I Want it All: a Nourished Baby AND Good Manners (also superpowers)

by | Jun 17, 2014 | Babies, Can of Worms, Things I Think | 111 comments

I want all of the awesome things that go along with nursing my baby. I want the convenience. I want the health benefits. I want the bonding. I want the no mess and the no planning and the eye contact. I want the right here and the right now.

AND I want to not flash people.

I want it all.

It seems like every few months the great public breastfeeding debate flares up again. This time it seems to have been sparked by the fact that the girlfriend of a contestant on an Australian singing show was broadcast on live television breastfeeding her toddler uncovered in the green room while her guy was auditioning on the show.

The jerks said, “Gross. I did NOT tune in to see that.”

The enlightened people said, “Those jerks are jerks.”

This post is the best response I’ve seen to the jerks:

And yet . . . when *I,* a card-carrying not-jerk, see these photos, I think to myself two things, 1. That’s lovely that she’s feeding her son. And 2. Um, yikes, I would not be comfortable doing that like that in public, and I’m not particularly comfortable seeing her do that like that in public.

So I ask myself, “Why?” Why, when I really do agree with most of the points of that post, do I also kinda agree with the jerks?

I thought about it a lot.

Since I have a blog, you get to read about those thoughts.

To preface,

1. I have exclusively breastfed all of my children. Not one has ever had a bottle. Unless my circumstances were to change significantly, none ever will.
2. I consider “uncovered” breastfeeding to be breastfeeding in public without a drape or blanket or scarf or shirt covering the top of the breast.

I cover the top of my breast when I am nursing my baby in public, and usually at home too.

Because the standard line about people flashing more skin than that at the beach and at the Academy Awards might be true for some women, but it isn’t true for me. I don’t wear low cut swimsuits and I don’t wear low cut dresses.

When people say, “If you wish nursing mothers would cover up, I hope you also wish Victoria’s Secret models would cover up,” I do. I really, really DO wish that.

And when people shout, “Breasts aren’t sexual!” I get kind of embarrassed, because, um, are you sure you’re doing it right? And if women really thought breasts weren’t sexual, or at least private, then they wouldn’t wear shirts at all. But I do. I always wear a shirt in public. Every time.

If I won an Academy Award, I would be dressed like this:

Not like this:

If I were fighting crime, I would be dressed like this:
tutorial here!
Not like this:

So, I don’t find it at all unreasonable to nurse my baby, in public, on demand, without showing any more skin than I would while doing either of the above activities.

I used a blanket with my first babies, and a nursing drape with my middle ones, and never found it to be problematic for the baby. But with the baby I’m nursing now, I’ve discovered scarves. And seriously, they are like a dream come true.

If I’m wearing a blousy shirt, I wear a camisole underneath and just pull the shirt up and the camisole down to nurse. Insta-covered. If I’m wearing clothing that I would pull down rather than up to nurse, I just wear a scarf and a camisole and I can nurse anywhere with convenience and eye contact and without making myself or the people around me uncomfortable. Also, 4 out of 5 dentists agree, I look hip and accessorized. (See here for more on the scarf/cami method.)

So, in conclusion: What’s so hard about covering up to breastfeeding in public? Nothing. Seriously, nothing. It’s really, really easy for me. Maybe I do have superpowers after all.

P.S. I wrote about this last summer too, before I knew about scarves . . .

P.P.S. If you read this and thought, “Well, that was a reasoned and humorous take on this issue. I’m glad I read it.” Then feel free to just move on to the next post in your feed reader. If, however, you thought, “I did not like this. I think she is judging and/or shaming me,” please read my update here.

P.P.P.S. We have a winner of the Monastic Immersion Giveaway! You’ll never believe it, but it’s the world famous Kelly M. Of This Ain’t the Lyceum! I’m so excited for you. I’ll pass your contact info along to my friend and y’all can work out the details.


  1. Tammy Barclay

    Great post Kendra! Couldn't agree more! I nursed all mine too… but never had any trouble covering up. It's not that hard, people! Seriously 😉

    • Maggie Frances P.

      I think what bothers me the most is that we dismiss it because it may be hard. When is that ever a good idea? Nursing for me alone was really hard (lots of pain, had to use a shield for a few weeks each time, etc) but I persisted. Hard shouldn't stop us. Hard isn't a reason not to do something alone. Covering was a always a pain for me at first but, like with nursing, I stuck with it and both baby and I figured things out. Yeah, it may be hard but that's not the important thing- the important thing is we live by our standards. If that doesn't include covering for you, okay, feed that baby! But if it does don't let "hard" hold you back.

  2. Nicola

    I also don't like to flash people but I find that I can't use nursing covers past the first few months. My kids get all thrashy, like I was trying to smother them with the fabric. So when they suddenly rip the cover away with their flailing, I'm not prepared and voila: flashing people. I find that the shirt/camisole/scarf method makes it so most people don't even notice that you're nursing. Way more inconspicuous than the nursing cover draped over most of me with a writhing baby fighting it's way out from underneath.

  3. Hannah D.

    Nursing my 9-week-old (my first) while covering with a trendy scarf is the BEST. Don't know why I didn't think of it but I'm sure glad you posted about it a couple months ago because it's a great idea!

  4. Micaela Darr

    I do it the same way you do. Since baby #2 I've used the 2 shirt method, and sometimes I use scarves. But nursing covers make me feel more conspicuous rather than less. The best thing about 2 shirts is that there is nothing covering the baby, yet my whole breast is covered.

    All that said, I don't have a problem with women who don't cover up. I cover up for my own modesty reasons, but I don't think it's a universal requirement. And all in all, I'd rather young moms saw other moms nursing in public, no matter how they do it, than never see anyone nursing in public and not know that it's normal and natural.

    • Kendra

      I get that Micaela, and I absolutely want young women (and children and grumpy old men for that matter) to see mothers nursing their babies and know that it's good and normal and convenient. But I wonder if the more exposed nursing types don't inadvertently discourage women who wouldn't be comfortable showing that much skin. If my only exposure to public nursing had been the top down folks, I'm not sure I would have thought it was something I could handle.

    • Anna

      I would much prefer that women gently demonstrate that breastfeeding in public is not shocking than have women forcefully shock others into believing that breastfeeding is not shocking. Now I don't do what I do as an attempt to educate others, and the former approach not only seems more effective strategically, it also works well for myself and my family. I know most women are just doing the best they can. But the lactivists who are out to make a statement are often counter productive, in my opinion.

    • Micaela Darr

      Kendra, I absolutely think that may be the case. Which is why, perhaps, it's better to have a variety of nursing styles! Then, if ever see all kinds of moms nursing in all kinds of ways, all kinds of women will feel like they can do it too. What do you think?

  5. Susie :)

    I'm a total supporter of "nurse your baby however and wherever", but I still finding latching while remaining inconspicuous a bit difficult. It's just so obvious and breast-ish!!

  6. Annie

    This is great, Kendra. I want to have it all, too. This made me laugh: "And when people shout, "Breasts aren't sexual!" I get kind of embarrassed, because, um, are you sure you're doing it right?" My husband would wholeheartedly agree. He has pointed out to me that you can't talk a guy, even a perfectly civilized one, out of his instinctive fascination with breasts. It's just part of God's design. So, I choose to praise God, spare men the distraction when possible, and cover up with a scarf. You're right, it's not hard.

  7. Amelia Bentrup

    I don't like to nurse with the top of my breast exposed (in public) but once my babies all hit a few months old, they seem pretty determined to expose me by lifting my shirt up higher, or pulling the scarf out of the way. So, I end up having to hold my shirt/scarf in place which kinda makes nursing in public feel like a bit of wrestling match. It's probably because I don't bother to cover up at home, and don't worry about how much skin is exposed so my babies are never used to having fabric touching their face while they nurse and they spend the entire session trying to pull it off while I'm trying to hold it on.

