Breastfeeding Personal Posts

Breastfeeding…(dun dun DUNNNNN) in PUBLIC! (GASP!)

You may have seen my post about my breastfeeding experiences, but I didn’t say much about nursing in public, A.K.A. “N.I.P.” (aside from the delivery room.) I said I was going to stay away from controversy, and breastfeeding in public seems to be full of it, even amongst breastfeeding supporters! This post is just my usual rambling about what I think. One of my many mottos is “live and let live,” so I really don’t give a Guinea pig’s patootie what you do and I am certainly not intending to shove my opinions down anyone’s throat!

I have heard so many people say they are all for a woman’s right to nurse her baby anywhere…as long as she “covers up.” But what does that even mean? There are lots of covers out there…most remind me of a beautician’s cape/raincoat or something. Some have a rigid collar so Mom can peek and see the baby without being exposed. Some throw a blanket over their shoulder/baby, or others like me wear layers. So what does “covered” mean? I’ve always worn either a nursing top, or a shirt over a tank, so I can pull one up, the other down, and keep my breast and stomach covered (believe me, I’d rather show my milk jug than my postpartum tummy, LOL.) The baby’s face covers the Janet Jackson/Superbowl portion of the whole deal.

It’s possible that someone could catch a glimpse if they were inches from me and staring directly at my chest as the baby unlatched, but I could typically tell when my little ones were getting to that point, and I’d have my other hand ready to yank my shirt down immediately.

I am pretty comfortable nursing anywhere with this method. My kids would not nurse if they were covered. They’d squirm, thrash, squeal, and generally refuse to nurse. With my layer method, I’ve nursed babes to sleep in restaurants (and enjoyed my meal-one handed-in peace and quiet!) and even nursed at the National Zoo. I fact, I’ve had people come close enough to touch the baby’s head, and they still thought s/he was sleeping!

Certainly if you are comfortable with a nursing cover, more power to you. For me, the cape dealie combined with the screeching, uncooperative baby under it feels like a flashing, neon sign advertising what I’m doing. When I’m “N.I.P.” I generally avoid eye contact with anyone, and if I feel (or see out of the corner of my eye) any nasty looks, I’ll talk to the baby, engage my daughter in conversation and/or stare off into the distance and smile sweetly. I’ve never had anyone say anything to me, and I don’t know what I’d do if someone did. The idea makes my heart pound and my cheeks flush, but I’d probably just end up crying from embarrassment!

I’ve nursed a baby while grocery shopping as well. Again, it ends up looking like I’m holding a sleeping baby, and no one’s shopping is disrupted. The other option? Carrying a screeching baby, purse and coupon book through the store, herding my daughter along (pretty soon I will be holding 1 and herding 2!), abandoning my cart while trying to find a place to nurse the baby. Many times I’d end up in the uncomfortably hot or cold car, with whiny, bored other children. Only to go back in and start all over. Both of my kids tended to want to nurse a bit more for comfort when we were away from home, and they often ended up dozing afterwards, which is a total win-win.

For whatever reason, I don’t care much about what strangers think. I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m not showing anything, and I’m doing the most convenient, least disruptive thing for everyone involved. If some stranger ends up telling their neighbor about the crazy breastfeeding lady at the store later, who cares? I’ll never know, I’ll never see them again, and they’ll forget about it by tomorrow.

I feel different about people I know. Whether I have a guest at my home, or I’m a guest in someone else’s home, I will say “do you mind if I nurse here?” Generally the answer is “oh no, go right ahead!” If someone preferred I didn’t, I would definitely ask if there was another place I could go to sit (that’s never happened.) I can’t get comfortable nursing around my in-laws (they did not nurse and were not nursed either), so I end up hiding out when they are visiting while I’m nursing. My kids aren’t typically nurse and done babies, they graze a bit, doze off a little etc. If I try to rush them to get back to the visit, it just leads to a ticked off baby and trips up and downstairs.

My Mom is funny because she will shoo my Dad away/out of the room if I’m nursing, but it doesn’t bother me (or him) one bit. *shrug* I know I made my sister’s boyfriend uncomfortable when I nursed my son across the dinner table in a little cafe, but again, he couldn’t see a thing, and we were all able to enjoy our meals (it was freezing outside and there was simply nowhere else for me to go.) He didn’t say anything, nor did my sister, so hopefully it didn’t bother them too much!

I found it interesting when I went to a “nurse-in” at the mall, and saw everyone’s various nursing styles. There were people with stomachs and breasts totally exposed, some with shirts pulled down and upper breasts exposed, and others who were more inconspicuous like me. None of it bothers me a bit personally. You could take your shirt completely off to nurse and use your nursing bra as a lasso to wrangle your other child…while I might think you were a little weird, I wouldn’t be “offended.” What makes me uncomfortable is making someone else uncomfortable. My instinct is to look at the baby, which makes it look like I’m trying to sneak a peek at the goods, LOL. So I end up having no idea where to look, and getting very squirmy while trying to have a conversation with a nursing mama.

