Lactivism, aka I’ll Teach YOU How to Feel About Nursing

by | Jun 30, 2013 | Parenting, Pregnancy, Things I Think, What I Wore Sunday | 48 comments

A couple of weeks ago, in a Sunday post about Kids and Modesty, I made kind of a throwaway mention of the fact that I consider nursing in public without a nursing cover to fall into the category of immodest.

Since you guys have such excellent reading comprehension, it spawned a couple of comments, then I saw a post on another blog (hi Christine!) on the same subject. So I thought that today I’d revisit the topic.

There seem to me to be four camps. A: do not nurse in public. B: use the cover when nursing in public. C: would use the cover but it’s too much trouble or baby doesn’t like it. D: don’t use the cover when nursing in public because other people shouldn’t have a problem with it.

Obviously we’re all grownups here, and it’s a free country and all that, so you get to make your own decision. But I choose B over the others, and I’d like to share why.

I think (A) just doesn’t work because it isn’t practical. Babies need to eat. A lot. Our society isn’t set up to allow mothers to keep to the house while we have breastfeeding babies. Perhaps if we had milkmen and produce carts and butcher’s boys and servant girls and school buses, a case could be made for being a homebody while we have a new baby. But most of us don’t have those things. Moms need to be out of the house doing things and they need to bring their babies with them and their babies need to eat. I think people in America understand that.

Thanks Ryan Gosling. I think I’m okay for now.

Apparently some cultures have strongly held beliefs against breastfeeding at all in public. I think that is a bummer. If you live in one of those cultures, perhaps it just isn’t possible for you to be out and about with a new baby. To me, that sounds extreme, but that’s because I live in a culture which I believe to be very accepting of the idea of nursing in public, but not the sight of it. 

And (jumping to (D) here) I think that’s OKAY. I do not believe that it’s my job, or even that it’s appropriate for me, to go around trying to teach a lesson on the beauty of breastfeeding to a bunch of people just trying to go about their day and not see any breasts in public at all.

Are there inappropriate photos of women on billboards and bus stops all over the place? Yes. But is the answer to that problem to sit in a coffee shop showing a bunch of businessmen some side-boob? I think it is not.

It’s not just businessmen and people from earlier generations who are uncomfortable viewing breastfeeding. Even I have occasionally been caught off guard by a friend nursing in a way that shows skin.

It’s fine, I’m not scandalized. But I could certainly understand if someone in a store or on an airplane was discomforted by such a thing.

Well, now I just think you’re trying to be difficult.

The lactivists want to remind you that this is a natural thing and that it’s not sexual and that it’s what’s best for babies. I couldn’t agree more. But just because something is natural and not sexual doesn’t mean it isn’t private. There are plenty of things that would fall into one or all of those categories, like childbirth, or going to the bathroom, or picking your nose, or changing your clothes, or taking a rectal temperature. I’m totally great with people doing all those things, but unless it’s an emergency, I’d rather not watch them happen. 

Now on to (C) . . . I used to have the problem of baby protesting against the nursing cover because he wasn’t used to it. For me the solution was obvious and quickly became unavoidable. I pretty much always use the cover, even at home. 

We are fortunate enough to get to hang out with my parents and in-laws a lot, especially when there’s a new baby in the house. With my first baby it was all I could do to nurse my baby and remember to breathe at the same time, so not much use of the blanket. (This was in the dark ages before nursing covers existed!) My poor father and father-in-law probably had to excuse themselves from the room more than once. I didn’t notice — like I said, I was concentrating. Now I have an eleven year old son and while I hope that he will grow up with a healthy respect for breastfeeding, I’d like there to remain a bit of mystery between the two of us. 

There are dozens of photos of me in this nursing cover in interesting places all over the world. They are on my home computer. But since I’m not home, you get this iPhone photo of Gus and I and a baby (I’m thinking Frankie) at the Rose Parade that I found on the husband’s laptop.  

My last couple of babies have been completely used to it and never protested a bit. I’ve even had babies who would go and get the drape and bring it to me, because they knew what it meant. I’ve bought the cheap one, I’ve received the expensive one as a gift, and I’ve made one myself. All work great.

And you would not believe the stuff I can do while nursing now. It would boggle your mind. I am a pro-fessional. Cooking, cleaning, schooling, composing epic poetry, going on rides at Disneyland, operating heavy machinery, bring it on. 

But I do it all with the nursing cover. Because giving my baby the best and most convenient nutrition available is my job, but being all up in everybody’s business about it is not. 

