I posted this week on the BFBS Facebook page my belief that the breastfeeding covers have done more to hurt the NIP (Nursing in Public) cause than help it. Before I go on, I know plenty of people that use the covers. I am glad that they are breastfeeding and not giving their baby a bottle of formula. I realize that for some women, it's all they can do to actually be out in public breastfeeding, even with a cover. I've had moms come to childbirth class reunions and wear the covers and say, "Screw you, Donna, I'm using it!" I don't really care. I really don't. I love them for that. I really don't care about the individual use of the covers. I am, however, concerned about the perpetual use -- the expectation that all breastfeeding women should cover -- that concerns me. I think women are being told to cover up more often because of the covers.
We all know that the breasts are totally sexualized in the United States. Breasts are sexual, like it or not. I'm not going to tell you to not think of breasts that way. But it is OK that they have a function too. People -- men and women -- are uncomfortable with this. We see breasts and cleavage hanging out everywhere we go, but using them in a functional way, to nourish a baby through sucking at the breast, makes just about everyone uncomfortable. We want rights and we demand that everyone not sexualize the breast, but then we wear the covers which, in effect, hides their function.
Several people commented on the Facebook page that they were concerned about men, teenagers, and children being exposed to breastfeeding. This perpetuates the problem, that we are not allowing them to be around breastfeeding. I've seen people make comments that "Everyone knows what's going on under there," but that's not necessarily true. A lot of people have no idea what's going on under there because they've never witnessed a woman breastfeeding, especially if everyone is using these covers! Children don't know what you are doing. Teenagers probably don't know either. Even if they do, it is obvious that you are hiding it, so by the very nature of the hiding behavior, it must be shameful or embarrassing. They do not learn that breasts serve another purpose besides sexual excitement.
I was at the park with a friend a couple of years ago who had a nursing baby. My children were back and forth from the picnic table, but my son (then about 12), was hanging out at the table with us. She always breastfed anywhere, so I was surprised when she asked if she should cover or go sit in her car. For a split second, I thought maybe she should cover. I immediately told her of course not. Feed her baby. She did, and Daymon didn't even bat an eye. He didn't try to look away or look uncomfortable. I think he was already aware that breasts have a function and the baby needed to nurse.
Likewise, my girls have never acted weird about it either. They see women breastfeeding in our house all the time. They don't look away or act embarrassed. It's just how women feed their babies. But I don't act weird about it -- or even draw attention to it -- and so they don't either. Occasionally I will have someone using a cover and at least one of my girls will stare. She'll look confused, knowing there was a baby in her lap before, but now they are all covered up. She has no idea she is feeding her baby.
I am happy you are choosing to breastfeed. I just want women to have confidence in themselves to breastfeed in public. There are so many ways to wear your clothing. You do not have to be immodest to not use a cover. I believe that our children -- and husbands -- will be more excepting of breastfeeding and it will become accepted, not shameful, if women will just casually nurse their babies without hiding. People often say they are covering because it makes them more comfortable, and this is what makes me sad -- that they are made to feel uncomfortable in our society.
I realize that you may sweat bullets when you have to nurse in public. It is stressful for some women. I don't want women to feel like they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. All I am trying to get across is that if you feel like you could easily handle nursing in public without a cover, from a cultural perspective, I think it's good for people to see women proudly breastfeeding. If you just can't get over it, then by all means, use a cover, knowing you are doing the best you can. I promise I won't say a single thing to you if I see you using a cover!
Before I let you go, I wanted to show you the bathroom my students -- and everyone else that comes to my house -- uses. It is devoted to pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. It's gorgeous! For some, it's probably their only exposure to breastfeeding! Enjoy. If you come to my house, don't forget to ask to use my bathroom.