    I think that is the main reaon why people say they find covering in public difficult. Because if you don't make a special effort to keep the top of your breast covered all the time, babies aren't used to it, an tend to try to pull the scarf/shirt up or off.

  8. Cam Wollner

    I'm so glad you wrote about the two shirt method too because for some reason I just didn't catch on until I was nursing baby #3. For one and two I was so stuck thinking I had to figure out how to use the huge tent nursing cover I had with the kid thrashing around that it just never entered my mind. Somehow with number three it finally clicked and it really is so, so much easier to stay covered up! I just can't believe it took me four years of nursing to figure it out!

  9. S

    I really love the article you linked to.

    I happen to disagree with you. I've somehow become a rather rabid "lactivist" in that I think our babies' collective need to eat trumps anyone else's [culturally bred] discomfort/insecurity at seeing breasts being used to feed a child.

    Also, breasts *are not* sexual. Men don't wear shirts all the time- and the fact that women do normally keep them covered is a cultural marker, not evidence that they're actually sexy time play toys. (I mean, they *could* be that, too, I suppose, because one can make anything sexual. Peeps have all sorts of weird sexual fetishes. But biologically speaking: no. Breasts are for feeding babies. Sorry men.)

    • Ellen Johnson

      Ok, but in my marriage, my breasts are sexual. So out of reverence for my husband and our marital relationship and also just for my own sense of modestly, I cover up while publicly breastfeeding.

    • S

      To follow up on my comment- I see that someone below me agreed with you that "breasts are sexual". Well, breasts are not sex organs and/or genitalia. Are they (or, can they be) an erogenous zone? Yup. Absolutely. But so can our ears, neck, wrists. Basically, any body part. So, I don't see why breasts in particular should be viewed as "sexual" simply because our society has sexualized them. They are the biological means to feed our offspring.

    • Ellen Johnson

      Ok, but in my marriage, my breasts are sexual. So out of reverence for my husband and our marital relationship and also just for my own sense of modestly, I cover up while publicly breastfeeding.

    • Ellen Johnson

      I understand and respect that your argument is based in biology, S. Mine is based on the reality of my life and my marriage, which is more important to me than biology. So I cover.

    • S

      Ellen- whoops! I was writing an addendum at the same time you replied to me.

      There's a difference between an erogenous zone and a sex organ. I find that my neck is an erogenous zone, but I don't take special pains to cover my neck. For example.

      Besides which, even *if* breasts were sexual, that isn't even close to their primary purpose. Feeding our kids is a tremendously important task, the one that breasts were biologically evolved to accomplish.

      I understand, obviously, that everyone has different modesty standards, so if some nursing women take issue at baring their breasts, that is totally fine by me that they cover themselves. However, I don't by any means think that, say, *your* modesty standards or view of *your* breasts as sexual should impact whether or not *I* (or any other nursing mama) feel(s) comfortable occasionally bearing a bit of breast to feed my kid.

    • Anna

      S. Nipple stimulation produces oxytocin. I perhaps agree that when it's breasts we're talking about this is primarily for the mother/baby bond, but it works in the sexual relationship too. I don't think you can get a forehead to do that.

    • S

      I really don't want to be argumentative, but I have to clarify that oxytocin is released during most any act of foreplay/sexual intercourse. It doesn't have to be nipple stimulation- but yes, of course nipples are an especially sensitive area, as breasts are biologically primed for the act of mother/baby bonding.

    • Anna

      I certainly understand that there is a cultural element and that our society has messed this up a lot. But to take the flip side and suggest that this is merely a fettish for which there is zero biological basis is a stretch I think. That was my only point.

    • S

      And my point is that there is also a biological release of oxytocin when people hug. Or, in the case of private sexual behavior, when people make out. And caress/kids the neck. Tickle the inner wrist. Suck on a toe. You get the gist. Just because some people use their breasts during private sexual acts does not make breasts innately sexual. Their primary function is to feed offspring. I personally enjoy having my neck kissed in private- but I don't find it innately sexual or take pains to cover it up.

    • Charlotte (WaltzingM)

      Biologically speaking, it's more than just a sensitive area and more than just an oxytocin response. And while some women find other areas of their body stimulating, it's not the same as being connected to the sex organs. And even if the primary function of the breast is to feed offspring and the secondary function is to help make a woman feel like bringing those offspring into existence, what does the primary function trump the secondary every time for the uber-nursing crowd? You can read more about the connection between the breasts and the other female sex organs here." This is just the first website I found when trying to find it. There are many more that I don't have the time to go through.

    • S

      I'd say, primary trumps secondary because 1 comes before 2. And feeding a baby is much more important than anyone's perception of breasts as distinctively sexual. (Meanwhile, another point: though breasts *are* necessary in order to feed a child, breasts are *not* necessary to make love).

  10. Wendy Klik

    I had my babies 40 yrs ago and always covered while I was nursing them in public. Of course, it was a different day and age then…I was unusual in my desire to nurse instead of bottle feed.

  11. Erica Saint

    I did not know about the Australian singing competition/breastfeeding exposure controversy. I apparently live in a bubble. Thanks for keeping me abreast of the situation. 😉

    Anyway, I have no problem with her nursing her toddler in public or on TV, but that is a lot more skin than I am comfortable with ever.

    "When people say, "If you wish nursing mothers would cover up, I hope you also wish Victoria's Secret models would cover up," I do. I really, really DO wish that."

    Excellent point!

  12. Anna

    I love everything you wrote here. I used to think I was anti-cover but then I saw pictures of the truly anti-cover people and I adjusted my stance. I am in favor of covering up but since I am against carrying extra stuff, even diaper bags and purses, my preference is to just use what I have on me. Literally. So, yes to the two shirt method. Scarfs and ring sling too.

    And yes breasts are sexual. I'm too private of a person to get into those discussions at the Le Leche League and when I was a brand new mother and relatively new married person they almost had me thinking that I was doing it wrong. But no.

  13. Ashley Sue

    Breast are only sexualized in the western cultures. In fact to date, no eastern culture or traditional culture has seen breasts as a sexual body part. Anthropologists and WHO employees have pretty extensively written about that cultural shift once western culture and conveniences like bottles are introduced into a culture.

    I also think that covering up while breastfeeding allows for further sexual objectification because you are in fact separating motherhood from the sacred act that creates life. Margaret Meade said (paraphrasing here) that by allowing breasts to become a sexual organ we allow the men to devalue the role of motherhood and the role of a wife. Basically, reinforcing our hook up culture.

    • S

      TOTALLY agree here. Methinks I'm lucky that my husband was an Anthropology PreMed double major. He is my biggest champion in breastfeeding our child, and doesn't care a bit that occasionally I need to bare a little breast to accomplish the (important! sacred! lovely!) task of feeding our baby. We've both attended many a Notre Dame Anthropology conference/symposium and are very attuned to the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, which in turn has had a tremendous role in how we choose to raise our child.

    • Kendra

      But THIS is the culture we live in. That's really what culture IS, right? A set of rules we agree upon so we can live with each other comfortably. I don't want to not wear a shirt. I don't think our culture is wrong or immoral in that regard. I like keeping my breasts private for my babies and my husband.

      If I had to choose between meeting our culture's standards for modesty and feeding my baby, I would feed my baby. Every time.

      But I don't have to choose. And since I don't expose my breasts in public in other contexts, I don't expose them when I nurse either.

    • Ashley Sue

      So, you are okay with the current acceptance of hook ups? I mean that is culturally en vogue. I could not be a legal citizen until the 80s because of cultural prejudice about Romani, is that okay? I mean it was part of the culture. SO, the truth shouldn't matter. Perversion in cultures are possible. And that is what is happening here.

      My point is calling covered nursing "dignity" is propagating why the Victoria secret's model is hanging out. By separating the sacred act of creating and sustaining life which is the primary function of breasts (feeding the young), you allow for sexual objectification of women. So, you are meeting the encultrated standards of the current clime. I also think you missed my point about breastfeeding is not a modesty issue, since the primary function is to feed the young and not sexual provocation. However, the perversion does exist here in the west to sexualize the process.

