Under Cover

18 Sep

I wrote an article in 2008 about nursing in public as a guest post for a website that no longer seems to be updated called Wild Parenting.

Here is my article:

From InStyleMoms.com: “Public nursing can be a bit…public. Use one of these stylish cover-ups to help the precious time be a bit more private.”

When my first child was born in 2003, the idea of nursing in front of anyone mortified me. As I navigated through a myriad of breastfeeding issues, including nursing a preemie, I found it stressful and uncomfortable to nurse in public. My daughter was working on her latch, and I was working on making sure that no one caught a glimpse of either my breast or stomach. Not one to stay at home, I spent the early days of breastfeeding with blankets tossed over my baby’s head, nursing in washrooms, and hiding myself away from people every time she was hungry. And she was hungry all the time!

Eventually, my daughter and I got the hang of latching, and I went on to nurse her for three wonderful years. We mastered the art of public breastfeeding; I fed her on demand wherever and whenever. When my son came along in 2007, I nursed him in public from the get go without the use of any sort of cover and without going to any change rooms. Certainly, some hilarity ensued including spraying my friend with breastmilk in the middle of a bookstore, but I was considerably more confident in my ability to breastfeed. I had no qualms about nursing him in public without the use of any sort of cover.

All women, all babies and all breasts are not created equal. What may be simple for one person may be quite difficult for another. When you add cultural factors, personal feelings of the mother, and breastfeeding difficulties such as latching to the mix, it may be quite difficult for a mother to nurse easily in public without a cover, particularly at the beginning of a breastfeeding relationship. If a woman wants to use a nursing cover for her own comfort and without that cover would either stay at home or turn to bottle feeding, then using the cover is an easy choice. It can make a real difference as a woman gains confidence in her body.

Even in the most enlightened of places where no one so much as blinks an eye at public breastfeeding, some women, particularly first-time moms, may feel uncomfortable, simply because they are doing something that they have not done before and exposing more of their body than they may feel comfortable with at the time. We live in a society where breasts are sexualized, and until our society changes, we must accept the fact that some nursing moms feel more comfortable when covered.

But the marketing of nursing covers has gotten out of control.

Cool, chic, hip, modern: all are words that nursing cover companies use to describe moms who use their products. Apparently, if you do not cover your baby in a loud- patterned, $60 cover, you are desperately out of style.

No matter how you fancy it up, a nursing cover is a glorified blanket. It may look like a tent, it may have a funky pattern, it may have a string that wraps around your neck, it may have a pocket or a pouch, but a nursing cover is still just a blanket!

When nursing covers are advertised as must-have items, the implication is that if a woman is to successfully nurse her child, she will need a nursing cover. Furthermore, nursing covers are advertised as essential because breastfeeding is, according to some of these companies, a private activity. What that suggests is that the cover is not actually for the mom, but for all the people out there who do not want to catch a glimpse of the side corner of a woman’s breast while she feeds her child. I get that these companies are trying to sell a product, but how they can claim to support breastfeeding and then call it a private activity? Eating is not a private activity. Babies need to eat. Look at any music video, magazine cover, or billboard, and you will see images of breasts far more revealing than most nursing mothers.

One brand has a most offensive name. Hooter Hiders, by Bebe au Lait, plays on the sexualization of breasts. Tongue-in-cheek or not, the name is horrible. It implies that breasts should be hidden, particularly when feeding a baby. The company says on their website that “Breastfeeding is something to be proud of. Bebe au Lait allows modern moms to do so wherever and whenever, in style.” If breastfeeding is something to be proud of, why should it be hidden under a blanket?

I do not have a problem with nursing covers, but I do have a problem with the way they are marketed. It makes a lot of sense that a new mom might want to cover up as she learns to breastfeed. It makes no sense to tell her that in order to be a modern and hip woman, she must have a nursing cover. It makes no sense to tell that woman that breastfeeding is a private activity requiring a cover so as not to offend anyone. If only they were marketed as a product to aid in the successful initiation of breastfeeding instead of something under which to hide! I wonder what would happen if half the energy and effort spent marketing nursing products went into helping women and babies nurse successfully. Food for thought.

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