• Sun, Jun 21 2009

Nursing in Public: To Cover or Not to Cover

Welcome to the discussion of Nursing in Public for the June Carnival of Breastfeeding! If you are new here and/or have not yet joined the Facebook group I created in support of the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009, please consider doing so!

Lots of carnival participants have shared their own stories and advice about nursing in public (see links at the end of this post), but first I would like to discuss the issue of whether women should or should not cover themselves with a nursing cover while breastfeeding in public. At first it might seem like a non-issue. I think most breastfeeding advocates would agree that women should not be told that they must cover themselves while nursing, but if a mother feels more comfortable using a cover, then she should use one — whatever it takes to allow her to feed her baby. To each her own, right? Well, maybe not.

Bebe Au Lait Nursing Cover

Bebe Au Lait Nursing Cover

I have posted instructions for sewing your own Hooter Hider-style nursing cover and have had several women say how much they appreciate it. However, I once had a breastfeeding advocate tell me that she was not inclined to post a pattern for a nursing cover because she believed it sent the wrong message to new mothers; that they might feel they had to cover up and had to breastfeed in as discreet a manner as possible.

So in the corner of Reasons to Cover:

~ It can make a woman comfortable nursing in public when she might not otherwise.
~ A cover can help an easily distracted baby settle to the task at hand (er, at breast).
~ The cover actually draws attention to the act of breastfeeding and might encourage other women to nurse in public if they see a way that they too would be comfortable nursing in public.

In the corner of Reasons Not to Cover:

~ Some babies refuse to be covered.
~ Without the “right” type of cover, some women have a difficult time seeing the baby and getting a proper latch.
~ A cover potentially can be hot and uncomfortable for mother and baby.
~ As I said, a nursing cover often draws attention to the act of breastfeeding — something a woman using a cover might actually have been trying to avoid!
~ Feeding without a nursing cover helps normalize breastfeeding.
~ Showing women that breastfeeding in public can be done without a cover might empower other women to do the same.
~ A cover might diminish a baby’s communication with the mother and his or her experience with the world, if only for those feedings in public.

In the end I do not think a breastfeeding mother is under any obligation to refrain from using a cover because it might send the wrong message. Just as the woman who does not use a cover is not “whipping out” her breast to make a point, the woman who does use a cover is not doing so to send a message that all breastfeeding women should cover themselves. A nursing mother’s only obligation is to her baby. Period.

What do you think? Do you use a cover and if so, why? Did you make a choice not to use a cover, and if so, why? Have your feelings changed as you have become more comfortable nursing in public? Leave a comment!

Other Carnival Participants (stay tuned for more links being added below through Monday, June 22 — this is a huge carnival!)

Lucy & Ethel Have a Baby: Nursing In Public (Boobs) Out and Proud
PhD in Parenting: Would You, Could You Nurse in Public?
Dirty Diaper Laundry: Breastfeeding in Public Talent – I Haz It
Kim through the Looking Glass: Here? At the Restaurant?
GrudgeMom: Nursing in a Room Full of People You Know
MumUnplugged: Aww, Is He Sleeping?
Massachusetts Friends of Midwives: Nursing in Public: Chinatown, the Subway, the Vatican, and More
Mother Mary’s Soapbox: Breastfeeding My Newborn in Public
Tiny Grass: Nursing in Public as an Immigrant
Mommy News and Views: Tips for Nursing in Public
Blacktating: Thank You for Nursing in Public
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: Get Kicked off a Bus for Nursing in Public? Here’s How to Respond
Mama Knows Breast: Products That Can Help You Breastfeed in Public
BreastfeedingMums: Nursing in Public: What’s a Breastfeeding Mother to Do
Stork Stories: Little Old Men & Nursing in Public
Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: Why Worry about NIP?
Warm Hearts Happy Family: Breastfeeding and the Summertime
Musings on Mamahood: NIP, no tuck
babyREADY: A Wee NIP in the Park
Tales of Life with a Girl on the Go: Plains, Trains and Automobiles, We’ve Breastfed in Them All
Breastfeeding Moms Unite: Nursing in Public, A Fresh Perspective on Nurse-ins
Never a Dull Moment: A NIP Product Alternative: Breastfeeding Hats versus Traditional Nursing Covers
Hobo Mama: Easy, Discreet Way to Nurse a Toddler in Public

Share This Post:
  • http://jetsetcarina.blogspot.com Azucar

    While I respect that some women want to use covers, and may not feel comfortable nursing at all, let alone in public without use of covering, I HATE NURSING COVERS.

