A viral post on public breastfeeding has been making the rounds on Facebook. A young mother and blogger was nursing her baby, sans cover, in the middle of a restaurant. She encountered some perceived judgement from a fellow diner, and instead of skulking away, brazenly faced her and continued nursing.
Applause! Kudos! Well, not so much from my fellow author, Nicole, who wrote that covering up while nursing is dignified, whereas making a stink about uncomfortable patrons at a restaurant is millennial virtue-signaling at its worst.
I don’t completely disagree. Millennial virtue-signaling? For sure. Nursing coverless in front of the world is completely unnecessary and undignified? Not so much.
To be fair, a discussion among female Federalist writers acknowledged that nursing without a cover is not a problem, if the mother is discreet. It’s letting it all hang out that’s the problem.
Those On The Fringes Make The Rest Of Us Feel Normal
However, although I am not inclined to be exhibitionist, I am very glad exhibitionist women exist. Because it moves the Overton Window, so to speak, on breastfeeding. If people are shocked about a mom brazenly showing off her assets, then they can handle a woman discreetly nursing with or without a cover.
As I said to my colleagues, when I nurse without a cover, it is certainly discreet. I don’t fancy putting on a show. With some specialty shirts, there is nothing at all to see; in other cases, you may see the top rounding of my breasts. “I’m not like that Facebook woman,” I basically thought. Then I actually clicked on the post. This picture is exhibitionist? (warning for some: boobs)
It is hanging out, yes. More than I would normally do in public. But I see the curves of a breast, and a baby. No nipple, not even areola. And I’m a straight female, so maybe I don’t get it, but I certainly don’t think a man would be turned on by that.
When we consider this picture to be a “brazen display,” we put mothers in an untenable position. Depending on their clothes, it is not always possible to ensure no part of the breast is exposed. To be fair, the only time I actually got judgement over feeding choices (as opposed to perceived judgement), was when preparing formula for my daughter. But perception can have a powerful effect on new mothers.
Let’s Not Make New Moms Even More Anxious
Anyone who knows me knows I am somewhat of an anxious person.
When my eldest was born, that anxiety multiplied when it came to breastfeeding. I was inundated with conflicting advice. “Breastfeeding is just the natural, normal thing to do,” I was told by elder women. Those same women, however, would tell me, “I can’t stand when these young girls just show off their breasts in public. They can go to the bathroom or the car! Or at least cover up with a blanket!”
That may not seem conflicting for everyone. But in the weird psychology of a new mother who was also suffering from almost crippling anxiety and depression, this made breastfeeding almost insurmountable. “Crap, my uncle is coming over? Where is my cover? What am I going to do? Oh no, the baby is fighting under there and she’s going to move the cover and oh, look, there are my breasts.”
Go to another room? “Well, I guess I can’t interact with these adults I’ve been wanting to see forever. Off I go to another room while the baby sleep-nurses for an hour.” To a mom with postpartum depression and anxiety, the isolation that comes with that is real.
To pile on, what was I supposed to do at a restaurant? In the grocery store? At a lunch at my husband’s law firm? In the middle of a church sermon? It wasn’t always feasible for me to go somewhere else. In some cases, I wondered if I was being rude by excusing myself.
As for covering up, even if the baby wasn’t fighting the blanket and accidentally exposing me, the mere existence of the cover seemed shameful and obvious. My fellow author linked to the type of tent-like cover I used with my first and second child. In my case, when I used that contraption, I felt like I was wearing a scarlet B for “Hey, there are exposed boobies under that thing!” It is often less attention-grabbing to just nurse without the muss and fuss.
Now, I don’t like being lumped in with millennials, and I know one response to my dilemma above would be “just grow up and get over it.” True, being a mother is about sacrifice, and sometimes that means covering up and feeling uncomfortable and isolated at times.
For sure. The list of things I cannot do now that I am a mother go on and on. The list of things that cause inconvenience or discomfort is even longer.
When Nursing Suffers, Babies Suffer
But this shame and isolation has very real consequences for new mothers. In my case, my severe anxiety over public breastfeeding (in addition to other anxieties), may have contributed to my inability to convey enough milk to my daughter, who posted no weight gain between 5 and 7 weeks old. And when given the choice to supplement, I chose it wholeheartedly. Later, I chose to move all the way to formula.
With my son, breastfeeding went well—until he was a few weeks old and I started venturing out of the house again with a toddler in tow. Again came the anxiety, again came slow weight gain. This time around I was more inclined to keep nursing, but supplemented as well.
Supplementation is often good and necessary. And formula isn’t evil. But if I truly admit it to myself, the reason I jumped to formula so easily when I finally had “permission” to do so was because it solved my public nursing fears. Just whip out a bottle. Done.
I have a third child now (nursing is going very well; thank you for asking). Thanks, honestly, to women who post public rants about breastfeeding rights and display “exhibitionist” pictures, I feel more comfortable nursing without a cover, although I keep one on hand in case my discomfort gets overly strong. Often, my discomfort centers on not wanting to make someone else uncomfortable, so I understand where the criticism of the Facebook mom is coming from.
But I usually force myself to go without a blanket and especially without a tent. Feeling I can nurse without an extra contraption or without having to run away has allowed me to be present in my older children’s lives—volunteering at school and taking them to the park—without counting down the hours to when the baby needs to nurse. In fact, I really have no idea when the baby nurses or for how long because it’s not at all a big deal. Those shameful activist moms have convinced me that it’s important I become used to this very natural thing.
Perhaps the rest of society needs to get used to it too.