Bye Bye Breast Burka

March 23, 2011

Some of you have seen this but it bears showing from time to time: Katherine, a new mom, called me to discuss her milk supply. She was concerned with keeping up the demand of her baby. Then she asked me other breastfeeding questions. She was not sure how to nurse Sadie outside of her house. She thought it was because she needed her “special pillow.” The truth is she doesn’t know how because few women really breastfeed in public anymore. There was an orangutan at a zoo in Boston. The zookeepers mated her and she became pregnant. Ms. Orangutan had been raised in captivity. She had not lived among sister orangutans so she did not know what to do with her baby when he was born – the baby orangutan died. The second time around the zookeepers asked volunteers from the local chapter of La Leche League to nurse their babies in front of the primate.  When the second baby was born the primate placed her baby in her arms backwards but with some guidance from the staff quickly learned to feed and care for her baby. This is how we learn. We observe the behavior of others. When I was a pregnant with my first baby I had met a few breastfeeding mothers along the way including my sister-in-law. I took a breastfeeding class to learn as much as I could before my baby arrived. When Phoebe was born she was placed in my arms and we nursed for the first time for about twenty minutes. And then we nursed  – a lot. I felt awkward. I fumbled to unlatch my nursing bras, some of which were too big, some of which were too tight and one that broke. I bought dowdy nursing clothes. I wore button shirts. I still felt awkward. Phoebe was born on a hot summer day.  I am a gregarious person. I am best chatting with a group. As a new mother I felt isolated. I hungered for company That summer we had a few social events – a wedding, an engagement party – “showing off our baby” weekends. I noticed that wherever I went the host always had a “nice air conditioned room with a comfy chair” for me to go and nurse Phoebe. And Phoebe nursed all the time. I was even isolated in my socialization. Sandra, my brother’s wife had recommended attending a La Leche League meeting. The meetings had been a great resource for her as a new mom. I found the meetings helpful but even more important were the lunch dates after the meetings. Phoebe and I joined other nursing moms monthly at the Thruway Diner. We always sat at the big round table in the center of the bustling eatery. Six to ten moms and their babies smack in the middle of business suits, ties, skirts and silk blouses. This is where I learned to nurse out and about with confidence. I watched the moms with older babies. I saw unspoken communication between them. I saw how a baby might start to wiggle a bit and like Houdini the mom had unhooked her bra, lifted her shirt and latched the baby in seconds flat. It looked effortless and it also looked like there was a baby in her arms – no breasts hanging out, no cover ups – simply a babe in arms. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to feel that assured. I wanted to look that smooth and at ease. As I expressed my envy at their mastery they all assured me that they too had been awkward. They encouraged me to nurse Phoebe in front of a mirror and I did. I grew confident in my ability to nurse Phoebe whenever she needed.  At the next social gathering Phoebe started rooting and I said to Rob, “I am going to nurse her here.” He put his arm around me and kept talking. From there I declined offers for the “air conditioned room with a comfy chair.” I eventually became a La Leche League leader and then lactation consultant. I gave birth to two more children. I nursed them all over the place: the bus, the subway, Saks, Barnes & Noble, fancy restaurants, diners.  Usually no one except other mother’s knew I was nursing. I was not hiding behind anything just nursing my babies. When my youngest child, Finn, was about 6 months old I was at the pediatrician’s office for a well check up. In the waiting area were two new moms discussing a new product they had just discovered – “The Hooter Hider” one of them said in an embarrassed giggle. Then I started seeing breastfeeding covers everywhere. This was the antithesis of the Thruway Diner experience. A baby begins to fuss, the mother searches her bag for the cover, the baby fusses more, the mother opens the cover, ties it around her, by now the baby is wailing, the mom fumbles with the cover and the baby, the baby kicks about, perhaps not wishing to be under a tent. Now everyone knows what is going on under the fabric. How challenging this makes everything. Breastfeeding by its very nature is designed to be simple. We have complicated it. We have made it shameful and difficult.  Like the orangutan new moms today have no real life positive breastfeeding images. Courtney, another new mom, asked me a question about nursing in public. I asked her, “ Do you have any friends who are breastfeeding?” “Yes,” she replied. “So go hang out with them, learn from them,” I offered. “They use a cover or expressed milk in a bottle.” she answered. “Go to the thruway diner!!!” I want to scream. But that was another time, another place. I walk down the street and look into the windows of Victoria’s Secret, American Apparel and Abercrombie + Fitch – this is our provocative world yet we must put a tent around us to feed our babies? We flaunt our breasts to sell products. Breasts are sexy – until they become functional. Then we hide them. A few years ago I could spot a breastfeeding mom because I had a keen eye and I had been there. Nowadays anyone can tell a breastfeeding mom – she is the one hiding behind the overpriced piece of calico. Scan 121940003