I do not believe that there should be laws against public nursing, or that there should be laws about where in public women should be allowed to nurse, relegating them to locker rooms and changing areas and nursing stalls, or even that there should be official rules about covering up when nursing. If I forget my nursing cover and my baby is hungry, I’m going to nurse him anyway and do the best I can to be discreet. I just don’t see any reason NOT to do all I can to make both my baby and the people around me as comfortable as I can.

It just seems like the nice thing to do. 

update: Thanks to everyone’s thoughtful comments, I think I need to add two categories that I hadn’t considered before. (E) don’t like the cover because it draws attention to the fact that you’re nursing under there, and (F) are unable to use a cover for physical reasons or because of nursing issues and discreetly nurse other ways.

I don’t personally see the logic of (E) since I have never experienced myself or heard of anyone else experiencing someone objecting to just the IDEA of someone nursing in public. The news stories I’ve heard of women being confronted about their breastfeeding in public have (to my knowledge) ALL been cases where they weren’t covered. 

That was really the inspiration for this post.

But Lissy and Haley brought up point (F) which wasn’t something I had considered or have ever had to deal with myself. So if that’s you, you’re doing the best you can in your circumstances. And if anyone bothers you, call Ryan Gosling. Or me, and we’ll stage the most pleasant and modest nurse-in the world has ever seen.

And hey, it’s Sunday again. Here’s what I wore to Mass on a brisk 65 degree June day in Chicago! It did not involve that nursing cover, but give me a few more months and it’s sure to make an appearance.

Dress: Old Navy, Sweater: Anthropologie, Belt: Mod Cloth, Espadrilles: Zappos, Wedding Ring: a gift, Bump: 18 weeks

Thanks to the ladies at Fine Linen and Purple for hosting the What I Wore Sunday blog link-up!


  1. Ashley Sue

    I do breastfeed in public without a cover because covers don't make sense to me. I do not naturally cover when feeding nor do most people even realize that I am breast feeding. However, I am a huge proponent of breastfeeding in public with or without a cover. It is natural and should be viewed as so regardless and the only way to familiarize it is to do it. So I do it. I personally do not see it as a modesty issue and I do post breastfeeding pics on Facebook because it is a part of my life something I have done every day for over four years and I see so much beauty and authentic femininity in the act.

  2. Anonymous

    We somehow don't view teenage girls scandally dressed but somehow view nursing without a cover repulsive. Go figure!

  3. Ellen Johnson

    Great post, Kendra! I fall in the B category as well except around my dad and other male relatives, then I actually leave the room. Just what I'm comfortable with. Anyway, I agree that, obviously, nursing is not a sexual thing; however, I think most husbands like their wives breasts (if you know what I mean). So, out of respect for my husband and the intimacy of our marital relationship, I use a cover while nursing.

    Oh, and great outfit too! 🙂

    • Ellen Johnson

      Oh, I should clarify, I use a cover while nursing in public. I don't nurse with a cover at home around my husband. That sounded a little extreme at first!

  4. Lissy

    A thoughtful and respectful post. I do feel that breastfeeding without a cover in public is not necessarily an immodest thing to do; I think it is often a reasonable accomadation to ask of those around you, who can usually avert their eyes if even modest breastfeeding is a problem for them. And I do want to make one correction to C; for large-busted women like me, who have to support the baby with one hand and the breast with the other, it is almost impossible to use a cover, even if the baby doesn't mind it. You have to have someone help you to get it all arranged, and then if anything slips or moves, you have to have someone help you again. So, just to say not to assume it's a matter of preference or not conditioning the baby to it! I also do find it easy to nurse in ways that show no breast at all, using special undershirts and/or cardigans.

    • Kendra Tierney

      Thanks Lissy, that wasn't an issue I was aware of.

      Even the nursing covers with the boning in them so you can see what you're doing?

      I like using a nursing camisole too, since tummy showing can be an issue even with a cover.

      And have you seen the nursing hat!?

    • Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

      I have the same problem, Lissy! Add on a baby with reflux that latches and unlatches a hundred thousand times a feeding and the nursing cover is almost impossible.

    • Bonnie

      This is me, too!
      Trying to nurse covered up usually draws more attention because getting the baby latched on is very difficult and takes so much effort that the baby usually is crying from frustration and pulling the blanket/cover up and off. It makes much more sense for me to cover with a blanket or scarf while I get ready and then to pull the blanket up to latch baby on. With all the layering I do the only thing that's visible is clothing and the babe's head and I then pull the blanket back down to "close up shop" (as I like to call it).
      But I've also seen some small breasted friends nurse so discreetly that I wasn't even sure if they were nursing or just holding their baby. And that includes when the baby began and finished! I was impressed!

