I used to think that my (albeit softcore) lactivism necessitated approval of immodest breastfeeding practices. We’re all in this together, breastfeeding moms, and we need to show the world that breastfeeding rocks. Maybe that means leaving the nursing cover at home and breastfeeding publicly without shame?
After all, every breastfeeding mom has gotten her share of infuriating reactions. Like being asked by the staff of a department store to nurse in the bathroom instead of in the comfortable chairs in the shoe section. Or being eyed with uncomfortable disgust in a waiting room, as if something perverted and gross is going on underneath the nursing cover.
These types of negative reactions make me want to flaunt my nursing as I stand on a soapbox, giving my thoughts on the sacrifice and beauty and healthiness and naturalness of breastfeeding, and the sickness of a culture that scoffs at nursing.
Well, in many places in Europe, women have discarded the nursing covers altogether. I’m not sure whether to attribute it to less cultural emphasis on modesty or to more progressive mothering ideas. You sociologists can make that call. But here in England, wherever there are nursing mothers, there are exposed breasts, bellies, lovehandles, hips, shoulders, armpits, you name it. The mothers take no care to cover up—shirt comes WAY up, nursing vessel flops out, and that’s that for the next 20 minutes.
This isn’t about men being grossed out by breastfeeding because they prefer to view women as sterile objects of sexual gratification. This isn’t about women being uncomfortable with their bodies or ashamed of their womanhood in a patriarchal culture. This isn’t about being anti-life and against the mother-child physical bond. This is about modesty and discretion. This is about respecting the dignity of motherhood and of nursing by acknowledging the bashfulness that should accompany every sacred, life-giving physical act.
When I’m nursing, I look down and see, almost entirely, the face of a beautiful nursing baby. When I nurse 8 times a day, it can seem almost as commonplace as washing my hands. Why cover up? But when I’m carelessly uncovered, those around me see WAY more than the face of a beautiful nursing baby, and my nursing isn’t commonplace at all to them. It’s good to respect the rightly-held sensibilities of others. There are many natural, physical acts that must be concealed in public, from the most routine to the most sacred. We even cover up within our home, to shroud our own bodies and to show respect for our family members.
Modest public nursing will do wonders for a cultural respect for breastfeeding. I think it’s enchanting to see a mother take out her nursing cover and nurse unashamed, wherever and whenever her baby needs to eat. Anyone who sneers at this should, upon a moment’s reflection, realize the wrongness of his attitude. But baring all while nursing may justifiably offend, and may alienate some people from the conversation about reforming cultural attitudes toward breastfeeding.