well, actual breastfeeding happening.  Most of the time it doesn’t bother me.  Most of the time I can participate in the conversation without explaining myself or going into the details of my EPing.  I find the healing is easier if I don’t rehash our traumatic birth and subsequent latching issues with every mother I meet.

Lately though, I keep bumping into a sentiment that is making me a little cranky:  “I support breastfeeding as long as the mother does so discretely.”  Pardon me?  What’s with the caveat?  How does this support breastfeeding?  Don’t get me wrong, I believe people who say things like this have their hearts in the right place, but this sort of thinking ultimately does nothing to promote breastfeeding as the healthy normal everyday activity it is.  Implying that a breastfeeding mother should cover up only sends the message that breastfeeding is something that needs to be hidden, something to be done behind closed doors, so to speak.

I think the important issue here is choice.  If a breastfeeding mother chooses to cover up because that is what makes her comfortable, that is one thing.  Being made to feel like covering up is the only decent thing to do?  Well, that is another thing entirely.

Although O and I have not been nursing for nearly nine months now, this is something I still think about often.  It is important that nursing mothers are supported and the language we use is absolutely a part of that.

So, what are your thoughts?

23 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2011 12:41 pm

    Great words. I cover because I want to & because my daughter doesn’t mind (yet). As she gets older, I’m sure we’ll get our looks and stares. But I already get nasty looks when I breastfeed covered in our conservative community. If they are so disgusted by me doing that, then why bother covering? Gotta give ’em something to talk about, right? ;-)

    • April 13, 2011 6:28 pm

      I’ve been out with my sister while she has been the recipient of many stares. Gosh, you know, I sometimes think the cover attracts more attention than not using one at all.

  2. Amanda permalink
    April 11, 2011 2:21 pm

    Thank you for this Carrie! I have the same sentiments. I am often not sure if someone saying *discretely* means the mother should be covered-up, or if they mean she should not attract attention to the act, or if they mean she should hide off in a corner. I say the only responsibility a breastfeeding Mama has is to be respectable. You cannot really hide that you breastfeeding and no one shoul feel the need to try for fear of judgement. It is a natural act of nourishment for your child that any breastfeeding mother should be proud of doing anywhere and anyway they feel comfortable. I support all breastfeeding without reservations. I persoanlly cover-up in public and in the presence of males that are not immediate family, I do this for my own sense of modesty and because I don’t wish to make others uncomfortable.

  3. April 11, 2011 4:18 pm

    Hmm. I was breastfeeding the Beast in a Mexican resaurant last night. I don’t wave my breasts around or announce to the world that I’m going to breastfeed, but I don’t hide it, either.

    When I see women breastfeeding – totally covered up – it makes me a little sad. It could be their choice. It could be what makes them comfortable. But I think a lot of the times it’s a societal pressure. It makes my heart sing to see women breastfeeding in public (covered or otherwise). It’s normal, it’s natural, and the masses need to be reminded of that. At least, that’s my opinion. (:

  4. kim mcintosh permalink
    April 11, 2011 10:17 pm

    This is an issue near and dear to my heart! I have been contemplating lately why/how it is that our society has gone to all this trouble to declare public spaces (i.e. restaurants, stores, etc.) as breastfeeding friendly but that the people who make the comments about mothers needing to nurse ‘discreetly’ or ‘why can’t they use a bottle while they are out’ are usually women, and often mothers.
    I personally like to nurse my baby whenever and wherever she wants to and I do not use a cover. Why are other women making it ‘wrong’ to nurse openly? In a culture where breastfeeding mother’s are often fighting an up hill battle as it is why are we making it more difficult by suggesting they cover up, like nursing is somehow dirty and wrong? I know a few people who, I am very sure, gave up on nursing partially because they couldn’t figure out how to nurse in public. In a way I feel the same way about nursing rooms at shopping malls. While I am totally for the concept I despise that I have had other nursing mothers tell me to use the nursing room when they see me nursing on a bench. They are not commenting to provide me with information but to look down on me as if I’m in the wrong for nursing outside of the designated room. It makes me wonder if we have made things better or worse by designating spaces for nursing. All so sad in my opinion. I am absolutely not against covering up if that is what makes you most comfortable but I do have an issue with other people trying to make that choice for you. Grrrrr! :)

    • April 13, 2011 6:42 pm

      I think it’s lovely to have a quiet space for nursing couples to go (“nursing room”) but no one should ever feel like they *can’t* nurse elsewhere just because the space exists.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kim!

  5. Michelle permalink
    April 12, 2011 4:56 pm

    I think it is very important! I can not stand that at our mall there is a nursing area that is basically a glorified bathroom stall. Would you want someone to serve you a meal in the restroom? Probably not! I also think it’s a bit ridiculous to say mothers should be “discrete” when nursing, when you can see less breast exposed than other places. Apparently it is only okay to show excessive boob if there is not a baby attached to it, because that is just gross! In my experience, the women who are opposed to it either never tried or quit early on for various reasons. I usually cover out in public just because my kids were those babies that “popped off” frequently while eating and then there would be a whole lot exposed and milk spraying nonsense, and who wants that? However, I did warn friends and family that if they did not want to see any part of my breasts then they should not come to my home because I will be nursing a baby and I do not cover up in my own home. Have to be free somewhere :)

    • April 13, 2011 6:47 pm

      Hi Michelle,
      Geeez… When I think of “nursing room”, I’m imagining comfy couches and pillows. The one near you doesn’t sound good at all!
      And yeah, I honestly think a lot of people are uncomfortable with breastfeeding because of the intimacy of it. As a culture, we seem to have some trouble differentiating between what is simply intimate and what is sexual. I don’t think it’s the act of breastfeeding that freaks people out so much as the breasts themselves. We’re oddly ok with objectifying breasts, but use them for anything else and people start to get nervous! ;)

  6. April 13, 2011 1:04 pm

    I wanted to think about this for a day or two before I commented, because I don’t want to say this wrong or be misunderstood. You know that I am pro-breastfeeding, and that I have also had struggles to make it work – and a baby who never did. I know the importance of it and the heartache when it doesn’t all go as planned. I am fully supportive of any mother who wants to nurse in public, with no caveat or reservation. I wish that our society were more accepting of it and would be more supportive for mothers – both the ones who can and the ones who try and the ones who can’t.

