Posted: Mar 24, 2013 9:00 PM
There's nothing wrong with nursing discreetly, but there's something very wrong with demanding that other women do so. If we want to encourage breastfeeding, we can't put conditions on it.

Contributed by Janelle Hanchett

I have never been a modest person. I grew up in a very, um, free family. We attended a good number of Bob Dylan and Grateful Dead shows, if that explains anything. When I lived in Spain for a year, I acclimated very quickly to the topless-beach norm, and to put it quite frankly, I've always been of the mind that boobs are just boobs... who cares.

Boobs on display

So 11 years ago, when I had my first child at 22, I was surprised to suddenly feel awkward trying to breastfeed my baby in public. I felt that I should do it with extreme discretion: "Don't draw attention to yourself!"

"Don't let anybody know what you're doing," and "Don't, under any circumstances, let anybody see your breast flesh!"

It was fine when she was a newborn, since I could easily cover her with a blanket as she nursed, but a few months later, as she grew into that stage when they flip off the breast every 9 seconds to check out the world (or whatever the heck they're looking at) and flail their arms and fling their legs up toward their mama's lips, well, it became more difficult. Way more difficult.

I realized I had to make a decision: Let go of my need to be discreet while breastfeeding or be absolutely miserable nursing this baby. Not to mentioned, inconvenienced while walking to cars, bathrooms, private places, etc.

Use a blanket or not?

To give you a hint of what I decided, with my third kid, I don't think I used a cover once, and I took to pulling my breast out the top of my shirt whenever and wherever I wanted, to save myself the embarrassment of exposing a slightly, um, shall we say, untoned belly.

So yeah, no covers for me. It's just too hard. And some women get to that point, where they just say "screw it" and nurse however they want — but others may quit breastfeeding altogether because they find it just too hard to meet society's expectations of discretion.

And that's my point. We tell women "breastfeeding is best," but then we put a condition on it — "as long as you do it discreetly."


Everyone breastfeeds differently

If we are really going to promote breastfeeding, we need to promote it in all its forms. You want to use a cover? Great. You prefer privacy and extreme modesty? Great.

But please don't demand that I do it too, because check it out — if you scratch the surface of the societal demand that women cover up, you will find the statement that breastfeeding is unnatural, lewd, sexual and/or indecent.

We hide things that are inappropriate for public eyes, so why are we expected to cover ourselves while breastfeeding? Is it somehow the same? Think about it. It's insane when you do

Why else would it need to be hidden?

We hide things that are inappropriate for public eyes (going to the bathroom, having sex, etc.), so why are we expected to cover ourselves while breastfeeding? Is it somehow the same?

Think about it. It's insane when you do.

The underlying message: nursing is shameful.

When I'm told to cover myself while breastfeeding, I'm also being told I'm doing something shameful or private. And please don't even make the argument that we're exposing ourselves. Save for a few short seconds when the baby flips off or finishes, the nipple is (obviously) not exposed, and if you have a problem with breast flesh, well, there's no hope for you. Have fun in your crusade against Victoria's Secret, and all mainstream entertainment magazines and television, and a good portion of the population during summer months. Because if you're against breast flesh exposure, you must really be against them!

So please, those of you who are out there on forums and blogs and websites and articles announcing that women should breastfeed but they should do it "with some respect to others," or "in a way that doesn't offend people," or "with some modesty," please think about what you're saying — that breastfeeding is somehow, on some level, an act to be done behind closed doors, when nobody's looking, because there's something shameful or wrong about it.

And think about the women out there who are just finding their way as mothers, and how you're adding one more thing to their lists, telling them they aren't doing it right, contributing to the continuation of our country's misogynistic history, turning a natural, wholesome, maternal act of feeding a child into a sexualized, indecent moment to be covered.

We respect your choice to use a blanket. Respect my decision to not.

More breastfeeding

Benefits of breastfeeding beyond infancy
Breastfeeding basics
Making breastfeeding work