      You get to feel the way you want. I want my daughters and sons to know that a woman is not to be separated from sacred motherhood. Growing up, I never saw a cover; I never saw a man be disgusted or turned on that a woman was completing her role in her god given vocation. I see this crusade of covering as a false modesty. There is nothing to gain from covering while breastfeeding in my opinion but dignity is being lost when we think that feeding our children is shameful in some way.

    • Ashley Sue

      I would also disagree with the idea that breastfeeding is a private situation. Yes, maybe now where convenience and luxury allow it to be. But that would also be a western idea ( I would even say a privilege of a post industrial age). I would also argue that today, breastfeeding as this monumental bonding moment exists because in the west, most children are rushed on from forming attachment to being independent and denied basic attachment practices in favor of the mothers "comfort".

    • Charlotte (WaltzingM)

      Ashley Sue,
      Why does it have to be an either/or? Why can't it be a both/and? Just because breasts are not sexualized in other countries doesn't mean that they aren't sexual. From a specifically biological perspective, there is a direct correlation between nipple stimulation and the uterus. It's why midwives everywhere encourage nipple stimulation to help bring on labor. So, there is a sexual component to breasts. Like Super Kendra said, why can't we have feeding, bonding and modesty all wrapped up in a nice little package. Ideally, if a woman had to expose most of her breast in public, it would be great if our enlightened society looked on her with charity and said, "Of course, feeding her baby is her first concern!" But, women choosing to expose their breasts to feed their baby just to make a point… what exactly is the point? I didn't see the Australian woman. I'm assuming that her whole breast was exposed based on the reactions I've read. I have exclusively nursed 5 children all with different temperaments and preferences when it came to nursing and I've not yet had to expose my entire breast in public to do it. I really don't see why other women have to and if you read my comment below, you will see that I have asked for an explanation to that I can understand. I'd like to understand if there is a reason beyond either a) they prefer the kind of clothing that makes more covered nursing difficult or b) they do it specifically because they can.

    • Ashley Sue

      I said cultures as that is completely different than countries. It is especially important to evaluate traditional cultures along side of our own since many problems we face today were non existent. Breasts are one of those issues. They were not sexualized instinctually (they are not naturally thought of as sexual; that idea is a product of something from the west). Why are they now? Why would a women feel like it is inappropriate to feed her child without a scarf? In order to stop a perversion pervading culture, a hard line often is taken. These nursing outfits and specialty things, are a PRIVLEDGE of post industrial age. Are people really unaware of the world around them?

      I have nursed for over seven years including my own and wet nursing for others. it makes me so sad that even though I have given plenty of reasons above that women especially give in to the idea that covered is the standard. Its only been the standard for maybe a 100 years ( I'm pushing here because in the 40's there are 1000s of photos to evidence women un-buttoning their blouses to feed with no regard to cover or lessen the exposure. And not one person surrounding those women were even noticing. You know why? It was normal. It was just how babies ate.)

    • Charlotte {WaltzingM}

      That's funny, because my grandmother, a mother of 7 beautiful children, who nursed exclusively between the years of 1930 and 1952 because she was a farmer's wife and that's just the way you did it… didn't nurse in public if she didn't have to and wouldn't even talking about breastfeeding to me many years later when I tried to talk to her about her experiences as a young mother. Make sure that when you look at those pictures from the past, you take off your rose colored glasses. A picture is only a glimpse, a snapshot, a moment. And what makes you think that sexualization of the female body is only 100 years old? Have you never heard of Vaudeville or the burlesque?

    • Kendra

      Ashley Sue, I see your point, I really do. And of course, the culture can advocate for immoral things, and we have to avoid those things. To make your point for you, foot binding in China was a fetishized sexual thing, and I don't support that. But, I feel that my breasts, as part of my reproductive system, deserve some privacy. And the fact remains that I find it very easy to have it all. Just because I don't think there's anything wrong with breastfeeding, even public breastfeeding, doesn't change the fact that my own standard of modesty for myself doesn't need to go out the window when I'm nursing.

    • S

      Charlotte- breasts are not *primariliy* sexual. That is important to remember. As to your last question, a woman baring her breast to feed her child might do so for a variety of reasons. Yes, one of those reasons might be because she is wearing clothing that makes more covered nursing difficult. (In and of itself, based on American culture, wearing a tank top or spaghetti strap itself is not exceptionally out of the ordinary or immodest.) Yes, it could also be simply because she *can*, and sees no reason not to- which, based on the way you framed your questions, it seems you find fault with? One reason might be a mixture of forgetfulness ("oh, I forgot to bring a cover along! and yet my baby still needs to eat!"), comfort ("it's too hot today to wear two shirts comfortably"), and convenience ("my baby is hungry *now* and there is nowhere more private to go").

      Lastly, many women do see breastfeeding as something natural and normative. They would very much like to see our culture move towards the way other cultures perceive breastfeeding- as beautiful, necessary, and inoffensive. But how to do that if women everywhere are secluding themselves and covering up, making breastfeeding an intensely private act? Some women publicly breastfeed without a culture to serve a point, and to naturalize and normalize it and grow a generation of people who see a breastfeeding mother out and about and think absolutely nothing of it, whether or not she has a cover.

    • Kendra

      Sarah, I think breasts are different from other parts of the body BECAUSE they are part of the reproductive system. But even so, I don't dress in crop tops, even though tummies aren't sexual. Do you not believe in any standard of modesty in general?

    • S

      I do have my own standard of modesty, Kendra. And it's actually rather funny for me to argue in favor of sans cover nursing, because normally I do wear clothes that make it easy to stay covered. I'm comfortable in a tank top with loose tunic over top, which keeps everything under wraps when I nurse my own toddler. I'm not arguing that women shouldn't cover. I'm advocating *for* women who, by their own standards, don't feel the need to cover. I'm also advocating for a normalization of sans cover, so that women need not feel lewd or crude when they do nurse their child in situations that make covering difficult (like in the deathly heat of humid summer, when two layers of clothing is not comfortable and the baby won't tolerate a scarf and yet still insists on being fed).

    • Kendra

      This is what I have trouble wrapping my head around in this debate. Because I am super duper pro-nursing everywhere, and if someone tried to tell me I couldn't nurse my baby in public, in Mass, on an airplane, anywhere, I would fight for my right to do so. Because nursing is good and normal. But I don't think immodest clothing is good or normal. So my point on this post is, I want both. And I've found it so easy to have both. I used the word "dignity" in the title on purpose, because I don't think exposed nursing is immoral or gross or wrong, I just think it's undignified. And unnecessary.

    • Kendra

      That was a confusing reply. By "I want both" I meant public nursing and dressing modestly. Also, for the record, if I HAD to choose between the two, I'd choose feeding my baby over my dignity, but I've never had to choose. Even if I've not been dressed in nursing-friendly clothes and I've forgotten a scarf or cover, I've always been able to figure out something. Cloth napkins, a hat, something.

    • S

      I see what you are saying, I do. I suppose I just don't feel everyone has to adhere to rigid modesty standards in order to be good or dignified. I myself prefer what could be considered modest clothing not for any especially religious or moral reason- it's simply what I'm most comfortable wearing. But I don't expect that my wardrobe choices are for everyone. I think an Aussie mama wearing a tank top and pulling it down to nurse her child is just fine, and even if she can't quite be called modest I don't find her lacking dignity. What could be more dignified than feeding one's child despite vocal vilification for fulfilling that sacred task? If I'm right, it seems the problem you have with her choice is that she *could* have adhered to more stringent modesty standards *and* fed her child, but didn't. But then, maybe her modesty standards aren't the same as yours. And that's ok. It seems I'm more willing to allow that not everyone does (or should!) hold my exact views on clothing. It doesn't make others undignified, or even outright immodest. It means people are different. *shrugs and backs out of the argument*

    • Kendra

      Haley, that's allowed. If rather ironic considering I linked to your scarves post as the "best practice" way to do this. :0)

      Sarah and Ashely Sue and Haley, I really do appreciate that we can have different opinions on this and still be friendly!

