On (In)Discrete Public Nursing

Often parents have ideas about how they will rear their children before having a baby, only to completely change their minds once they are actually rearing their children. I had many ideas about how motherhood would look for me prior to getting pregnant with Babykins that actual experience is changing. Nursing in public is one of them.

Before I started nursing, I was firmly in the “Public Nursing is Just Fine as Long as the Mother Covers Up” camp. Oh, how enlightened I was by embracing breastfeeding while accounting for socially acceptable behavior. After all, breastfed babies should be able to eat anywhere that bottle fed babies can, but a woman must maintain her modesty. Nursing covers seemed to be the perfect solution. How hard could it be to nurse a tiny baby under a big blanket?

*Insert maniacal laughter from experienced nursing mothers*

First off, breastfeeding may be natural, but it does not come naturally to most mother/baby pairs. When a baby is first born, he or she needs help properly latching onto the breast so they can get milk and not injure the mother. In order to help the baby, the mother needs to be able to see her breast. Covers, even the ones with boning that allow you to see the baby, make this task almost impossible.

In a couple of months, the baby will be able to latch on without any help and will have better head control. So then a mother should be able to cover without any problems, right?

Sure, except that around 3 or 4 months old, the baby will become more aware of his or her surroundings. That means every unusual sound MUST be investigated and that pesky cover is just an annoying hindrance that MUST be escaped.

indiscrete nursing

So what options are left for a mother if she cannot nurse with a cover and cultural norms demands that she keeps her chest covered? She must find a private place to nurse. Sometimes a changing room can be used, although it is cramped. Sometimes secluding herself in a car will work, but it can be hot and uncomfortable. And sometimes it comes down to trying to find a quite–but not private–place to wrestle with her nursling and the cover. There seems to be no good solutions as long as she cannot simply nurse her baby uncovered.*

I’m no longer firmly in the “Public Nursing is Just Fine as Long as the Mother Covers Up” camp. I personally still prefer to either find a private place to nurse Babykins or battle the nursing cover. However, if a nursing mother prefers not to cover up while nursing in public, she’ll hear no complaints from me! I understand now that she’s just trying to feed her baby.

*You might be wondering why bother with public nursing when you can just give the baby a bottle.  There are a whole slew of reasons: pumping is annoying, some babies won’t take a bottle (*cough* Babykins *cough*), and the fact that babies get hungry unexpectedly are just a few reasons. 

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10 Comments on “On (In)Discrete Public Nursing”

  1. mcglaut190 says:

    I can relate to this. My husband wouldn’t let me take the baby out for the first two months, but I couldn’t figure out how to feed her without being able to see her and my breast. Around 2-3 months, she got so I could nurse her covered, but I still prefer to be able to see her. So far, I’ve nursed her covered only about 3 times, and other than that I have been able to find a private place. I agree that bottles are annoying. My husband wanted me to fill bottles and leave the baby with him if I needed to go out, and it is usually just so much easier to take the baby with me than to try to fill those silly bottles.

    • Katrina says:

      Uft, those first few months of breastfeeding have a steep learning curve! And there’s so much more that a baby gets from direct nursing than just food–skin-to-skin contact, bonding time, etc. Mommas that have to bottle feed can certainly get those benefits other ways, but nursing is an easy way to do it. Perhaps you can encourage your husband to go on an outing with you and the baby so you all can enjoy some time together! 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Anna M says:

    I’ve heard a lot of positive things about wearing a nursing tank (to cover one’s tummy when the shirt get’s lifted/pulled out of the way) and a nice fluffy scarf (to cover anything exposed on top) while nursing in public. I’m planning to try that combo this time around as an alternative to the cover. We’ll see how it goes! 🙂

    • Katrina says:

      I generally wear a nursing tank under all my shirts but haven’t thought of using a scarf to simply cover the upper portion of my body (I have a nursing scarf, but can’t figure out how to use it). I hope you find that alternative easier with your new baby!

  3. Pumping under a blanket is difficult for the first three months because you constantly have to help the baby out. And it’s difficult after the first three months because the baby is so distractable.

    And what does pumping help? My baby needs to eat and I need to nurse. Let’s say I brought a bottle for the baby – I still need a place to pump for me! And let me tell you, world, it’s a LOT easier (and nicer for everyone) for me to nurse in public than to pump in public.

    • Katrina says:

      I think the idea behind pumping instead of public feeding is that you pump before you go out so the bottle is all ready to go. Of course, that adds a whole slew of complications–keeping the bottle sanitized, uncertainty if you brought enough, trying to keep up your supply. Like you said, it’s a lot easier to be able to nurse rather than pump!

      Thanks for reading!

      • And engorgement and possible mastitis that is a result of skipping feedings. 🙂 I never thought of keeping the bottle sanitized – you just pump, cap it, and then take it out and go. Or maybe I’m forgetting a step. Ah and then maybe the baby will decide not to nurse, because Mommy can feed him a bottle instead.

        The underlying problem is that we see formula as the natural way to feed babies. The minute we see formula as the weird thing to do, none of these issues will exist.

      • Katrina says:

        Hmmm, “sanitized” probably wasn’t the best word–I mostly meant making sure the milk doesn’t spoil. 🙂 But I agree with you, formula is seen as the “natural” way to feed babies, making it difficult in our culture to breastfeed publicly.

      • Anna M says:

        I think there’s quite a bit of cultural/geographical/social variation that goes on, too. I grew up in Californian circles where people would be more likely to stare at a mom who used a bottle (and figure that she must have adopted!) than at one who was nursing. It’s probably helpful to remember that we all can feel judged (for public nursing, for formula use, etc.) and just decide to ignore potential judgment and do whatever seems best. Easier said than done sometimes, but still! 🙂

      • Katrina says:

        Good point about variations in perception of breastfeeding, Anna. I was a little fearful that the older generation at church would take offense at me breastfeeding, but I haven’t received any negative comments. Granted, I usually leave the sanctuary if I need to feed Babykins during the service, but overall I haven’t felt judged for breastfeeding.


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