    • Lissy

      Glad to hear I'm not alone! It has helped to get confirmation from my husband that I'm nursing very discreetly, even though I can't use the cover. (And yes — even the structured covers don't solve the problem.)

      That nursing hat is hilarious! I'm pretty satisfied with the solutions I've come up with, but if I ever have a particularly stylish baby…I wonder what sort of hat a nursing baby wears in England at the races?

    • Kendra Tierney

      Thanks so much Lissy. I really do appreciate your and all the other comments on this post. I certainly learned more about nursing than I knew before.

    • Mary Wilkerson

      I'm so late to the party on this post, but I share lissy's issue as well. Whenever I try to use a nursing cover it's a total disaster, but I could never quite explain why (my husband would be like, 'why can't you just do it like all the other ladies I see'?!?! joking of course, as I bury my head under the cover)- glad to know I am not alone. However, I completely agree with Kendra and so, I generally find a very private place to nurse, or a room by myself where I can be comfortable. To the point where I will nurse in the car if needed. I'll never forget a friend from college accusing men of being 'perverted' for being thrown off by a woman nursing in front of them. It made me so mad. Nursing with a cover is just polite in my opinion. 🙂

  5. Mandi

    So many people say they breastfeed their babies in public and no one even notices they are doing it, but I have no idea how they do it! I guess I just don't have "nursing" clothes, but my stomach and sides usually show too and nobody wants to see that. I always cover!

    • Bonnie

      Mandy, I always wear a tank under my shirt. The shirt comes up and the tank is pulled down, with the neckline under the breast. Or I continue to wear Bella bands to cover my mid section. That's what works for me, at least.

    • Amelia Bentrup

      Clothing choice is a big factor. Tighter shirts and shorter shirts makes it harder to breastfeed discretely. Tanks or belly bands underneath can help a lot.

  6. Christine

    Kendra, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. I have a lot of respect for the opinions you share on your blog, and your perspectives on parenthood.

    I actually wrote my breastfeeding post before I read your statement saying you thought breastfeeding without a cover was immodest. But when I read that, I was hoping you might elaborate at some point.

    I agree that breastfeeding can be done in an immodest way. And by that I mean essentially "showing too much". I strive to avoid this, even while I ditch the cover (e.g. wearing looser tops, nursing tanks, sitting such that the baby's body covers anything that might be in someone's view, etc.). I suppose it could also be immodest to breastfeed in an ostentatious way (not that I can say I've ever seen someone doing this).

    You might be onto something when you say that breastfeeding is private, and thus not appropriate for others to see. I'm not sure what I think about it. I'd be interested to hear that point fleshed out a little more, if you have the time.

    • Kendra Tierney

      Thanks Christine, I thought your post brought up some great points too. And I love that having blogs allows us to have this conversation.

      I updated the post with the following:
      If you read the modesty post I mentioned at the top, you'll know that I consider the virtue of modesty to include dressing in a way that allows others of my culture to feel comfortable around me (as well as to show the proper respect for the body God gave me). Considered in this light, not nursing in such a way as to make others feel uncomfortable around me *even if I think they are wrong to feel that way* can allow me to practice modesty AND courtesy.

      Which didn't end up even including the word privacy, which is what I mean to elaborate on, but that's what came out.

      Like you, I've never personally witnessed anyone breastfeeding in an ostentatious way, but if you ever happen to google "lactivist" or "public breastfeeding" as I did today for this post, boy will you get an eyeful.

      I hope that women for whom public breastfeeding is a "cause" don't blow it for the rest of us who are doing our best to be discreet. I don't think they will, by the way, there just can't be very many of them.

      I also revised the part about your post!

  7. Mary Lenaburg

    A beautiful dress. I love the print along the bottom and the addition of the pink belt is such a sweet feminine touch. Love it!!

  8. vercfamily

    I have been nursing for 3.5 years straight, and I nurse my kiddos in public a lot and never use a cover because it's too distracting for my babies. When they were really young they were ok with the cover, but at some point they just got too distracted by it. I will try again with our next baby. I am discreet, though–my shirt goes up and my under shirt goes down, so I don't expose my stomach/back at all.

  9. Holly

    Eh, I love this blog but I disagree. Nursing covers scream, "HEY! I'm nursing! Look! I am nursing under here!" . And I am always so HOT post-partum. Even in the winter. I have learned to do it in a discreet manner with a nursing cami under another thin shirt. Most people don't notice. And, if they did, I don't care. Now that my son is a pop-on-pop-off kinda guy, I may begrudgingly don a cover, bring a bottle, find a private corner, or just grin and bear it.