    • Anonymous

      I just wanted to say that this entire debate was so very well done. I really appreciate seeing everyone's sides and arguments – it was very enlightening, gracefully done and efficacious. Thank you, Kendra, Sarah, Ashley Sue and Haley!

    • Kendra

      Upon further consideration, I decided that "dignity" is too big a word for this context, and NOT what I actually meant. So, I've changed the title. And thank YOU traditionalcatholicmum!

    • Elizabeth

      I keep seeing sex and sexuality implicitly associated with shame in this conversations. Like acknowledging that breasts are sexual — in our society or others — automatically makes their exposition shameful. And so pro-uncovered breastfeeding folks feel the need to distance the breasts from sexuality. As Catholics, especially since JPII and his writings, we do not view sex and sexuality as shameful or lacking in dignity. Sexuality is beautiful and sacred and natural and part of our marriage vocation, just like feeding a baby is simultaneously natural and sacred.

      Now, we still believe, as Catholics and as most any culture, that sex is a private act. But we believe it is private because it is sacred and should involve only the husband and wife. It's about self-giving and creating life, and it is private. Involving outside society actually degrades sex. So making something private is actually the complete opposite in the minds of a Catholic — it is keeping the act sacred, not degrading the act.

      As an introvert, I appreciate this private bonding time with my baby. I don't want the whole world in on my breastfeeding. That being said, I do breastfeed in public out of necessity, and I do cover using many different methods from clothing to nursing covers. And I would not be upset with a woman who does expose her breast to breastfeed — I don't know her circumstances, thoughts, or motivations.

      I just thought it was interesting that the anthropology folks were so anxious to distance breasts from sexuality, with sex carrying a negative connotation. We are whole persons, and we can't break down body parts that easily. Women have breasts, and anything uniquely feminine or masculine is part of our sexuality and our whole person. We don't cover all of it all the time, but covering is also not about shame.

      Yes, our society has warped sexuality into a degrading thing. And, yes, women are shamed by people in public because of that. But it doesn't change the reality that private acts, when done in the context of healthy Catholic spirituality, are not shameful, and privacy actually helps elevate the acts and keep them sacred.

    • Elizabeth

      Interestingly enough, our society degrades sexuality by making sex an act that primarily uses other people, whether pornography or birth control or you name it. Sex is not shameful within the context of the sacraments (giving of self). When we use our breasts and babies to make a social point intentionally in public (i.e., exposing our breasts just to force normalization on others) instead of in a self-giving means of bonding and feeding baby, are we degrading the act of breastfeeding?

      This is not to say that all forms of exposure were intentional acts of normalization — just asking about when it is an intentional social statement. What happens when you know you are using your body outside of the intended purpose (social action) and you know you are involving captive strangers who will be uncomfortable?

    • Kendra

      This isn't an angle I've heard before, and I think it's really, really great. Thank you for sharing it, Elizabeth.

  14. Annaleah

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. I am very pro-breastfeeding; I think moms should breastfeed when they can, and I've exclusively breastfed my four babies. However, I'm always surprised by how many people say that they cover up only because it makes them more comfortable, not because they think moms "should". I do think moms should cover up, because although breastfeeding is great and natural, like you said in your other post that you linked it, it is also private.

  15. October Rose

    Yeah … when nursing involves exposing literally the whole breast, I have to agree with you about covering up! I usually wear a tank top under another shirt and so the top of my breast isn't exposed. Especially now that the weather's hot and humid, I've stopped bringing my cover with me … I usually pull out a burp cloth so I have an emergency cover in case one of the twins is fussy and ends up flashing people, but that's it. 🙂

  16. Unknown

    First time commenting, so "Hi!"

    I just had a bit of a realization reading your post when you mentioned what you considered to be "uncovered." I always thought that when people mentioned women covering up while breastfeeding that they meant either a full blanket or one of the rigid neck apron things. And that idea always bothered me because I hate to use either. But, I do always "cover" in that I am either wearing a tank/shirt combo or a scarf. So, I'm just really glad you added that part because it's nice to know that other women who prefer modest apparel also see the "uncovered-but-still-covered" method as a good option.

    And, I've just been reading your blog for a couple weeks, but I absolutely love it!

    — Alicia (tried signing in with my Google account, but it kept listing me as Unknown…)

  17. Charlotte (WaltzingM)

    I posted this question on FB in response to the article you mentioned over on Scary Mommy to see if I could get an answer that I understand and I guess I'll post it here since I find myself agreeing with you, dear Kendra.

    I agree with everything Scary Mommy said but I have one question that I have tried to ask and have never really gotten a good answer so maybe you can or your friends who read this can… why do nursing moms choose to wear button down shirts that require them to expose their whole breast in order to feed their baby instead of wearing nursing friendly clothes that might require some exposure during the initial latch on on but then can be arranged to be more covering afterwards without making the child uncomfortable or feel like he's under a blanket or blocking mom's visual connection either? Because that to me seems like it is a choice on the mom's part, you know? Maybe she likes button down blouses, maybe she feels like tops that are stretchy enough to pull up are too frumpy… I don't know. But a little sacrifice of that "personal style choice" would still accomplish everything you want with breastfeeding without putting the whole boob out there on display.

    That's why I'm curious because I've never understood it. I know there are some women who can't afford to purchase the specialized nursing tops they sell in those pregnancy boutiques, but I have always purchased nursing friendly clothes when nursing and have even been known to "test some out" in the dressing room if I'm not sure how they will work. I've never understood though when I've walked into a room and seen a mom with a button down blouse open and just letting it all hang out. I'm not a prude, I don't gasp in horror or make my children avert their eyes… but I really just don't understand it. (Unless, of course, it was a situation where maybe mom didn't think the toddler would want to nurse and then she decided too at the last minute.)

    • S

      To look at it another way, a little sacrifice of society's obsession with breasts as lascivious would accomplish everything a woman wants with breastfeeding *and* allow a woman to dress in whatever suits her best.

    • Kendra

      That's an interesting question Charlotte. I definitely have multiple wardrobes, very little of it is actually specialized clothing, like officially maternity or nursing gear. I just know that just like I can't wear my favorite sweater in the summer no matter how much I like it, I can't wear some of my favorite dresses and shirts while I'm nursing. I just wear the things that are appropriate for the season, of the year and of my life.

    • Amelia Bentrup

      I just wanted to reply to this.. I generally try to cover up as much as possible while breastfeeding in public (ie. not exposing the top of my breast), however I have 4 kids and have nursed them all well into the toddler years (I have no problems nursing a 1 or 2 or even 3 yo in public). I've been breastfeeding for the better part of 12 years. For many of the years I avoided dresses and certain styles because they weren't nursing friendly. I also felt pretty frumpy and unattractive. However, with my last, I discovered scarfs and other ways that I could nurse while pulling down and still be somewhat covered. This allowed me to wear and dresses and more fitted shirts again I feel so much more attractive and less frumpy. Because of my body shape, I tend to look better in tops which are more fitted…tops which are really baggy or loose make me look/feel more frumpy.

      So, I tend to pull down while breastfeeding and then keep a scarf or something handy to cover the top of the breast. I don't put it over the baby, just over the top of the breast. Of course, there is still the chance that an active baby or windy day could pull it off, but at least I try. LOL

      I feel that saying that moms should only wear certain styles of shirts which are more 'nursing friendly" sorta assumes that moms are only having 2 kids and nursing them for 6 months each. It's not so bad to only wear a certain style of clothing for a limited period of time…but if you are nursing pretty much non-stop, it's different. Now, I feel like I can pretty much nurse in anything with the exception of a high-necked dress that can't be pulled down.

