Some of the places I take my young daughters might be considered a bit PG. I’m talking about venerable establishments like the library, zoo, and church. You know ... places where breastfeeding mothers hang out.
|Nursing at home, with a cloud of witnesses|
I nursed in public occasionally after my oldest daughter was born, always throwing a light blanket over my shoulder for modesty’s sake. The hospital gave me a little manual pump that’s useful for expressing a couple of ounces of milk to mix with rice cereal, but it’s not terribly efficient at pumping an entire feeding’s worth of milk. As a stay-at-home mom, investing $200-plus in a sophisticated electric pump didn’t seem practical or frugal. Because babies don’t really care about the playground and zoo circuit, and because morning and afternoon naps take up a good chunk of the day, we spent many quiet, content days at home where bared breasts are simply a fact of life.
My oldest daughter was nearly 4 when my second daughter was born, and no way was I staying cooped up in the house every day with an active preschooler. We go out. On play dates, to parks, to the mall. And I nurse everywhere, because I’m still too cheap and lazy to buy a pump and bottle-feed. I’ve nursed in fast food and sit-down restaurants, in the middle of the children’s area at the library, at picnic tables and park benches all over town, at the St. Louis Zoo, in the Star Trek exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center, the butterfly house, a water park, my oldest daughter’s preschool classroom, my back yard, other people’s homes, and even at a table in the middle of a church luncheon (perhaps my most daring public nursing session yet).
While I nurse often and unabashedly in public, I’m a prude. I own a pretty little nursing cover and use it faithfully. I like layering a sweater that opens in front over my shirt so that when I pull my shirt up to nurse, the sweater covers my back and sides. Occasionally at friends’ houses, the host will tell me I don’t need to cover up because they don’t mind, but I still use my cover. Even in the quiet, spare children’s Sunday school room at church where I nurse, I use the cover because volunteers sometimes walk in unaware and then spend the rest of the morning apologizing, although it really is no skin off my back, er, breast.
At home it’s different. My husband and 4-year-old daughter see a lot of skin every day. My older daughter loves snuggling up next to me while I nurse the baby, and she observantly points out every mole and freckle that otherwise never see the light of day. It’s been a valuable biology lesson for her. I’m not too squeamish about nursing coverless at home around my mom or sister either, although I try not to let it all hang out.
Because we go where lots of other moms go, I am privy to a lot of public nursing sessions. I’ve been impressed by the number of moms who don’t bother with covers. There’s a sizable population of moms at library story time, at parks, even at church, who simply lift their shirts, open the flaps in their nursing tanks, and pop their breasts in their babies’ mouths. These moms are suave and quick, with poker faces to match the best Texas Hold ‘Em players around. If I’m not paying attention, I hardly realize what they are doing. They are masters of moves like the swift shirt-tug and the simple but effective hand-over-the-boob. I never look too closely, but even during those brief seconds when the baby is latching on and a mom is most exposed, I never see more than the top few inches of breast. At most, it’s slightly more revealing than a typical low-cut top.
I stand somewhat in awe of these liberated lactators who bare (not quite) all. I’ve considered whether I am brave enough to go coverless among my bolder mom friends. In fact, some avid proponents of public nursing claim that wearing a cover is less discreet because everyone knows what’s going on under there anyway. The La Leche League says donning a cover is like waving a flag announcing, “Hey, I’m breastfeeding my baby right now!”
In the end, I give in to Victorian sensibilities and pull my little white flag (actually, it’s the Maria pattern here, a lovely purple swathe of fabric) out of the diaper bag. I do feel a little better knowing it’s not such a big deal if my cover slips or if a little hand unceremoniously yanks it down, but for now, and probably always, I’ll do my best to keep my public nursing sessions G rated.
You can contact Rachael by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.