  10. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    I think you put into words what I have been feeling about the subject but just couldn't articulate. I like the cover; I don't balk when I see someone without one. I happen to be extremely well-endowed, and nursing without a cover always promises a show. Just no way around it for me! So, cover when I'm out, no cover at home and when I'm with girlfriends 😉

  11. Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    It seems like there is more than one issue being discussed here. One is the comfort of others. I do think it's important to be conscientious, and so being as discreet as I can is on my radar. However, while I don't intend to make others uncomfortable by nursing (often without a cover), caring for my babies takes priority over their comfort. And who can say what's going to make someone uncomfortable? Nursing in public at all makes some people uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean women should stop nursing in public.

    As for modesty, I have never seen a woman breastfeed in a way that was showing an excessive amount of skin. So, if in 28 years I've never encountered it, is it really a problem that needs to be addressed so frequently? (Not that your blog discusses this often, the nursing in public issue just seems to be discussed often in the blogosphere). Because my babies hate using the cover, I wear a nursing tank under a shirt (often with a scarf) so that my belly is covered and my t-shirt can cover the top of the breast while baby's head covers the nipple. Sometimes people don't even realize that I'm nursing. And I don't consider it immodest if they do realize I am.

    I think to emphasize the immodesty of nursing in public (I truly don't think it is in any way immodest) can be very hard on mothers who are struggling to breastfeed their babies. Because mine struggle with severe reflux issues, nursing successfully is a challenge and being uncomfortable nursing in public because of the lack of support for breastfeeding in public (my husband has always been supportive, but some of our friends weren't) was one of the factors to motivated me to quit our very difficult nursing relationship at only 4 months. Breastfeeding comes easily for some and a nursing cover can be used without a second thought. That's simply not the case for everyone and I think we should be careful of putting even more pressure on women who are struggling to do what's best for their babies and may already be discouraged. I really think what we should focus on is being supportive and encouraging to breastfeeding mamas (and formula-feeding mamas, too). I'm inspired by that hundreds of beautiful images of Our Lady nursing the Christ Child–particularly Our Lady of La Leche. And she's not depicted with any sort of cover.

    Sorry if this is somewhat incoherent….I'm nursing a baby 🙂

    • Kendra Tierney

      Thanks Haley for your thoughts, especially on the fact that apparently nursing covers just aren't an option for everyone.

      I may need to do a rewrite on the whole post, we'll see. But what inspired me to write it are the stories I hear of women being asked to cover up in a public place while nursing and that the response from some women is to stage a noisy and immodest protest.

      I absolutely do not think that many in the Catholic blog world would think that way. But then Christine's post seemed to be advocating for not using nursing drapes as a way to educate the public.

      That doesn't seem like the way to go to me.

      But however women can best feed their babies and (if at all possible) not scandalize the people around them, I'm all for it.

      And hey, maybe these women being harassed by Target employees really WERE being discreet. If I'm the next one to get kicked off a Southwest flight I'm going to have some explaining to do.

    • Anna

      There are ways of being discourteous that have nothing to do with modesty. It's just rude to sit in an aisle and block traffic regardless of what you're doing or, if you're nursing, how well you're covered. Breastfeeding isn't a get out of jail free card, it doesn't give you special benefits to be places that you aren't otherwise supposed to be. Personally, I think it's inappropriate to nurse in a dressing room (it certainly is if others are waiting, or if there's only one). I know women who nurse in the confessional during Mass. No one bothers them about it or anything, it is convenient, comfortable and private, but that's not what it's for so I would never do it. I've nursed in public for years and have lived all over the US and no one has given me a problem, and I haven't heard of any friends or family having problems either. So I have to believe that these are iscolated incidents or there's more to the story.

  12. Colleen

    Ugh, nursing. I don't love doing it, and I definitely don't love all the strong opinions people have towards it. I just feel like God made our bodies to produce milk after we deliver a baby, and so it makes sense to feed that to the baby. But I don't get any extra special bonding sensation when my baby is nursing via when I'm just snuggling him. I nurse in public, don't use covers, but use my clothes to cover up. I think I'm lucky in the sense that I'm small chested so it's not hard to cover up. I nurse while I'm at home with the baby, and once I go back to work, I pump for a month or two and then it's onto formula. I really used to beat myself up about using formula or not loving breastfeeding because so so so many moms would say insulting things, and it really just turned me off even more. Formula moms seem to be a lot less judgmental when it comes to raising kids (but maybe that's judgmental of me to say?) After having five children, I can honestly say that my husband and I do what works best for our family (that means I have to work to pay bills, and therefore don't breastfeed as long as I would if I were at home) and try to live and let live.