    • Charlotte {WaltzingM}

      Exactly, Kendra!

      But S, isn't that what we (those who support nursing in public and personal modesty) are asking for? A little compromise on both parts? Why is it the pro-nursing militants always seem to want it all? If there is one thing my faith has taught me is that moderation in all things is usually the best way to go and sacrifice is good. In other words, feed your baby in public (not the filthy restroom, not the hot car, not hiding under a quilt) and yes, people should support women in that, but maybe think about your clothing choice and choose what accomplishes that task best without flashing maximum breast to do it. Why is that seen as still not enough for the uber-nursing crowd?

    • Charlotte {WaltzingM}

      I have five children. The first three were all born under three years and we expected to keep having them at that pace until some medical issues kicked in. I've nursed all of my children for anywhere from 13-26 months and I definitely think that pull-up shirts are easier than a slim-fitted, button-down blouses. So, no, I don't assume anything like what you said. And I do understand that some women still want to wear their favorite styles and feel attractive while they nurse. I guess I'm willing to sacrifice a little vanity for personal modesty because it makes me feel more comfortable. So maybe that's the impasse I am at with the "just whip it out crowd". I just don't feel comfortable doing it but it's not out of shame or societal perversion. It's just me personally.

    • Amelia Bentrup

      Sorry…I didn't mean to imply that YOU thougth that necessary (I've read you blog, so I sorta knew you didn't). LOL I was thinking more in general terms when people think of not drinking or eat onions or whatever while breastfeeding and they say "it's no big deal". Maybe it's no big deal to not drink for 6 months, but it's different if you're talking for years on end, yk. I think of wearing certain styles in the same category..I wouldn't not to want wear button down shirts or dresses for years on end. Maybe that does make me vain…and yes, it is harder to nurse that way, but personally I try to make it work because I feel better if I feel more "put together." if that makes sense.

    • Charlotte {WaltzingM}

      I'm going to try this again because a whole chunk of that last comment was deleted somehow…

      Amelia, I didn't mean that YOU were vain for wanting to wear certain styles. But I sometimes think that some women who obsess about defending what their preferences for modesty are might be forgetting that vanity is also a sin that we should be working on as well. Feeling good about yourself, feeling pretty isn't necessarily vain. It can even be vital to those early mothering years. So, I can see choosing an outfit that makes you feel prettier once in a while even if it isn't the most conducive to nursing. It just seems like that's the time to try to employ a scarf or a shawl, or even a blanket over the breast, not the baby, thereby making things easier for everyone (mom, baby and the general public). Then again, like I said, it might just be that I'm a more private person. I would only choose a less nursing friendly outfit if I was reasonably confident that I would have a private area to go nurse in. If it happened that didn't turn out as I anticipated, then yeah, I'd grab a blanket or a spit up cloth to cover the top of my breast and nurse away.

    • Amelia Bentrup

      Yeah…I do use something (like a scarf or burp cloth ot small blanket) to cover the top of my breast if I"m wearing an outfit I have to pull down for nursing access. Most of my "going out in public" outfits are like that and I do always have something with me that I can drape over the top.

    • S

      "But S, isn't that what we (those who support nursing in public and personal modesty) are asking for? A little compromise on both parts? Why is it the pro-nursing militants always seem to want it all? If there is one thing my faith has taught me is that moderation in all things is usually the best way to go and sacrifice is good. In other words, feed your baby in public (not the filthy restroom, not the hot car, not hiding under a quilt) and yes, people should support women in that, but maybe think about your clothing choice and choose what accomplishes that task best without flashing maximum breast to do it. Why is that seen as still not enough for the uber-nursing crowd?"

      I suppose I wasn't thinking of the uber nursing crowd (whoever that is) when I entered into this debate. I was thinking of myself, or any other mama, who perhaps sometimes might feel the need to feed her baby in what could be deemed an "immodest" way. See, there are those who feel the need to shame or denigrate mothers for nursing their babies anywhere in public, cover or no cover. And that in large part is because of our Western culture's perception of sexuality. The reason why I applaud mothers for nursing sans cover (if that is what they want to do) is because I feel like it is one of the only answers to our un-nursing friendly culture. Nursing without a cover is one of the only ways that specific way of mothering enters into the public sphere, and becomes a little less "other". A little less scandalous. Because cover or not (and I think we can all agree here), nursing is not scandalous.
      I like to think about kids seeing mothers feed their children in the most natural way, from the breast, and knowing that it is a very good thing. That it isn't something to hide.

      Now, I do understand your personal modesty. I do understand your zone of comfort. Because, well, I normally dress pretty modestly myself. I don't like baring my entire breast normally. But I just wanted to represent to you some of the reasoning behind mothers choosing to go against the grain and breastfeed publicly. I support those women because I hope their efforts make it a little easier for mothers like me to nurse without ANY cover on the rare occasions they may need to. (For me, I can think of: the beach. I have to pull down my one piece swimsuit top to nurse, and I do attempt to use a soft muslin blanket to cover myself. But then my ornery nursling rips it right off. And I'm left PETRIFIED, worrying about those grumpy old people over there who keep glaring at me for daring to feed my baby and not seeking privacy where there is none to be found. I'd like to think, in future, that a woman like me would feel absolutely comfortable baring her breast to nurse her child. And that I also wouldn't have to worry about mothers like you, or Kendra, deeming me a "pro-nursing militant" who doesn't care a whit about moderation or modesty.


  18. Elizabeth@SuperSwellTimes

    Several years ago at Christmas, a woman breastfed her baby at church. I didn't see it, but my dad did and he went on and on about how "inappropriate" it was and how she "should have taken that to the back."

    Of course, being the snotty mcsnotnosed college student I was, I (snottily) read him the riot act about a woman's right to feed her child where ever she is. Then, a few weeks later, I saw her and her (adorable) baby at mass again. She fed the baby at church again and I have to admit that I saw my dad's point — not that it's not possible to comfortably/discreetly feed your infant in church — but this woman was a little distracting. (Honestly, I noticed the suddenly bare shoulder and back before I noticed anything else.)

    I don't like wearing sleeveless outfits to church, so I can't imagine ever being comfortable without a scarf or cardigan — but what do I know? I'm just a snot nosed kid, after all.

  19. Anonymous

    While I like the idea of the whole two shirts, scarf thing, I can't deal with it in practice. Because I just hate wearing them. I have a tendency to be really warm, so layering is uncomfortable for me. And I really, really don't like anything around my neck. I don't wear necklaces, let alone scarves. So those options are not easy for me; to be honest, they kind of make me anxious. I do use a nursing cover in public when nursing young babies (even though it bothers me to have something around my neck – lesser of two evils and all that.) When they're older, I usually just give them a bottle. I'm not fortunate enough to have been able to exclusively breastfeed any of my babies. The whole bottle-in-public thing is one of the few times that feels like an advantage.

  20. Colleen

    My kids might be weird, but they have all hated being covered up by a blanket/shawl/cover and it makes me really hot. So I just really inconspicuously and modestly life up my shirt and feed them, and really, nobody sees anything. I like when people modestly breastfeed because, even I, a breastfeeding mom of 6 children, get distracted when I see a mom breastfeeding and exposing it all. I can't imagine how men must feel trying to maintain eye contact when they see a bare chested woman 🙂

    And one of your points about breastfeeding was eye contact (between the baby and mom), but I have never experienced this while nursing, only with bottle feeding. When I nurse the baby, he/she is staring at my armpit crease (for lack of a better term). Maybe I'm positioning the baby wrong after all these years?

    • Maggie Frances P.

      I can't discreetly nurse without a cover (my bust is just too large) but i have found that different covers offer different things. I had one that was made for me that I loved- it went around my neck and had something in the collar that made it pop open. No one could see anything but I could look down and see my baby, smile at her, etc. They would fight it but I would just fight them right back. This is how they learn, after all.

