This is one of the major issues that mothers are concerned about when thinking about how they will choose to feed their babies. At our local breastfeeding support group, we run a monthly group discussion session to which pregnant women come as part of their antenatal class, and usually their #1 concern is how they will be able to feed discreetly in public. Some even say that they plan to bottle-feed whilst out and about to save their modesty, despite the fact that carting bottle-feeding paraphernalia around is a darn sight more difficult than carting your breasts around.
But why are women embarrassed to begin with? Breastfeeding is a natural, beautiful function of the body — surely women shouldn’t feel ashamed?
Unfortunately, the society we live in is one that holds up the female body purely as an object of sexual desire. Yes, our bodies are innately sexual and that is not a negative thing in the slightest; it’s just that the world has lost sight of the reason our bodies were designed the way they were. The primary function of the breasts is to feed babies, not to entertain men. It is entirely okay for a body part to serve more than one function; breastfeeding your baby is not perverse.
Most women are eager to find ways to feed their babies discreetly. This is not a huge challenge; I myself have been known to wander around the supermarket whilst holding and nursing my baby, and nobody has been any the wiser (however, this is not quite as easy when you are nursing a two year old… but that’s a story for another post!). The fact is that you will breastfeed your baby a lot in those first few weeks of their lives. It won’t be long before you are a seasoned pro at discreet feeds — either that, or you just won’t care who sees! Breastfeeding is beautiful, and most people get a serious case of the Warm Fuzzies when they see a mother nursing her baby.
In the early days it can be difficult to nurse in public (N.I.P), simply because you probably just haven’t had enough practice to feel comfortable yet. So, here I will provide you with a few tips and tricks that will hopefully make things a little easier for you.
- Muslin cloths are your friends. Chances are you will carry one in your changing bag anyway, for catching the little puddles of baby sick that come up with a burp. You can drape one of these (or any blanket/piece of fabric, really) over your shoulder and gently over your baby’s head whilst feeding and know that you are completely covered up. Your newborn won’t mind, but your older baby may resent having to eat with a blanket over her head!
- Layer your clothes! A lot of mums are more worried about showing off the attractive leftover padding we get saddled with after the birth of or babies, rather than a bit of boob. One of my favourite little tricks was to wear two strappy vest tops in the summer (and in winter, a vest top under whatever else I was wearing) — this way you can pull down the top closest to the skin, pull up the other one, and voila! Nothing is showing except the bit that needs to be. Of course, you can buy tops made especially for nursing mothers but these are expensive and completely unnecessary.
- Don’t feel like you have to hide away. Of course, you should feel comfortable when you feed, but remember this — this isn’t about your right to breastfeed, it’s about your baby’s right to eat. If you’re at a restaurant, there’s no need to ask if it’s okay to breastfeed your baby. In the vast majority of countries, it is illegal for anybody to ask you to stop what you are doing and you are not legally required to ask. In all honesty, most people don’t even notice a nursing mother unless they make a special effort to spot them.
- Don’t make your baby wait too long. If you allow your baby to get too hungry (and therefore stressed), they may struggle to latch on at first. You want the experience of nursing in public to be a calm, relaxed one, and if your baby is screaming at full volume for his num-num’s you will likely panic.
A lot of shops and public establishments provide special breastfeeding rooms, but often your baby will decide it wants feeding when you are miles away from one of these! A friend of mine once found herself settling down on a display sofa in Furniture Village in order to feed her shouting baby! Where is the most novel (not strangest; breastfeeding is never strange) place you have ever fed your little one?