12 Responses to “Bye Bye Breast Burka”


  1. Amen sister! Thank goodness my Little Man made it impossible for me to use that tent. My mom kept saying cover up, use a blanket. Good grief if I had kept that up I would have quit long ago. My favorite thing to do is sit in the middle of the mall and people watch. The only way I can do that is if I feed Little Man. So I do. I hope that if anyone sees or knows what I am doing they are inspired to do it themselves. There is no reason to cover up. You see more top breast with cleavage shirts then you do bottom breast while nursing. It is absurd that people are all nervous about it. It is natural and discrete. Throw a blanket over your head and now everyone knows what you’re up to. Thank you for being our lady in the Thruway Diner!

  2. Pamela Says:

    WOW!! So true! I nearly teared up when I read about your husband putting his arm around you…I went to LLL meetings, met with a very unhelpful LC, researched on-line, pretty much everything during my BF issues but the support of my husband was probably the single most important factor that led to my success. Thanks for the read!
    http://thoughtfulmamma.blogspot.com/2009/08/breastfeeding-drama.html


  3. Excellent post! I personally learned how to nurse myself without a covering and people were very hard pressed to even notice I was breastfeeding. I had more trouble with people trying to touch the baby, not realizing!

  4. Shawna M Says:

    I love this article. I have been both mothers talked about here at different times with both of my children. I’ve found that the company I’m with dictates my choice on how to nurse. I know that that shouldn’t matter, but for some reason it does.

  5. Erin C Says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I think that by women trying to ‘hide’ while breastfeeding their babies, society doesn’t see it as a normal act, but rather something women and babies should hide while doing. When it is so natural, beautiful and essential! I really appreciate your comment about how breasts are sexy and shoved in our faces until they become functional and then must be hidden.


  6. I hear you! Breast feeding is so much easier to learn if we have ladies unafraid to show us. It can be so simple with practice. I find the hider things are just an another amazing way we are pulled into spending money, big money, for something that is too simple for all that.

  7. Melissa Says:

    While I wholeheartedly agree that women should be able to breastfeed their babies anywhere they need to, I never chose to nurse in public without a cover simply because my modest sensibilities wouldn’t allow it. I felt infinitely more comfortable with a nursing cover, napkin, or blanket over me, and I became very adept at reading my child’s cues and feeding him quickly with a cover. I think that this article is really about women doing what they feel is right for them — whether that’s nursing with a cover or without. And while I have no issue with other women choosing not to wear a cover, I do not want to be made to feel additional pressure not to cover my breastfeeding child if that is what makes me feel good.

  8. Sandra Says:

    I thought of this when I saw a lady wearing a breast burqa in my very liberal church in my very liberal town. I wanted to say to her that this was the last place she should worry about nursing but realized that would make me just about as judgmental as some of the lovely people who made it their business to get snooty with me way back when. (Turns out, her dress wasn’t very conducive to discreet nursing.) Anyway, it didn’t look like the baby was enjoying being covered by all that fabric since he kept squirming and fussing with it and mom couldn’t adjust it because she needed to hold on to the squirming baby with both hands. It was a great anti-commercial.
    BTW, I made sure to goo at the baby and smile at mom. Hiding or not, she at least chose to breastfeed.


  9. Reblogged this on mamamilkandme and commented:

    Wanted to share this again as there is another backlash to breastfeeding in public.

  10. shauna Says:

    I giggled out loud reading this…. thinking about my trip to walmart yesterday. I nursed my little guy in my ergo while walking around the automotive section. An older woman approached wanting to say hello to my son…. it was only after he gave her an ear to ear boob smile that she realized what was going on!


    • That has happened to me too – People have no idea I’m nursing until they want to see the baby closer. I suppose I have had an easier time than many because modesty has never appealed to me in general, let alone when I’m doing something completely natural and normal.

      Those ‘udder covers’ etc do nothing but piss off babies and broadcast to the world that you are nursing. They are huge and bizarre. A mom whipped one out at a recent WIC meeting *for breastfeeding mothers* and I was stunned. It was literally a BREASTFEEDING MEETING. We were all there with our babies. While she messed around with her cover, I nursed my baby while he sat on a countertop.

  11. Baby Stuff Says:

    Nice answers in return of this matter with solid arguments and explaining the whole thing about that.


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