  21. Kate Rogge

    Thanks for this post! I'm expecting my first baby in August and have a family vacation with my husband's family shortly thereafter. One of the things I'm most anxious about is feeding the baby without making others uncomfortable but without exiling myself away from the family for the whole trip. I will definitely try the scarf trick, but do you have a recommendation on a cover/apron that you have used and liked?

    • Kendra

      Congratulations Kate! I really like the covers that have boning at the neck, like Udder Covers (ugh, that name!) or Bebe au Lait. That way, I can still look down and see baby. And they can get some air.

  22. Charlotte (WaltzingM)

    One more point… the pro-nursers out there who insist that any nursing mom anywhere should be able to whip it out and feed her child whenever she wants to some times make it hard for those of us who like to be more private in our nursing. I have had babies who would pop on and off the boob for every little sound, every little gust of wind. I liked to take those babies into a more private, quiet place to nurse them not for my benefit or for the public's benefit but for theirs. So that they could get a good long feeding in and not just a little snacking. But I admit, I also just loved having those quiet moments to myself with my little one. Don't' just assume that it's because I am ashamed of nursing or my body. There was no shame. Just a mom who enjoyed a good excuse to run away from the crowd and be at peace with herself and her baby for a few moments.

    • Maggie Frances P.

      I agree that this level of Lactivism has made it harder for the rest of us. For one, now we get judgement from both sides "Ew, you nurse?" and "Ew, you cover?" Nice. But also because these extreme tactics to "normalize" nursing has led to people assuming that's what nursing looks like or has to look like. It turns women off from it because they think they are choosing between their dignity and feeding and it turns greater society off of it. I especially am thinking of women that have been sexually abused or just feel very very uncomfortable about exposing themselves in public to the point of horrible anxiety over it.

    • Kendra

      This is so funny Charlotte. I often wonder what I will do with my introvert self once the season of babies is over. They are my perfect excuse to have a moment alone!

    • Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

      Charlotte, as someone who doesn't always cover, it has never occurred to me to look down on a nursing mama who feels more comfortable covering or nursing in a quiet space. Because it's all about the mother and baby's comfort. That is the priority. Generally, my babies don't mind if I drape a scarf over the top of the breast, but sometimes they do and many times our nursing challenges have made that the last priority during a feeding. I always let my friends know they are welcome to nurse anywhere. And when I've told friends that they don't need to pull out the cover if they don't want to, they've always said, "thank goodness! my baby hates it and it makes nursing so hard!" I think it's great that you and Kendra have found ways to nurse in comfort. I have, too. I just have a hard time imagining anyone being UPSET with you for covering. Has that actually happened to you?

    • Maggie Frances P.

      I'm obviously not Charlotte but I'd like to butt in and answer this: "I just have a hard time imagining anyone being UPSET with you for covering. Has that actually happened to you?"

      It's happened to me. The idea is that we must all fight the good fight to normalize breastfeeding and if we are covering then we are on "their" side. This post touches on the push to not cover a bit, the arguments I have had leveled at me- http://rixarixa.blogspot.com/2011/11/problem-with-nursing-covers.html

      Mostly I have gotten just really condescending comments. It reminds me of the comments one gets about modesty in general, the tired "Why are you modest? Your body is nothing to be ashamed of!" as if being modest is about shame. They seem to think I cover because I am ashamed of my body and/or what I am doing.

      "I always let my friends know they are welcome to nurse anywhere."
      My husband and I do this as well.

    • Charlotte {WaltzingM}

      Haley, it never occurred to me to look down on those women who don't cover their breast. In fact, I have gone out of my way to ask for a reason, something I can understand, that would make a woman choose an outfit that would expose her whole breast instead of just parts of it while nursing because it's something so contrary to my personal preferences and yet I'd really like to understand the mentality behind it. I don't naturally understand that choice and I have teenage daughters who might someday be nursing moms themselves, so I'd like to know where this primarily younger generation of moms is coming from. Is it just a decision of fashion sense or style? Is it purely climate (remember, I live in Texas)? Is it something else? And please note, like Kendra, I consider uncovered breastfeeding "to be breastfeeding in public without a drape OR blanket OR scarf OR SHIRT covering the top of the breast. (emphasis mine) I don't believe that the baby needs to be covered or should be covered. I can understand hating the cover, many of my babies did. I can understand a blanket being a hassle (although I loved those little muslin ones when I used them with my youngest). I'm talking specifically about the top down nursing that seems to be so popular among the young mom crowd.

      For myself, yes… I have had people tut-tut and tisk-tisk when I've gone off for a little privacy like I'm personally setting back the nursing movement a few decades. As if I'm perpetuating some kind of "women should be ashamed of their bodies" mentality. I've had friends say as I've thrown a blanket over my little one that "there is no need for that!" like I'm offending them by doing it when really, I'm just trying to keep my little one focused on the task at hand and not expose more of my body than I am comfortable doing. (I like my friends, but I don't like being naked with them.) Mostly though, it's the people online who insinuate that I'm some kind of prude who is being influenced by the perverted sexuality so prominent in our culture today that make me cringe the most.

    • Anna

      Haley, my Le Leche League leader called the covers "awful" and "child shaming." I had my first baby far away from my family and friends so LLL was a wonderful resource of information and encouragement. But I did disagree with them here. I personally do not feel as though 'the cover' is convenient enough but I also would never slam them like that.

    • Charlotte {WaltzingM}

      Child shaming? Wow. I've never heard that specific one before. But that's probably only because I stopped hanging out with the LLL crowd pretty early on.

  23. Madeline

    This. Everything you said. This sums up my philosophy right here. My SIL was a lift the shirt and BOOB. And it didn't matter where. Church was the most inappropriate place because it was like "Here's a mom feeding her baby and here is most of her stomach and then her skirt. It was far from modest and I know that babies need to eat. I do. But shaking hands and saying "peace" to a bare midriff would have been out of my comfort zone regardless what was happening up top. She would have greatly benefited from the cami me thinks. Or a cover. Or something.

  24. Maggie Frances P.

    Loved this!

    I use to hang around Lactivists a lot online and though I completely agree with 95% of their stances this one always killed me. "If you want to cover you are feeding into society's messed up idea about breasts" Um, no. "Covering should be unnecessary" Um, no again. Where is the whole "my body, my choice" now?

    #1- "My babies fight the cover" Mine, too. And it can be such a pain. But they fight me on a ton of things like getting their nose cleaned, brushing their teeth, diaper changes half the time, etc. I can't get behind this line because it seems to only be used when it's convenient. It's called parenting- your kids are going to fight you but you still assert the rules and stand behind them. My babies would fight me and then eventually they didn't.

    #2- Why don't people ever think of us women with the huge boobs? I'm normally a 36 DDD (that's not an extra D) and when I am nursing they get bigger. For a few months one of my breasts is larger than the baby. If I didn't use a cover you wouldn't be seeing a little head on a bump you'd be seeing a monster boob with a monster areola attacking a poor innocent child in the middle of a restaurant. There is no way to breastfeed a baby discreetly without a cover with a chest like mine.

    #3- "Breasts aren't sexual" Wrong. Sure, maybe not for you but not for greater society and certainly not for me (thank goodness!). "Breasts shouldn't be sexual" No thanks. I enjoy the sexualization of my breasts, thankyouverymuch. Please don't tell me how to feel about my body, my marriage, my sexuality, etc. "Breasts aren't sexualized in other cultures" Sure they are. Maybe not exactly how ours are and maybe some cultures are still fine with them hanging out but yeah, boobs are sexual to other cultures, too (though not all, of course). But hey, even if they weren't; female circumcision is totally fine in other cultures and I'm not down with that, are you? I also like our hygiene practices and our use of beds, tables, and chairs. This is another ridiculous cherry-picked argument- we only care about what other cultures are doing if it's what we think we should be doing in our own not when it's something we're sure we shouldn't be doing. Doesn't hold water. Other cultures are fine, nothing but love and all of that, but this is our culture. This argument reminds me of the rather juvenile "But Sally gets to wear tube tops!" type of argument kids and teens love to throw at their parents. And? "Sally" can do whatever Sally wants in her family.