    I hate nursing covers with a burning passion.

    Why?

    Because to me they are a symbol of how far we have to go to RESTORE the right to nurse as it used to be.

    No matter how cute they are, or what great patterns, or innovative designs, nothing can cover up that they perpetuate the notion that a woman ought to be covered while doing whatever it is that she’s doing under the tent. They’re little more than voluntary burqas in my opinion.

    I get teased for that opinion by my friends, but I can’t help it. Women did not used to need to cover up. My father, who is a little older, shared with me that women used to nurse everywhere without covering: buses, trolleys, stores, and churches. It was only with the meteoric rise of formula culture post-WWII that women were told to hide nursing, because it was low-class, dirty, and unscientific.

    So while we’ve come very far, and have been validated in our bodies’ abilities in many ways, the nursing cover is a relic of an age where women’s bodies and their utility were denigrated.

    Women don’t even understand what they’ve lost, that “nursing in public” is a recent creation, it used to be just “nursing” no matter where you did it. And as a consequence, the nursing cover is just the latest manifestation that breastfeeding is something that should be hidden and is somehow impolite or even gross.

    All that being said, would I rather women nurse with a cover than not nurse at all? Of course. But I can’t help but be both angry and incredibly sad to see covers employed so frequently.

  • http://www.mumunplugged.com Claire

    I think it all comes back to the modern perception of breasts – the very fact that covers called Hooter Hiders are available is proof that society has stopped seeing breasts for what they really are. Apparently it’s fine to have them hanging out of your top if you’re a waitress on the hunt for tips, but if you’re a mother concerned with nourishing your child then you need to cover up! That said I am neither for nor against covers; if they give some mums the confidence to nurse where they otherwise might not, then fine. But we need to examine the reasons WHY some mums don’t have the confidence to nurse publicly – and in my opinion it’s because they might have never seen another woman doing it, because they fear negative reactions, and because they have an inbuilt embarrassment as a result of the oversexualisation of breasts in modern culture. A fundamental change of attitude is required and as a breastfeeding mum I always felt determined NOT to cover, in the hope of contributing to that change. Rant over – great post!

  • Aaron Browne

    Thanks for the post Angela. You raise some excellent points, giving merit to bother covered and uncovered breastfeeding. As a healthcare provider, I hope that one day our society can get over its sexual obsession with the breast and allow breastfeeding to return to its “normalcy”. Until then, I think we’re stuck with having to provide methods to make new mothers more comfortable with a process that should be second nature (by that, I mean they should have seen several women throughout their lives doing the same thing). My wife made an excellent post on our family blog last month (http://adifferentshadeofbrowne.blogspot.com/2009/05/no-beads-please.html) as she began the journey to breastfeeding our first born. If you have a chance, take a minute to read it – it has some interesting parallels. Best of luck to you, and to all women reading this who might be on the fence about whether or not to cover, or even breastfeed in public!

  • http://babyfingers.blogspot.com Jenny

    The worst con, I think, is that when prudish people see ONE woman using a nursing cover, they see another woman nursing without one and think “I don’t know why SHE doesn’t get one of those covers. Every nursing mother should use one!” I had someone leave two comments on a blog post I did about a nurse-in. (Here is a link if you’d like to see what she said: http://babyfingers.blogspot.com/2009/02/nobody-puts-baby-in-bathroom.html) She thought God would want us to cover up, and said it was a blessing that so many blankets exist “in such beautiful designs” to cover up with. Again, thinking that because they exist, every mom should feel obligated to use them. I do think that women should use them if they are more comfortable that way–it’s better than leaving the room or giving a bottle in public. But there’s no doubt that they’ve given some people the wrong idea about modesty.

    Not that I’ve never covered up. Unfortunately, I have been faced with the choice of covering up/leaving the room to nurse or starting a big fight–especially when visiting my husband’s family. I wonder what other breastfeeding advocates do in situations such as this. Do they stand their ground and nurse uncovered? Leave family functions early to make a point?