    However, this militant pro-breast feeding movement bothers me, too. There are too many women out there flashing their boobs to make their point, insisting that everyone be comfortable with their nursing, and belittling mothers who don’t. This idea that by being brazen and insulting to those who don’t approve or understand will change society or make the public more accepting of breastfeeding is totally misguided, and frankly disturbing. I believe that it has a negative impact on our cause and is even more of a turn off to those inclined to be uncomfortable with it.

    I think that as nursing mothers we should be aware of our surroundings and respectful of our audience. I have nursed babies in public many, many times. But always with an eye to modesty and respect. Feeding my baby is of the utmost importance, and if it isn’t possible to be discrete, then so be it. But, I am not trying to make a statement by nursing in public, and I don’t draw attention to it. I just latch the kid on and continue the conversation (or meal, or shopping or whatever).

    Discretion is a part of life – and it shouldn’t be neglected in any aspect.

    I say we change society by being respectful and discrete breastfeeders.

    I hope that is all okay to say here… Maybe I should have just written my own blog post…

    • April 13, 2011 1:52 pm

      Of course all that is ok to say here, Shelly… especially when it’s so well said. :)
      It is not my intention to be militant and I hope this post is not perceived that way. I do think there is a big difference between breastfeeding without a cover (which can absolutely be done tastefully) and “flashing breasts about” to simply be confrontational.
      I do agree, when mothers approach breastfeeding as a tool to intentionally make others uncomfortable in an effort to “raise awareness”, that it is misguided and hurtful to the movement… It also misses the point of what nursing is all about, nourishing in a loving manner.

  7. April 13, 2011 6:06 pm

    absolutely Carrie. i have 3 boys that i breastfed whenever and wherever needed. i, too, was respectful and discreet. my philosophy is that my choices are my own and i will not apologize for them or hide them away. i will, however, remember that others have choices as well and respect those. it seems so simple to me. it is incomprehensible to me why society has come to the point of knocking each other down. what happened to loving our fellow man? to each his own? and for goodness sakes to common manners?
    let us all live and let live.
    great post!

  8. Carol permalink
    April 13, 2011 6:41 pm

    I cover up because i dont like people staring. I dont cver my daughters face. She hates the blanket when its over her head. Really now that I think about it, it shouldnt matter. Personally i hate covering up, i get stares when im not brest feeding so does it really matter? Men look at boobs all the time, men go to strip clubs where they are topless or fully nude. Im not nude so why is it acceptable to go to a strip club when a woman cant feed her child in public? Stupid people, I really hate it when older women comment on breastfeeding. Im like you dont think you where, or what about your mom or dad, your grandparents. …Im ranting now, thank you for sharing!

    • April 13, 2011 6:51 pm

      Hahaha… It’s hard to contain the rant on such a hot button issue, isn’t it? I wonder if the older people that scoff at breastfeeding are of a generation that was made to believe that formula is “just as good”? There was also a time when breastfeeding was considered a “low class” thing to do… I’m not saying it’s ok, but I do think it’s interesting to know where people might be coming from. :)
      Thanks for sharing, Carol!

  9. April 13, 2011 11:34 pm

    I love breastfeeding and admire those who are able to nurse anytime anywhere without anything. For me personally, I felt very comfortable around the girls family or at another girl friend who had kids to just nurse. Out in public or if we have over some friends I often used a cover, because I felt more comfortable. Nursing is such a tricky subject because it happens so differently with different people and individually with each child.

    • April 14, 2011 2:29 pm

      Hi Erin,
      You’re right, nursing is such a tricky subject! I’m glad you found what worked for you! :)

  10. April 14, 2011 12:39 am

    my favorite place to travel while still nursing was Germany- where every public park is packed with naked people on a sunny day, no one pays any attention to boobs. it was heavenly to just be while nursing.

    i was never good at covering myself- not to flaunt my milk-producing, B-cup wonders, but because i just couldn’t be bothered. i’d be unloading a cart of groceries onto the conveyor belt with one hand while hanging onto nursing baby with the other. sitting in public restroom while i could be moving forward with life- or worse, having my baby cry because i was embarrassed was just not my thing.

    i was so happy i nearly bust into applause when i was traveling in iran and was invited into a private home of a mother of a 18 month old. she whipped off her hejab and coat, threw it on the couch and then her toddler crawled into her lab and she very openly nursed her. no cover, no apologies, just plain boob in sight of my two daughters, her husband and myself. i met her about 15 mins prior. way more comfortable than most american women i know. so interesting the way we stereotype certain cultures…

    • April 14, 2011 2:32 pm

      Hi Angelina~ I couldn’t help but laugh at “milk-producing B-cup wonders”! I totally understand your desire to burst into applause! Sounds like you’ve done a lot of travelling! I agree, it’s so interesting how different cultures approach breastfeeding as opposed to how we might assume they do. Thank you for sharing your experiences.


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