    #4 This idea of just whipping it out to nurse is married to the idea that women should be able to expose their chest anywhere and everywhere. I've seen this play out multiple times "Well, if men can be topless…" and "Breasts aren't sexual so let's free them!" I think this is awfully telling of the whole thing.

    I'm not the modesty police. I don't really care much about other people's modesty. I look at it and say "I couldn't never wear that" but that's as far as I go. Wear what you want, don't care. But I agree that exposing yourself to feed is the antithesis of modesty. No judgement, just being factual.

    • Maggie Frances P.

      That should read: "Breasts aren't sexual" Wrong. Sure, maybe for", the *not* just slipped right in there.

    • R2P2

      Totally agree with #2. Since breastfeeding, my bra size is in the 34 L/M range. Ugh. When people talk about the baby's head covering most of the breast, I have to laugh. And laugh. (your description was hilariously on point).

  25. Emily Barnes

    I want it all too! Nursing in public has always been hard for me. When my son was little, I wasn't very confident with nursing, so I shied away from it. Now, he is almost 9 months old and super squirmy! He won't stand being covered most of the time because he wants to see everything all the time. I hope to be more confident and prepared the next time around.

    Thanks for the post.

  26. Anonymous

    Breasts are sexual, but then again, they aren't. Whenever I've come across people saying that breasts aren't sexual it has usually been as a response to people claiming that breastfeeding is a sexual act. Which, obviously, it's not and I find it obscene that people would claim that it is (I know you're not, of course). In the context of breastfeeding, breasts aren't sexual, but in the context of sexuality, they are. I'm not bothered by the picture you linked to, but it may be because I'm Scandinavian, I don't know. I'm unmarried and I don't have kids, so I can't say what I would do but I think that how much you cover and what is appropriate where depends on the situation. My cousin recently had a baby and if she breastfed her child like the Spanish woman at a family gathering at home, I don't anyone would bat an eyelash, but if we were out to a restaurant, sure. I'm generally wary of hard-and-fast modesty rules because so much of modesty depends on the situation you're in.

    (Also, by way of introduction, hi, I'm Sara. I've been reading your blog for a while and I enjoy it a lot!)

  27. Tori

    Pretty much sums up my take on the whole thing, Kendra. I personally use a cover in public because I generally can't nurse without exposing my whole breast, and I've managed to make it work through 4 babies. I also know many moms who can do the two-layer or scarf thing just fine.

    "And when people shout, "Breasts aren't sexual!" I get kind of embarrassed, because, um, are you sure you're doing it right?" – YES, this! I want to say to them, "Well, you should try it some time."

    • Tori

      I wanted to add that I use a cover while using both of my hands, one to support baby and one to support my breast. Not impossible. But investing in an actual nursing cover was very worth it. Baby can't pull it off my neck, and the boning lets me see what I am doing.

  28. Kati

    My comment will make me seem shallow, because I don't have much to say about the actual topic – I just wanted to say that "um, are you sure you're doing it right?" made me snort my coffee because it's so stinking funny (and TRUE!).

  29. Anonymous

    I love this, Kendra. I am super pro-breastfeeding also, and THOUGHT I would be militantly anti-covering, but my own personal sense of modesty would never allow me to nurse in public uncovered.

    That being said, if I somehow had no option, if we were stranded somewhere that I couldn't go somewhere away from people, and had no scarf or cover, or double shirt thing and my baby was hungry, I would certainly nurse uncovered. But, since never happened, and I can easily cover, I did (and would in the future, if applicable).

    I will advocate for others to do as they see fit, but if I saw a mother nursing uncovered it might make me uncomfortable. But, I wouldnt fault her or judge her for making me uncomforable. I would just do my best to avoid looking in that direction.

  30. Nanacamille

    I am a great supplier of scarves as I buy lots of them I'm 3rd world countries. They don't take up much suitcase room and are great gifts for nursing moms and others. I almost missed a cruise ship negotiating down a scarf price. It's the fun of the purchase for me. They do make make good nursing drapes.

  31. Jenny

    Can I just say, yes, breasts are sexual, but breastFEEDING is not.

    I'm a two-shirt method nurser in public, myself. I'll sometimes attempt a cover in church or on an airplane but it's usually more of an attention-grabing hindrance than a help.

    Good post.

  32. The Scarlett family

    To several commenters,
    For an authoritative take on whether breasts serve a sexual function (in addition to a nutritional one), check out God's Word in the Bible, Song of Solomon. As a retired LLL leader, calling a nursing drape "child shaming" would be one woman's personal opinion, not the stance of LLLI. Christine Scarlett

    • Anna

      I definitely got the impression that when this woman said that covering the child is shaming the child that she was speaking off the cuff and not thinking. I hope I made it clear that I am very grateful for LLL as they supported me a lot as a young mother. I often direct mothers to them.

  33. Kelle

    I tend to do the double shirt and the nursing cover in public. Rather than join in this debate, I thought I'd share a humorous story about the nursing cover. We were at a restaurant and I put my nursing cover on and covered up Judah. He then starts fighting the cover, of course. I look up as I am trying to hurry to get him the goods so he'll chill out and not kick my water over and notice an elderly couple watching my battle. The man leans over and says to the woman, "She just covered him up with a blanket." The woman, I think, replied with an explanation.

    I just thought that was funny that he didn't know what I was doing to my baby and perhaps he thought I was trying to smother him, like Nicola said.

  34. Christine

    Now I'm wondering what the disagreement you and I had last year was all about. Because our conclusions seem to be about the same. I think nursing "in public" or without a nursing cover is fine and should not be discouraged. But I prefer to do so in such a way that my breasts aren't exposed ("discreetly" as I said in my original post)!

    While I'm breastfeeding, my shirt covers the top of the breast, a nursing tank covers my stomach and back, and I'm good. On the rare rare occasion I wear a dress (I have very few that are compatible with nursing), I *do* use a nursing cover, since baby has to access from the top and I would be

    As an anonymous commenter pointed out above, maybe there's some confusion in terms here. Does "to cover" mean using a tent-like "nursing cover" (Hooter Hiders, Udder Cover, or any of those other embarrassing name-brands), or just having *anything* mostly covering the breast?

    And for the record, I don't think I've ever met or seen any of these so-called "lactavists" before. It's rare enough for me to see women nursing without a nursing cover, let alone with exposed skin.

  35. Abby S.

    Can + worms, you've got here, Kendra! I do think, as some have already pointed out, that cup size is an issue. And I'm certainly all for feeding hungry babies wherever they happen to be. There's nothing shameful about nursing or about breasts. But they are both private, or should be anyway. We can all promote breastfeeding in public, by breastfeeding in public, but without showing unnecessary skin. Mostly, I think that feeding discreetly, whether it's with a cover or a scarf or a hat or whatever else you have at hand, is about being considerate to the people around you.

    I don't nurse with my breasts exposed because I want to be pleasant in public. It's the same thing as expecting my kids to be calm and quiet in a grocery store. There's nothing sinful about rowdy kids in a store. But it's just not considerate, and neither is exposing your breasts, especially to men. For better or for worse, it makes men uncomfortable. My husband has seen 70 months (and counting) of my breastfeeding. He's a huge advocate, completely supportive, and thinks it the best thing for our babies. He just doesn't want to see other women's breasts. I don't see any reason not to spare him (and the men of the world) that.

    Last thought: If we really want to win people over to the breastfeeding (or homeschooling or Catholic) camp, shouldn't we be as pleasant as we can be without compromising our values? We're witnesses for everything that we do. Honey, people, not vinegar!

  36. Jessica

    I think the brouhaha over the Australian nursing mom was that if she was just sitting there it a low cut shirt, no one would comment. Her modesty standards clearly differ from yours, and I don't think (and don't think YOU think) that she should suddenly become more modest just because she's nursing.

