Nursing in Public: To Cover or Not to Cover?

This weekend my husband and I toured a Montessori pre-school for our daughter. There we were, 30+ adults, squatting in tiny wooden chairs, surrounded by tiny wooden furniture and adorable paintings on the wall. There were a few newborns there cooing. During the slide-show presentation, one of the babies got a little restless. I watched as mama quickly scooped her baby up to breastfeed. But before doing so, she leaned over and grabbed her cover up. She draped it over her neck, clipped it, and slid the baby underneath to nurse. It was all very graceful.

It got me thinking about nursing in public. I started thinking about all the clients I have assisted with this and when I nursed my daughter for the first time in public. This can often be challenging for women. And its such a hot topic of conversation. From nurse-ins to Sesame Street, the talk is there. But in the last few years it has reached a new height. And I think this is doing wonders for normalizing breastfeeding. Like Gina Cicatelli Ciagne, a CLC, states in this Huffington Post blog, “…I believe this is an extremely healthy discussion within our country, where our national community is still challenged with providing complete support for breastfeeding moms.”

But what about these”Hooter Hiders“?  I never had a lot of clients use these. However, most everyone I have worked with owned one and had full intention to utilize them. These days its a common “must have” on the baby registry list. As a doula, do you recommend your clients get these? And if they do, do they successfully use them? I’m curious because I haven’t seen much success with them. And does it really encourage mom to nurse in public?

During the time I work with my clients, this is a common task to conquer, how to successfully and confidently, breastfeed in public. Before the big day of venturing out of the house arrives, we have lots of conversations about what their fears are and if they have any emotions that might be holding them back from feeling confident about nursing in public. Most of the time, the conversation always leads to the fact that the mom just doesn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. And most of the time, I smile and reassure them that most likely these strangers are thinking the same thing. And then we discuss that she has the nursing cover and we can go over how to utilize it to help her feel like she has some privacy. I always encourage clients to go somewhere quiet and peaceful but some what populated. Maybe to a park, a coffee shop or a bookstore. Once we get there, mom will set up, bust the nursing cover out and grab the babe. Then I watch mom crane her neck, push the fabric back and forth, slide the neck latch around to find the perfect spot, all while trying to get a squishy wiggly baby to latch on. It takes all of two minutes before mom is throwing the nursing cover on the floor and cursing it all.

After we all take a few deep breaths, we start over. But this time I give the mom two options; try to practice using the nursing cover again or maybe this time try to get baby to latch on without it and if we need to cover up then we can. And most of the time, mom attempts option 2. And when baby is successfully latched on, I offer the nursing cover. But postpartum moms always surprise me. Just when they think they don’t have the “mama confidence” yet, its there shining through. She usually refuses the nursing cover. She’ll point out how little of the breast is exposed and how much of it the baby covers. Then we all just sit back, go into celebration mode and listen to baby gulp away.

Now, I definitely have those clients who love their nursing cover and wouldn’t go anywhere with out it. And I celebrate that as well. Because, to me, anything that gets mama feeling able and free to do what she wants outside the house, is a success. I just hardly see this.

Either way, I truly believe this is something every new mom needs to work through. I supported women for 7 years before becoming a mom for the first time. I encouraged so many women to “just go for it” and to not be embarrassed by something so natural and amazing. So I immediately thought I would have no fear about nursing in public. Honestly I couldn’t wait to do it, the activist in me was aching to get out. But when the day finally came, I failed. My husband’s co-worker came over to congratulate us and of course my daughter was immediately hungry. Just thinking in my head about how I was going to go about this made me panic. So I excused myself and went into the my bedroom to nurse. Stunned by my reluctance, I called Tara. I needed my doula. “Whats wrong with me?!?!”, I said. She laughed and proceeded to tell me that she had the same feelings when she had her fist baby. Her advise was to just truck through it because if I didn’t, I would never nurse in public. “Do you want to nurse in cars and bathrooms?” she asked. No, no I didn’t. So I marched my butt back out of the room and nursed my baby. And she was right. It worked. Very soon after that I had no problems with nursing my baby in front of anyone, it became normal.

So what do you see most helpful with your clients? How do you encourage women to work through the beginning stages of nursing in public?

Lots of Love,

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