I've been wanting to write this post for months now, but haven't, partly because I knew it would take more time and thought energy then I really wanted to expend and partly because I was a little scared to write it. But, this week is world breastfeeding week, so it seems like the perfect time to just jump in and give voice to my experience and opinion. I nurse uncovered. Sometimes I'm discreet, but honestly sometimes I'm not. Don't get me wrong it's not like I'm just walking around with "the girls" hanging out all the time, but I do choose not to use nursing covers and sometimes when an acrobatic nursing toddler comes off unexpectedly more of my breast gets exposed then I would prefer. But, over the past almost two years of nursing I've formed some personal and yet strong opinions about nursing uncovered. In this post I'd like to share some of those opinions.
Let me begin by saying that there are plenty of very legitimate reasons to nurse covered up. I definitely think it is a personal choice for each nursing mama and one that will be determined by each woman's level of comfort and belief system. If being covered up helps you to feel comfortable feeding your child by all means cover up. I have no problem with women making the choice to cover up. That being said it's not the choice that I have made for some very specific reasons.
Here are some of the reasons why I am not overly careful about covering up while nursing, even in public.
The first reason on my list has to be pure convenience. Let's face it, pulling your shirt up or down or just unbuttoning a few buttons is WAY easier than wrestling with a nursing cover, or blanket. But this is never more true than when you are first starting to breastfeed.
When my first son was born I have to admit I was overwhelmed. The weight and responsibility of motherhood was kind of shocking to me. Amidst the waves of emotion and worry I began my journey of breastfeeding my son. Thankfully we didn't have that much difficulty with breastfeeding and I had a lot of support around me at the beginning. But, there was one part of the breastfeeding relationship that was incredibly difficult for me and even lead to some conflict between me and the other breastfeeding (or previously breastfeeding women) I had in my support system. That area was covering up in public or at private residences were males, older women, or children, were present.
When I could actually see my breast and my sons mouth we got a great latch and our nursing relationship was quite enjoyable. But, when I had to struggle to adjust a nursing cover, hold up a blanket, line up the hole on a nursing top with my nipple, or pull up a double layered shirt to make sure that I was covered...well, let's just say that our nursing relationship was not "enjoyable" it was frustrating. There was enough new things to be figuring out as a new mom, adding staying covered didn't help, and often didn't seem important enough to me to keep up amidst all the other new things I was trying to figure out. I'm sure that for some new moms covering up isn't difficult and I'm sure that there are those who value covering up more than I did, but I'm also sure that there are others like me who found being a new mom challenging enough and didn't want or need the added complication of figuring out how to nurse covered up while still nursing on cue and maintaining a good latch. I wish as a society we could at least allow moms of newborns more grace when it comes to exposure. Personally, I think it would help to improve some of the latch problems that so many new moms experience.
One of the strongest reasons I nurse uncovered though is that I believe in breastfeeding and I want to advocate for every woman's right to nurse her baby whenever wherever and for every babies right to eat the best food possible wherever whenever. The more people see women nursing the more it becomes normalized in society, and the more it becomes normalized in a society the more women will choose to nurse their babies. I don't what someone to think I'm just holding my baby when I'm nursing in public, I want them to know what I'm doing, because I want the beautiful, natural act of nursing to be a normal, accepted and welcomed act in society. As long as breastfeeding gets pushed behind closed doors and under covers it's not going to become a normal accepted act in society.
But I don't just nurse uncovered for the sake of the culture at large, I nurse uncovered for the sake of every future mom out there, every friend I have who doesn't yet have children, every little girl who dreams of someday becoming a mommy. So many women today have problems breastfeeding, as Best for Babes puts it, they get stuck in the "booby traps". I believe that one of those traps, one of the things that makes it difficult for women to nurse is that they don't have a lot of first hand experience with nursing. I was lucky to have a sister who nursed three children before I had my first. I saw my sister nursing, and that was, for me, more helpful than all the books I read or advice I was told. But, my sister was the only women I had ever truly seen latch a baby onto the breast.
In our society we don't grow up seeing women all around us nursing. But, breastfeeding isn't something you learn through books, videos, and talking about it. It's best learned through actual experience and in-person observation. When women see how their aunts, sisters, friends, and the stranger in the grocery store nurse their babies their brains assimilate that knowledge and it gives them a body knowledge that helps them when it comes time for them to nurse their own children. Here is a post that does a much better (and more scientific) job at explaining this idea. I think her comments at the end may be a little extreme, but I do strongly agree that there is value in both men and women seeing women nurse their babies in-person. Both sexes need to assimilate this knowledge for when they have their own children. Read the article for more on this thought.
These are my main reasons for choosing to nurse uncovered, but they are not all the reasons. I didn't even mention things like babies overheating because of nursing covers in the summer time, or that eating is for us and for our infants a social activity, or the fact that I don't know any nursling over the age of 12 months who would agree to staying covered (a nursing 1 year old can be very active). For more great reasons why nursing uncovered should be more accepted read this post over at Lactation Narration.
For now I choose to nurse uncovered, it's what works for me and my nursling. And I encourage you to do what works for YOU and yours.
So, tell me, do you nurse covered or uncovered? Why or why not?
Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany Stedman