At the “nurse in” I couldn’t help but think that the most “free” breastfeeding mamas were still showing far less skin than at least half of the teenage girls walking around the mall (that are supposedly “fully clothed”) and I won’t even talk about people’s bathing suit coverage! The way I see it, if you see something that offends you, look away. When I took my kids to the carnival, there was a “young man” wearing a shirt that read in big, bold letters “I may be shy, but I have a big …” only his shirt had the d word that rhymes with kick instead of “…” I find that (and those “dangly things” people put on the back of their pickup trucks) to be rather tactless, distasteful, and just plain yucky. So, I look away. Unfortunately having a child who can read makes it more difficult!! For the record, I’m not a total prude, if he wanted to wear that to a bar or something, fine, but why would you wear that at 6 P.M. somewhere that’s full of little kids? Bah.

The other “issue” is that people have different “cut offs” for when a baby is “too old” to nurse in public. Again, I don’t really care what other people do. Though both of my kids nursed until almost two (and my son nursed a lot) no one other than my husband and Mom really knew they were “still nursing” since I was able to distract/delay them a bit as they got older. Well, except the time my 16 month old daughter saw an infant nursing and suddenly decided she needed to “nuss…NUSS!!” right NOW! I thought it was cute, but I realize a lot of people think it’s “gross.”

I was reading a book by Dr. Leman, and I thought it was pretty decent until I read a seemingly random paragraph basically saying that any mother who nursed past 12 months was doing it for selfish reasons and essentially needed some therapy. OK yes, I know I’m taking liberties here but it was enough to make my blood boil and cause my hubby to have to listen to a 10 minute rant about what an idiot this guy is, followed by a vow to boycott him forever. We were outside working in the yard with the radio on last week and some commercial about his wife came on. My husband was confused since I started a mumbling rant about her idiot husband, tee-hee!

Anyhoo, the most recent breastfeeding statistics for Maryland I could find, actually show Maryland’s rates as slightly higher than the national. I find that truly shocking since it seems so rare (and really, the rates are still pretty abyssmal.)

Other than the nurse in, I recall two three occasions where I saw another mom breastfeeding. I almost don’t count the first since it was in the “nursing lounge” a.k.a. bathroom at Nordstrom. Another time, we were eating at a festival at the farm near our house, and saw a mom nursing. I was so surprised and pleased to see another nursing mom, that I think I looked at her a few seconds too long, and she gave me a dirty look. Whoops.

The last time was actually not too long ago at Target. It was a rare trip without the kiddos, and as I was walking out the door, I saw a Mom with 2 other kids, what looked like her Mom, nursing a baby under one of the big cape cover dealies. Again, I was so surprised, that I gave her a double take. I’m not the type to say anything to anyone, but I made the split second decision to tell her she was full of the awesome and to rock on (not my exact words.) We ended up chatting for a few minutes and I left feeling all warm & fuzzy. Really, I thought about how a quick kind word would probably stick with me for the rest of my life, whereas I’d probably take the double take (like I gave her) as negative.

Are you comfortable nursing in public? Do you feel different nursing around strangers vs. people you know?

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Maria Moser
Maria is the mother of 3, writing about cloth diapers & going green. You'll often find her juggling her preschooler and typing 1-handed in between sips of cold coffee. Maria works with many companies within the cloth diaper industry and beyond, providing social media management, product development and other services.
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  • Katie
    September 4, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I was never comfortable nursing in public when my son was a baby, although I wish I had been! He HATED being covered up by a blanket and I didn’t own any nursing clothes, so I always had to pull my clothes up or down. So without being able to use a cover, I was just uncomfortable and always tried to find a restroom or my car, etc. to nurse in. Next time I have a baby I’m going to try harder to be comfortable nursing in public. I’m going to be smarter about the clothing I wear (I have a nursing tank this time, and I will try the layers thing or else I’ll invest in some nursing tops! I really do want to be able to nurse comfortably in public so I’ll try to make some changes next time that might help me succeed. Also, I was never comfortable nursing in front of my family (I lived with my parents and always took my son down to his nursery to nurse) or in front of my in-laws (I ‘d ask to use a bedroom when visiting them. I didn’t think they’d be comfortable with it, especially my brothers-in-law that are single and childless. I’m crossing my fingers things go a little better for me next time.

  • Bonnie
    September 1, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Maria – the breastfeeding statistic in your linked article just specifies breastfeeding rates at birth, but not at 3mos, 6mos, or 1yr. So, it’s possible that MD has a slightly higher rate than the rest of the U.S. of new mothers attempting to breastfeed at birth, but a lower than average rate by 6mos and 1yr. For what it’s worth, breastfeeding is not really seen as a deal, either good or bad, where I live. It’s more just something that people do to feed their kids. Most moms do use that cape thingy in public, though, so maybe that’s why no one cares.