    If I'm comfortable wearing a lowcut shirt in public, I don't want to be pressured to coverup just because I'm nursing, if I'm not baring any more skin than otherwise. You can argue that wearing skimpy clothing by itself is poor manners and makes people uncomfortable, and I'd agree with you. But judging from this thread, women who normally dress conservatively find ways to nurse conservatively and that's great. Just like you would be hesitant to nurse if it meant baring it all, women with different modesty standards may be hesitant to nurse if it means dressing in a way that feels unnatural.

  37. Christie R

    Great discussion! A few things stood out to me in what you and other people have said that I wanted to chime in with.

    Someone said modesty during nursing is privilege of the upper class and/or western civilization, and I'm inclined to agree. When our son was born, we as a family were in extreme poverty, and a nursing cover was just not practical. My mother had to buy maternity clothes for me, so the option of double-shirting it wasn't really practical either. Especially in the Florida heat, after an extremely difficult pregnancy, delivery, and post-partum recovery, during which I barely slept and suffered terrible body aches, depression, and far too many UTI's. So it is true that it's not hard *per se* to just cover up, but when one is dealing with much graver issues, it's just *one more thing* to add onto one's worries . . . and any little thing can be the weight that tips the scale. That said, if usually asked if it was okay to nurse in front of acquaintances when I was with them, and would respect their comfort. That's only charitable.

    There is also a worrying parallel I see between breasts + nursing and sex + conception. Not an exact parallel, I know, but we can agree that sex and breasts are similar in that they have a primary function (reproduction for the one, nutrition for the other) with secondary but just-as-important functions of sexual pleasure and bonding between spouses. In today's society, birth control has the very harmful effect of separating the marriage act from it's natural and good end–babies. In a similar way, separating breasts from nursing removes the connection in society's mind between breasts and nurturing.

    It's unfortunate that Victoria's Secret models and string bikinis are the norm, but their pervasiveness in our culture is similar to the pervasiveness of "free love" sex. The function of sex-as-life-giving is ignored, and it becomes a mere animal pleasure. In the same way, I fear breasts are being condensed to their lowest common denominator, things for the mere sake of pleasure and attractiveness. I think a society that regularly witnessed breasts being used in their natural and life-giving context would remedy this somewhat.

    We live in Wales, and here it a misfortune that topless women are displayed for all the world to see on magazine covers in the grocery stores, the same places where you pick up your diaper wipes and cereal. I don't want this to be the only exposure my son ever has to breasts. I want him to see and know what breasts are *for,* so that when he does come upon the beach-babe and the lingerie model, he won't be seeing breasts as some stand-alone objects of stirring sexual desire, but in context. He will be able to know their proper place as life-giving and sacred, affiliating them with motherhood and marriage, a far more wholesome outlook. And when he sees the bare-breasted woman in the magazine ad, he'll be reminded to give her the same reverence as his own mother.

    • Elizabeth

      We lived well below the poverty line when my first was born. I used light blankets to nurse — I also was very stressed, but showing any breast would have stressed me out even more. That's just my personality. I am much more comfortable nursing now that it has been ten years and I have my fourth baby. I still find ways to cover, but I have more options at my disposal. I do think it would have been really tough if it had been Florida summertime, though. I can see that as a huge limitation! My first was November in Virginia. I wouldn't bat an eye if I saw a mom like you nursing in the Florida summer without a cover :).

  38. Christie R

    Also, as an aside, how do people around here feel about the Miraculous Lactation?

    • Kendra

      When my son wanted to ask a question and apparently didn't know the actual word, he referred to my breasts as "nursers," which I think is hilarious and also pretty sweet. And, um, wow. I had never heard of it, so I googled it, and that is one crazy painting.

  39. Faith E. Hough

    I love the humor in your post, Kendra, because (obviously) this topic can hit some sore spots, and humor helps. I mostly agree with you, in practice. I wear clothes that allow me to nurse discreetly enough that it’s happened on more than one occasion that I will have a long conversation with a stranger about how cute my baby is, only to have them suddenly say, “Oh! I’m sorry for distracting you; I didn’t realize you were feeding her.” That said, I do sometimes pull my tops down to nurse when my baby needs it. Yesterday, baby #4 was screaming in a bookstore. Pulling my top down to nurse her instantly was a lot more discreet than struggling to pull out a scarf. It seemed like the polite thing to do, for both my baby and the other customers.
    I’m not sure where I fall on the whole “breasts are/aren’t sexual debate,” except that I firmly feel that they are over-sexualized in our culture and that won’t stop unless we provide the world with positive images of breasts’ primary role:feeding our children. Good people need to see that nursing is normal and beautiful.
    However, by “positive images” I don’t mean that breasts have to be showing. Example: I attended a wedding when my oldest was a squirmy 6-month-old. We were seated next to another nursing mother and baby; the mother was obviously a “lactivist”, down to the bumper stickers she had placed on her baby’s car seat, and the streamlining every conversating into a discussion about breastfeeding. But when she actually started nursing her baby, all I could think was, “Oh, Lord, don’t let people think that this is what breastfeeding looks like.” She placed her baby flat on her lap, unbuttoned her shirt so that both breasts were visible, and then held one breast while she bent over the baby and sort of pushed it into its mouth. Besides the fact that this is just a bad way to nurse, it looked entirely unattractive. I actually felt worst for all the teenage and young adult girls there, because it made the prospect of feeding a child someday frankly disgusting. Oddly enough, that day was the first time I got the “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were nursing” comment. I was, in fact, pulling down the top of my dress while covering my breast with my hand.
    I know I have it easy because I have small breasts and generally cooperative babies. But I still think the best thing anyone can do for the “cause” is to just not make a big deal out of feeding our children. I understand those who are bothered by all the breast-baring…because it’s making a big deal out of something that should be normal and accepted; it often seems like the baring is more for the point made than the baby’s good. I also understand why some people are bothered by the covers…for the same reason. I would never tell someone not to bare their breast…because I think that feeding a child always takes the highest level of importance. And I would never tell someone not to cover up, for the same reason; some babies won’t even eat if they’re distracted, and that cover helps.
    But please, everyone, don’t make it look ugly. 😉

  40. Anonymous

    I've always been a "top down" nursery, wearing looser tops or v-necks to facilitate easy access. I can't stand doubling up on shirts – extra fabric makes me feel suffocated. I could get away with nursing that way without showing much breastfeeding at all because I'm small-breasted to begin with.
    I like the way the scarf cover-up technique looks, but that wouldn't have worked for me either for the same reason I couldn't use any other cover (even if I had wanted to, which I didn't), because I had to nurse with a Lact-aid nursing supplemented. Trying to latch on a baby by itself is tough in the early months, add to that trying to also hold in position a tiny tube and then try and do all that covered? Ha. I've heard the same thing from moms using nipple shields. I'm lucky I have small breasts, as it's never really been an issue of over exposing myself to feed my child. I'm not someone who wears super low cut shirts or revealing outfits, but I've also become more comfortable with my own body since breastfeeding, and my husband and child will benefit from seeing me use my breasts in this way – to nourish children. Hopefully my son will one day be supportive of his own wife and daughters breastfeeding because he's seen it as just a normal part of life.
    I try to support any woman feeding their babies in whatever manner works for them.

    • Anonymous

      Oh my, all the spelling errors. Gah. That's what I get from typing on my phone.

  41. Theresa Devore

    I'm so late to the party! Anyway, while I completely agree with you (I wouldn't be comfortable having myself exposed in such a way) I found this Buzzfeed article entertaining (even if I don't agree with all of it's points…especially the last one.)


    Also, Kendra, I want to be just like you when "I grow up" – you're such an inspiration!

  42. Bianca

    Moms are really like superheroes because they just had a baby but they are the ones who are still taking care of the baby.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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