    • Kendra Tierney

      I do enjoy nursing my babies, for the ease of it (I'm pretty sure I would give my babies legionnaire's disease or something through lack of bottle sterilization) and also because it forces me to slow down and sit with my baby, a thing that doesn't come naturally to me.

      But if you DON"T like it and you do it anyway, you get bonus points for sacrifice!

      I would never never make judgements about why a particular woman is not breastfeeding. I have a very dear friend who is not physically capable of breastfeeding and it was a very difficult ordeal for her. She successfully bottle-fed though and it made me so grateful that formula exists!

    • Jenny

      Ditto on the "thankful for formula" front…had I lived in a different era or even now but in a different country, I don't know if any of my children would have survived, as I just can't seem to make enough milk, despite seeing lactation consultants, varying diet, trying herbs, SNS, etc. At first I felt like a bad mom (especially when people would just assume I wasn't breastfeeding but I could have or would give me advice on what I should do to increase supply), but that's just how it is and so far I have some very healthy sized children who have been mostly formula fed. Thank God for interventions when needed, that's what I'd say.

  13. Anna

    I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I don't want to make people uncomfortable with my nursing which is why a lot of the 'lactivist' speak really rubs me the wrong way. I don't believe in making people look at me in order to make them feel comfortable with seeing my breast. But I also think that for me the coverage I get from a loose top is sufficient. My babies have all nursed better away from distractions so I generally find an empty corner to nurse in for their sake. I have never imagined that this would make another nursing mother uncomfortable and so I'm a bit surprised to hear you say that you don't like seeing it. The shirt covers the top part of the breast, the baby covers the bottom and I always have a camisole covering my belly. What is there to see? Other then a nursing baby?

    The downside of the cover for me is just convenience. I don't like digging through a diaper bag and I generally prefer to just leave the diaper bag in the car for emergencies. My babies don't like the cover and if the way for them to become accustomed to it is to wear it at all times, even at home, then that is not worth it to me.

    I have a nursing cover that I use when I'm wearing a dress. Or for those cases where it would be difficult for those around me to just look the other way (at a wedding reception for example. Or on a plane). I know that there is going to be a great deal of variation between women over when they wear the cover and when they don't and I think this is fine. I would never side with a lactivist who shuns the cover by suggesting that using one means shaming the baby or shaming breastfeeding. I still think breasts are sexual, even if they feed babies, so modesty is important. But if you're just glancing at a woman from a distance, is the difference in modesty between a cover and a loose top really that dramatic?

    Anyway, obviously this comment is all about me and my preferences and I think the issue largely comes down to just that. I don't think the covers are appalling, as many people do, but I don't think they are always required.

    • Kendra Tierney

      If people can nurse without showing skin and don't need a nursing cover to do it, then I'm all for it. I think you're right, I probably worded the part about friends nursing around me uncovered more strongly than I actually feel. It doesn't BOTHER me, I just NOTICE it, and I think to myself, if I notice it, other people would probably notice it too. And some of those people might not be nursing mothers themselves. And perhaps they would be made uncomfortable.

    • Amelia Bentrup

      Actually, I've heard several moms say that it is generally only other moms who have nursed a baby that NOTICE other moms nursing (discretely without a cover). I NOTICE when another mom is breastfeeding, because I'm a MOM, and I notice things that are familiar to me. And, I happen to really enjoy/love breastfeeding, so when I see another breastfeeding moms, I feel a little bit of connection. (I'm not one of those people who says something, I just NOTICE and feel a little warm fuzzy feeling. LOL) Just like as a homeschooler, I tend to NOTICE school-age kids out in public during school hours and wonder if they are homeschooling. I started wearing glasses at age 30, and after I started wearing them, I started to NOTICE other people (especially women) wearing glasses when before I hadn't really noticed it at all. My point is, I think a mom who has nursed notices other nursing moms in a way that someone who hasn't nursed really doesn't.

  14. Caitlin

    I just have one child and one on the way, but my personal preference thus far has actually been option A. I am not an on-demand nurser, so it's fairly easy to avoid nursing in public. I would much rather feed my baby right before Mass and then get to wear whatever dress I want! And when we have lots of company over, I prefer to go in a separate room so I can have twenty minutes of alone time with my baby.

    Of course, it's not always possible to avoid feeding my baby in front of others, but usually my first go-to is a bottle of pumped milk (I don't mind pumping once a night before going to sleep) and then as a last resort, nursing with a cover.