    • September 1, 2011 at 9:34 pm

      Oops, I must have linked to the wrong page! What I was looking at when I wrote this included all the stats!

  • Hannah
    September 1, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    I usually wear layers so I can pull one layer up (my main shirt) and one layer down (usually a Target nursing tank). That’s my preference.

    I think whether or not, or how much, a woman “should” cover is pretty vague and culturally defined. In some cultures, men are comfortable wearing a “skirt” or “robe” type outfit, or some women feel uncomfortable showing their shoulders or ankles. Anyway, if I see someone showing more than I would, I don’t worry about it and try not to stare, just like if I saw a man wearing a kilt I would not worry about it and try not to stare.

  • September 1, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I have NIP’s all over the state of Maryland. I try to be discreet. I will never be comfortable with strangers or even most non-strangers seeing my nipples. When my daughter was young I used the nursing cover, which was great but she eventually started fighting it. I just take extra efforts to make sure I remain concealed during latching and unlatching. Most people probably didn’t even know I was nursing. I’m just not a full boob out kinda gal and I admit that I am taken aback when I see that much exposure, though I would never ever say anything or even consider it my concern.

    I have never had anyone make a single comment about it, which is lucky because I’m sure I would respond with a nasty insult.

  • Amanda Duke
    August 31, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    I nurse in public all the time. I used to be more shy about it and always put some sort of cover over the baby. Now I do like you with the pull one shirt up and tank top down method. It works great and I don’t think many people even realize I’m nursing.

  • August 31, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    I nursed everywhere in public and find nursing tops really convenient for the purpose, more people never even know I’m nursing and nobody ever saw my breasts. My daughter didn’t really like the cover either. It’s certainly sad that barely clothed teenagers are welcome and breastfeeding moms are shied away from! Tells us how perverted society is…

  • August 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I basically nurse where ever I want/need to. I do it as discreetly as possible if there are strangers around, and if there are people I know around that I know might get a little uncomfortable, (my father- and brothers-in-law, lol) I use a cover.
    I’ve never had a negative comment yet, and when ever I see another mom nursing, (which is rare!) I make sure to always give them at least a encouraging/knowing smile, if not a verbal good-for-you. 😉

  • August 31, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I didn’t mind nursing in public at all. I would always cover up and most of the time people just thought the baby was sleeping. I would nurse while grocery shopping. I didn’t and don’t care what people think as long as my baby was getting what she needed that’s all that matter.

  • Susan M.
    August 31, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    I have nursed in public, always with a cover. I absolutely think people should be able to nurse in public, but I will admit that I don’t want strangers to see my boobies…and I really don’t want to see other people’s, either. That goes for nursing, or just inappropriate outfits. It might be close-minded, but I still think people should cover the important parts!

  • August 31, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    I have no problem nursing anywhere. They are there to feed my child and if you think dirty things about them then you are entitled to it but weird in my opinion! I think my whole family has seen me just pull them out and nurse in the 6 weeks I have been a Mommy. More power to us!

  • August 31, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    I nurse in public when I want/need to! No problem. I guess after 3 kids its not a biggie anymore. With my first son it was a bit intimidating at first but after I was comfortable and he was ok too it was easy. I cover up, but sometimes the baby wants to eat NOW and I didn’t bring anything to cover up with so I do it as discreetly as possible. I even plopped down in an aisle at a store a few months ago and nursed Addie. People looked at me like I was nuts but what was my other option? The bathroom? I don’t think so! LOL!

  • Karen
    August 31, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    I have no problem nursing in public. Most of the time no one knows. I loved you post. The milk jug reference made me giggle . 🙂

  • August 31, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I have NO problem with nursing in public. Though, I do throw something over myself, but I am not bothered and don’t think it’s wrong if somebody feels the need to nurse in public without using a cover. Many people have no problem with somebody wearing a top that’s too tight and practically shows their boobs, but as soon as a mother is breastfeeding, they think, “That’s gross.” Too often breasts are just seen as sexual, and we as a culture need to get over that and see the breasts’ other function-nourishing babies.

  • August 31, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Walking down the hospital hallway to try and stem the screaming of newborn after I had a horrible dye test done on my bladder–leaving the poor kid without for too long? You bet.. and although I avoided eye contact for the most part, everyone was smiling at us, knowing my husband had been dealing with our almost 3 yo as well for that whole time. I couldn’t get her to latch on and stay on while sitting still (turns out, she was poopy, and my husband didn’t know it), anyway…she latched enough for me to cruise right down the hallway with her. The only comment I got was from an OLLLLLLD lady in a wheelchair, clearly in for ‘old person’ type of tests… and she said, in a shaky voice, ‘oh look, a newborn. oh and it’s feeding.’…. definitely no malice there. I think I will do a lot more of it with this one than first time around! Which reminds me, I should blog about this!

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