Lactivism, aka I'll Teach YOU How to Feel About Nursing

A couple of weeks ago, in a Sunday post about Kids and Modesty, I made kind of a throwaway mention of the fact that I consider nursing in public without a nursing cover to fall into the category of immodest.

Since you guys have such excellent reading comprehension, it spawned a couple of comments, then I saw a post on another blog (hi Christine!) on the same subject. So I thought that today I'd revisit the topic.

There seem to me to be four camps. A: do not nurse in public. B: use the cover when nursing in public. C: would use the cover but it's too much trouble or baby doesn't like it. D: don't use the cover when nursing in public because other people shouldn't have a problem with it.

Obviously we're all grownups here, and it's a free country and all that, so you get to make your own decision. But I choose B over the others, and I'd like to share why.

I think (A) just doesn't work because it isn't practical. Babies need to eat. A lot. Our society isn't set up to allow mothers to keep to the house while we have breastfeeding babies. Perhaps if we had milkmen and produce carts and butcher's boys and servant girls and school buses, a case could be made for being a homebody while we have a new baby. But most of us don't have those things. Moms need to be out of the house doing things and they need to bring their babies with them and their babies need to eat. I think people in America understand that.

Thanks Ryan Gosling. I think I'm okay for now.

Apparently some cultures have strongly held beliefs against breastfeeding at all in public. I think that is a bummer. If you live in one of those cultures, perhaps it just isn't possible for you to be out and about with a new baby. To me, that sounds extreme, but that's because I live in a culture which I believe to be very accepting of the idea of nursing in public, but not the sight of it.

And (jumping to (D) here) I think that's OKAY. I do not believe that it's my job, or even that it's appropriate for me, to go around trying to teach a lesson on the beauty of breastfeeding to a bunch of people just trying to go about their day and not see any breasts in public at all.

Are there inappropriate photos of women on billboards and bus stops all over the place? Yes. But is the answer to that problem to sit in a coffee shop showing a bunch of businessmen some side-boob? I think it is not.

It's not just businessmen and people from earlier generations who are uncomfortable viewing breastfeeding. Even I have occasionally been caught off guard by a friend nursing in a way that shows skin.

It's fine, I'm not scandalized. But I could certainly understand if someone in a store or on an airplane was discomforted by such a thing.

Well, now I just think you're trying to be difficult.

The lactivists want to remind you that this is a natural thing and that it's not sexual and that it's what's best for babies. I couldn't agree more. But just because something is natural and not sexual doesn't mean it isn't private. There are plenty of things that would fall into one or all of those categories, like childbirth, or going to the bathroom, or picking your nose, or changing your clothes, or taking a rectal temperature. I'm totally great with people doing all those things, but unless it's an emergency, I'd rather not watch them happen.

Now on to (C) . . . I used to have the problem of baby protesting against the nursing cover because he wasn't used to it. For me the solution was obvious and quickly became unavoidable. I pretty much always use the cover, even at home.

We are fortunate enough to get to hang out with my parents and in-laws a lot, especially when there's a new baby in the house. With my first baby it was all I could do to nurse my baby and remember to breathe at the same time, so not much use of the blanket. (This was in the dark ages before nursing covers existed!) My poor father and father-in-law probably had to excuse themselves from the room more than once. I didn't notice -- like I said, I was concentrating. Now I have an eleven year old son and while I hope that he will grow up with a healthy respect for breastfeeding, I'd like there to remain a bit of mystery between the two of us.

There are dozens of photos of me in this nursing cover in interesting places all over the world. They are on my home computer. But since I'm not home, you get this iPhone photo of Gus and I and a baby (I'm thinking Frankie) at the Rose Parade that I found on the husband's laptop.

My last couple of babies have been completely used to it and never protested a bit. I've even had babies who would go and get the drape and bring it to me, because they knew what it meant. I've bought the cheap one, I've received the expensive one as a gift, and I've made one myself. All work great.

And you would not believe the stuff I can do while nursing now. It would boggle your mind. I am a pro-fessional. Cooking, cleaning, schooling, composing epic poetry, going on rides at Disneyland, operating heavy machinery, bring it on.

But I do it all with the nursing cover. Because giving my baby the best and most convenient nutrition available is my job, but being all up in everybody's business about it is not.

I do not believe that there should be laws against public nursing, or that there should be laws about where in public women should be allowed to nurse, relegating them to locker rooms and changing areas and nursing stalls, or even that there should be official rules about covering up when nursing. If I forget my nursing cover and my baby is hungry, I'm going to nurse him anyway and do the best I can to be discreet. I just don't see any reason NOT to do all I can to make both my baby and the people around me as comfortable as I can.

It just seems like the nice thing to do.

update: Thanks to everyone's thoughtful comments, I think I need to add two categories that I hadn't considered before. (E) don't like the cover because it draws attention to the fact that you're nursing under there, and (F) are unable to use a cover for physical reasons or because of nursing issues and discreetly nurse other ways.

I don't personally see the logic of (E) since I have never experienced myself or heard of anyone else experiencing someone objecting to just the IDEA of someone nursing in public. The news stories I've heard of women being confronted about their breastfeeding in public have (to my knowledge) ALL been cases where they weren't covered.

That was really the inspiration for this post.

But Lissy and Haley brought up point (F) which wasn't something I had considered or have ever had to deal with myself. So if that's you, you're doing the best you can in your circumstances. And if anyone bothers you, call Ryan Gosling. Or me, and we'll stage the most pleasant and modest nurse-in the world has ever seen.

And hey, it's Sunday again. Here's what I wore to Mass on a brisk 65 degree June day in Chicago! It did not involve that nursing cover, but give me a few more months and it's sure to make an appearance.

Dress: Old Navy, Sweater: Anthropologie, Belt: Mod Cloth, Espadrilles: Zappos, Wedding Ring: a gift, Bump: 18 weeks

Thanks to the ladies at Fine Linen and Purple for hosting the What I Wore Sunday blog link up. Head on over to see what everybody else was wearing.