    I don't really care what others do, that's just what makes me feel most comfortable. As our family grows, I imagine I will have to get more comfortable nursing in front of people, though!

  15. Nanacamille

    I encourage all of the new moms at Birthline to give nursing their babies a try as it's better for both of them. If it doesn't work out them they can go to formula. Try it first and you won't be dependent on us or WIC for formula it it works well.

  16. Hannah

    It was encouraging to see you also struggled with not using a nursing cover at home with the first baby. I did that, and just nursed in front of my sister in law (who was great, and never complained). But now nursing my second, my first (little boy) started curiously reaching down a lot of people's shirts. I'm trying to teach him about privacy, and trying to start using a nursing cover at home. Its a hard habit to start….thanks, this was encouraging.

  17. shauna

    Like you Kendra, my oldest is 11 and nursing covers were not available (at least that I was aware of) I am medium sized so it has always been easy for me to nurse discreetly in public with a blanket. I remember seeing my larger breasted friends try to feed their babies in public and it was a whole different experience for them then it was for me. When nursing covers came out I was very happy and I love using them. I think the cover does make it more obvious but it is so much nicer for the baby. You and your baby can look at each other, they can breath easier because they are not being smothered with a blanket and it is just convenient.
    I think the whole issue with the Lactivist community is a lot of them were not breastfed themselves. This is just what I observed amongst friends. In the line of women in my family there has never been a bottle fed baby. I was breast fed, my mother was, my grandmother was and so on. My mom new how to encourage and help me and would even hold a blanket up for me in public to make sure I didn't expose myself. Because I had this support I never had the need to make a statement and bare my breasts. I think the women who hand out (I have the right to breastfeed cards) or participate in sit-ins are just trying to educate the public that breast is best, (which it is) because they may have not had the support from their mothers, friends etc..

    • Ashley Sue

      I became a lactavist the day a hospital kicked me out for nursing in public. My daughter who was two months old needed to eat while I waited there with my one year old who had scarlet fever. They refused to treat me unless I stopped. They threatened to arrest me and take my children to CPS. Thankfully a gentleman who was there was a lawyer and defended me but they kicked me out and I had to drive forty minutes to military hospital where my son collapsed and seized.

    • Ashley Sue

      My husband was deployed at the time; however JAG did file a lawsuit against the hospital which I won and donated the winnings to La leche League and several other groups that defend women who nurse.

      I commented above as Ashley Sue, so my thoughts on covers are above. My family is open about nursing and no one has ever covered themselves but maybe that is a Romani thing and not an American thing.

  18. blythe

    I can confidently say I fall into the "who cares!" Category on this subject. Sometimes I yank up my shirt, careful to expose as little boob as I can, sometimes I toss a blanket over my shoulder, sometimes I'm having a coversation with someone and I SUDDENLY REALIZE IM NURSING MY BABY (because maybe that baby was crying and so I just tossed him or her into my lap and started to nurse them or something, I don't know… I don't remember) anyway, I'm not a very prepared mom and I'm sure that's a failing and something that needs improvement but that means that most of the time there isn't a change of clothes or a nursing drape and the diapers are in a box in the back of the van. So- not nursing under cover is neither intertional or non intentional, it just is. I will say this- the moments in my life as a mother that have bolstered my confidence in my own role as a nursing mom have been times where I've seen my friends, my awesome, virtue minded friends, quickly pull up their shirt to nurse a needy baby. and these moments weren't inspiring to me because I needed to see some uncovered nursing-ness for kicks, but because they validated my own experiences as a nursing mom! They made me think to myself- " hey! That's just like me! Sometimes you just gotta nurse that baby. Sometimes you gotta nurse that baby and then chase a two year old- with a little post-partum flab exposed even! " ideal? Usually not. Real and affirming? Yes! I remember the first time I saw a dear friend (who typically wore a cover) quickly grab her frantic baby to nurse them THEN, I felt a rush of gratitude towards her. Even in recognizing that it probably wasnt ideal for her, but it was just what needed to happen and that that was ok. I think these women and these encounters have all given a gift to me- a bolster of confidence, a normalizing of my own mothering, and a little bit of togetherness that we all, as mothers, share. I remember these moments as dear lessons. And sure, the nursing covers still come out and that's great, but sometime, somewhere, a new, wobbly legged mother is going to breathe a deep sigh of relief to watch an older, wiser mother nurse without a cover- in a moment of desperation or by habit or what have you- because it will say to her, "we are all in this crew and we all are just trying our measly little bests." And hey- sometimes you just gotta change a poo on the park bench, too. And even that poo change might make another mom feel pretty good about things.