    I had a nursing wrap when my daughter was a newborn. The problem was that when I put the wrap on to nurse no one–including me–could see what I was doing! I had a heck of a time holding my breast and getting her to open her mouth and helping her latch on with the cover in the way. In the end, it got us both flustered and I think less breast would’ve shown had I simply latched her on as efficiently as possible and then let her head and my own shirt cover me. Later I learned to nurse in a pouch sling, which was awesome. That was the only nursing “cover” I needed, but it didn’t feel like a cover because it was really for our own convenience. Suzi nursed without getting distracted and I could keep right on shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc.

  • http://www.strocel.com Amber

    I don’t use a nursing cover. I want to normalize breastfeeding. We still live in a culture where many people see it as indecent, as something that should be hidden. And I think a cover plays into that. Plus I find covers awkward and uncomfortable.

    If someone really feels a need to use a cover for any reason, that’s a choice she can make. I wouldn’t judge her negatively for it. But I would expect she wouldn’t judge me negatively for not covering, either.

  • Dring

    I really don’t care if people use a cover or not. Although I am sympathetic to breastfeeding rights and awareness, I am not going to go cover-less or encourage others who are not inclined just to prove a point. When my son was younger I might have been confident about cover-less feeding but now that he is older he is easily distracted and frequently unlatches at the littlest promptings.

    Again, I don’t have issues with others who don’t want to use a cover or whose babies don’t like them, but I am going to exercise my own rights and cover up.

  • http://kblog.theschellingerhoudts.ca Kim

    I don’t think I’m adding much to the discussion, since I’m on the ‘I don’t cover up’ bandwagon :) IMHO, if you’re seeing too much breast you’re looking too hard! I think more women need to nurse whenever wherever and without shame for breastfeeding to become re-normalized!

  • http://fabnaima.blogspot.com Jenny

    i used a nursing cover early on. i think at that time, covers helped me and my baby concentrate on nursing and become more confident about nursing any time, any place. i don’t use covers now – because it is uncomfortable and Naima hates them. i only use covers when I have to pump in public (i attended a seminar without my baby and the pumping area was just at the back of the room). But really, i think what is important is what makes each individual mom (and baby) comfortable and not what others say or think about covers and what these represent.

  • http://www.PumpEase.com Wendy Armbruster Bell

    Great point by Azucar:

    “Women did not used to need to cover up. My father, who is a little older, shared with me that women used to nurse everywhere without covering: buses, trolleys, stores, and churches. It was only with the meteoric rise of formula culture post-WWII that women were told to hide nursing, because it was low-class, dirty, and unscientific.”

    The medicalization of birth and the (unfortunately) hugely successful marketing campaigns of the formula companies in the middle of the last century is exactly the turning point that brought us to where we are today. Now we just have to get back.

  • http://grudgemom.wordpress.com Nicole

    Instead of declaring that covering up is a step backwards, why don’t you pat the nursing mom on the back for being strong enough to nurse in public? If more people acknowledged that accomplishment, I bet more ‘covered’ moms would become stronger and remove the cover to try it without.

  • http://blissfule.me Elisa @ blissfulE

    One of the things I love about nursing is not having to carry extra stuff around like families with formula/bottles do. A nursing cover would be something extra to carry and the time it would take to get it in place would reduce my ability to respond immediately to a young nursling’s signals. I find it’s much more discreet to nurse without a nursing cover and before baby starts to fuss.

    That said, in very specific circumstances (e.g. in my in-laws’ living room *sigh*), a lightweight nursing cover specially designed to let me see what I’m doing and not give them an excuse to eject me from the room would have been handy. Though since I was completely unprepared for their reaction to my very discreet nursing of their grandchild, I doubt I could have had the foresight to have such a cover on hand just for them.

    Elsewhere in the world, I’ve had zero problems with not having a cover.

  • Becky

    I have covered up in the past. I do own a Hooter Hider cover and did use it in the very early days. I am a larger breasted girl, so I needed to practice with my son in order to get it right. I eventually ditched the cover when he was 2 months old and went coverless from then on.