  19. Monica

    I liked this post a lot, and will actually be linking it on my blog! Here is my commentary:
    Three kids in, I feel like I've really come full-circle with the whole 'nursing' thing. I've never used formula, but with my oldest I would actually pump at home and then bottle feed her in public. I feel silly about this now, but that's where I was. With my second, in looking back I am probably a little guilty of some of that in-your-face "lactivism" that I've definitely witnessed, namely in perusing threads and strong opinions on Facebook. I feel like I've reached a happy medium with my third, and will probably be in the same place I am now with any subsequent children. I keep an "all purpose" light-weight blanket in my diaper bag that I use as a blanket/changing pad/nursing cover/burp cloth, etc. etc. If I am out in public and in close quarters (namely the pew at Church comes to mind) I will toss this blanket over my shoulder when I nurse. Otherwise, if I am at a park or in a large gathering where there's lots of space, I typically just nurse. That said, I will add that I am rather small-chested and I always wear a tank that I can pull down the neckline of under my top so there just isn't a whole lot of anything being shown. If I were somewhere and didn't have my magical blanket and my baby (who nurses on demand) needed/wanted to nurse, I am confident of my ability to discreetly nurse him without offending anyone. Or rather, if anyone chooses to be offended I am of the mindset that this is their problem. And I say that with all due respect. Like I said, I've really come full-circle.

  20. Amy @ Consecrated Housewife

    This post points out an issue I've seen coming around for the last 8 years or so. I have 5 kids, my oldest is 13 and I've breastfed all of them (my youngest is still currently nursing). When my oldest was born the cover was just not in style. Nobody I knew used one, the prevailing thought at the time was that you drew more attention to yourself when you used it. I learned to nurse modestly in public using my clothes as cover or my sling. Eventually, I just adjusted my wardrobe so I always had loose fitting tops when I was out with a nursling (it was easier than using the bulky sling, especially in hot weather). The baby covered my belly and my shirt my top. As I gained experience latch on and off became quick, usually I could tell my baby wanted to nurse and could latch before they even started crying and drawing attention to us. Many times people would not even realize I was nursing, they just thought I was holding a sleeping baby. I would only cover if I was wearing a non-nursing friendly type outfit, but that rarely happened…it doesn't take too long to figure out which outfits were just too hard to nurse in. I saved those for date nights out without baby.

    Nursing covers started coming back in style when my third was born (he's now 8). I've never owned one, by then I had nursing without one down pat and I didn't feel a need for it. I have no problem with a mom wanting to wear one. However, I have noticed that the attitude has been shifting more and more to thinking that moms like me who don't use one are being immodest. At first, we were just immodest if we were not using one in public and now sometimes it becomes immodest if we're not using one at home either. I don't think using one all the time would be a good idea. Babies are supposed to be able to see their mom's face and gaze into their eyes while nursing. It even helps develop their eye coordination. I am modest when I nurse at home around my older sons, but I think it's healthy for them to see me nursing (as it's healthy for them to see my husband and I show affection for one another…not rated R affection, but hugging and light kissing, hand holding and such). I'm modeling what a healthy breastfeeding relationship is to them. I am concerned that this ideal that if you're not using a cover you're not modest is too judgmental. And it seems to be coming from the Christian conservative crowd (of which I am a member). We should be the ones upholding breastfeeding as a good, God given way to feed our children. Covers are fine, but don't crucify the moms who are modestly NOT using them. I think that's where we're crossing the line into legalism.

    • Kendra Tierney

      Okay, here's me hoping you are talking to some hypothetical unpleasant person and not me personally when you say "don't crucify the moms who are modestly not using them." Because yikes, I certainly don't think this post does that. "Crucify" is QUITE a word to be throwing around.

      This post is one person's perspective on nursing. I personally feel more comfortable using a nursing cover when I nurse in public, or even around family members. I also hope that it will help me avoid any unpleasant run-ins with flight attendants and store managers. So, for ME, two birds with one stone.

      I like the nursing covers with the boning in them, so that I can see and make eye contact with my baby.

      And my children seem to have developed plenty of eye coordination.

    • Amy @ Consecrated Housewife

      No, no, sorry…I didn't mean you! I think your post is well thought out and I guess I tend to fall more into the "D" side than more than any other, because I believe you can nurse without a cover and still be modest. I was just trying to say that the idea of modesty = nursing cover was not something that was around 10 years ago. Then it was kind of the opposite, I think. Apologies for coming off stronger than I intended.

  21. Amelia Bentrup

    Hi..sorry I keep posting in your comments, but this is a topic near and dear to my heart…so I actually posted a whole blog post on it. 🙂

  22. Maria Ashton

    I agree with your conclusions, Kendra. And may I add that I really like the blue dress and think you hair looks especially good in those pictures;).

  23. kate @ be merry, kate

    Oh I feel late to the game! I often breastfeed without a cover, but I am *always* covered in another way. I'm usually wearing loose shirts and I've mastered keeping my hand on my shirt so I can quickly cover up when baby decides to look around. I, too, think it's rather immodest and I hate when people do things just to make a point like that. Good post!

  24. Elisa | blissfulE

    Hi Kendra, I saw this post listed on your "best of" and have read it and the comments with great interest.

    I live in Australia and have not personally seen anyone using a nursing cover, though I have seen pictures, such as the one you posted of yourself, of women wearing them, so please excuse my ignorance of this modest solution in my questions below.

    I have been breastfeeding one or more children every day for 7 years. My rule of thumb, in deference to my husband's wishes, is that I nurse on demand any child less than 1.5-2yrs (by which time we usually have another one) wherever we are, and children over that age nurse only at home.

    I'm pregnant with my fifth baby and what caught my attention in your post is that you use a nursing cover at home to give you modesty around your son. My older son is nearly 6yrs old. When does this become an issue, in your opinion?

    I wear a Glamourmom tank (I have a long torso, and these are awesome) and regular top over that, which I think of as 90% modest (maybe 80% modest at home where I'm more relaxed/less careful about how quickly a nursling latches on) and 100% convenient. Your solution sounds 100% modest and maybe 50% convenient, depending on how organised you are about always having one to hand, and how well baby takes to having his head covered. How convenient do you find it? Also, do these covers work for having two children latched on at the same time?

    I'd really appreciate finding out more! Thanks!

    • Kendra


      I personally try to walk a fine line of wanting my kids to be aware of and comfortable around nursing, but I also want to model modesty.

      I wear nursing tanks, so I don't have to worry about my tummy showing. If I'm wearing a shirt that I pull up to nurse, I don't usually cover up at home. But if I'm wearing a shirt that I pull down from the top or unbutton, so that I would be mostly exposed then I do cover up, even at home. With previous babies I always used a nursing cover but in the comments of this post people mentioned using a scarf and that's what I've mostly been using with this baby. It works great, I just keep it on, and it has the added bonus of being able to adjust so that I can see baby and she can see me.

      For me, the point isn't that my son would be scandalized seeing me nurse, it's a totally natural, beautiful thing. But we have family rules about where kids are allowed to change clothes and things like that, and it would seem inconsistent to me if I didn't at least make an effort to not be somewhat topless in the living room. Also, my parents are frequently over at our house, so I think it's polite for me to cover up a bit for my dad.

      Mine have all weaned between 1and 2 years, and always before the next baby comes, so I've never tried tandem nursing. My guess is that it would complicate it some.

  25. Ari Mack

    I appreciate your balanced approach on this – I know it's an old post, but I stumbled upon it after a recent modesty post. I agree that breastfeeding is natural and private, breastfeeding is not sexual. However, breasts are sexual – at least, partly. I have a major problem with people who don't cover or people who don't even try to be discreet or private from a modesty standpoint. I feel for men, my husband, and those who struggle with SSA. I'm all for b-feeding, but it is a modesty issue in public. Yes, children need to be fed, but I do think it makes many people uncomfortable because breasts are involved. If we fed children from our wrists or some other area of the body, it wouldn't be such an issue. Just my 2 cents. I commend all b-feeding mothers.

  26. Ellen

    I've also just found this through links and so appreciate the many perspectives. Kendra, I admire the way you moderate the discussion in the comments so that it's respectful and helpful, even when ladies disagree.

    My thoughts align more with blythe. I am not that organized! I do make sure to cover somehow in public, though my public outings are mostly around friends and family. I think a reasonable regard for other's comfort levels and feelings is good, but as I can't control or predict what will be upsetting to another, I don't fret over a little flabby tummy exposure, should it occur. My real question though is, how can all these lovely ladies stand wearing layers of clothing in the summer?!! I am a hot, sweaty mess within minutes of stepping outside in the summer. Neither work nor church have ac. I could not stand to wear a nursing tank under a shirt in humid Midwestern summer. So I do the best I can and try to angle away from view. Maybe this next baby I'll have it down better. Sigh


  1. I Think I Figured Out What's Causing It: 7 Quick Takes XIX - Catholic All Year - […] to all of you who commented on my breastfeeding in public post. It’s really been a great discussion and…

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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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