    I did keep the cover in use for pumping while driving in the car though, it was very good for that (with a hands free pumping bra too)! :)

    I’m all about whatever is best for that mom and that baby. If it is easier for the mom to relax to get a let down, then the baby is getting what they need. If they feel comfortable going without a cover, go for it. Either way, it’s saying that hey, I’m breastfeeding – cover or no cover – and that’s the goal, right?

  • Kate

    I usually did not cover up when I nursed, mostly because I felt I could be more discreet when I wasn’t covered. When using a nursing cover (or even just a blanket thrown over your shoulder and the baby), I always felt like it was a big red flag (look at me! I’m nursing my baby under here!). But if I just pulled up my shirt and nursed, most people didn’t even know what I was doing. Plus, I agree with the other commentators that I don’t like the idea of nursing covers being viewed as a necessity now by some people.

  • Olivia

    I don’t cover up both for comfort and to normalize NIP.

  • aka Alice

    I hate nursing covers with a passion and I’m ashamed that anyone in our culture uses them. I nurse my children openly in public and have never had anyone say anything. I am discreet, but I never cover. It’s only natural!

  • Beth

    It’s so easy to get caught up in the “It’s all about me” thing. There are some people who are just very uncomfortable when they see a woman breastfeeding uncovered. I’ve gone both covered and uncovered depending on the company I’m around. If I know it makes someone uncomfortable I just go ahead and cover up. Why cause strife over something so simple. Every person is different. If we show courtesy to those around us chances are the courtesy will come back.

  • Pingback: Nursing around Disapproving Family Members : Breastfeeding 1-2-3 - Breastfeeding Information, News and Support

  • http://www.breastfeedingbasics.info Jessica

    I think you presented some compelling reasons to cover, Angela. They can be weighed against the reasons one might hold to not cover. It’s a personal choice, of course. In the end, every woman is different, with different values and a unique cultural perspective that affects her decision to cover or not.

    I personally have never used a cover manufactured for that purpose, but have been more discreet about my public nursing at times, depending on the situation and my intuition.

  • http://www.lifewithrachael.blogspot.com The Poor Husband

    For a hilarious breast-feeding story about nursing in public, check out this account of my wife at http://lifewithrachael.blogspot.com/2009/08/i-used-to-hate-camping.html

  • MrsQriist

    I’m way late on this, but I wanted to chime in. I own a Hooter Hider (via coupon, I didn’t pay $40 for it!), and I’ve used it all of 2 times: in a restaurant with my grandmother (who nursed her 2 daughters, but had some very bad experiences with NIP in the late 60′s in Iowa) when my son was about 3 weeks old and we were still working out NIP with a ‘rack of doom’; and once about 2 months ago (he’s 6 months now) in the living room when I was trying to keep him from getting distracted by the cat. We didn’t have much success either time.

    In general, I think I’m a very discreet nurser (to quote my younger sister when we were out about 2 weeks ago “Nursing skills, you has them.”), but I have been known to whip it out when there’s no other choice (choices do not include bathrooms in my opinion). When T was tiny, we used a Sleepy wrap with great success. I could turn him sideways in one side like a sling, and then wrap the other side around us once he got latched. The wrap-around side also kept me covered while I fiddled with my bra and shirt so there was a very small window between out-of-bra and latched-on. When it got too hot, we moved on to a ring sling. Again with him sideways, and using the tail over my cleavage (not his head) when I wasn’t wearing an overshirt. Now that he’s too big to lean sideways, I have a wider sling so he can nurse upright and I can pull the excess up both to help keep him from getting distracted and to give me cleavage coverage. Or, we sit with him out of the sling entirely and I use the sling like I would an overshirt, pull my shirt down under my breast and use the sling to cover cleavage. Our mei tai works wonderfully for the upright position as well, and I can use either breast.

    I think that, in general, every mom should be able to choose what works best for her and her kiddo. If someone using a nursing cover feels more comfortable that way, that’s great, although I don’t like that (as previous posters have mentioned) a lot of people use those moms as an example for the rest of us (the ‘she covers up, why don’t you?’ argument). I’m of the opinion that it’s better to give women the options to feel comfortable rather than demonizing (the options) for the statements that they may make to some people.