Should Women Cover Up While Breastfeeding In Public?

Yesterday, while waiting to have my hair braided, I observed a young mother and her baby in a nearby shop. The baby had fidgeted for a few minutes, so she decided to feed her. Lo and behold, this woman whipped out her breast, stuffed it into her daughter’s mouth and sat there with the breast exposed. I thought to myself, see me see trouble o. Is this how breastfeeding is done now?

I don’t know how these women do it. They are going about their business with an infant in tow- in school, in church, at the market- and suddenly, there’s a boob out in people’s faces.

Sure, breast is best, rah-rah rah. I completely promote and support women breastfeeding their babies. There are so many reasons to encourage breastfeeding, especially in Africa. I just think women might cover up while doing it.

Do we really have to expose the entire breast, except the nipple, to whoever happens to be walking by?

I asked my mum, and she complained about it as well. In her day, and her mother’s day, it just wasn’t this way. Women would use the baby’s shawl, or a wrapper/scarf, or the ends of a long blouse to shield themselves while nursing their babies. These days, we have super cute and versatile nursing covers, in addition to the other options.

It’s super weird because if most of these women weren’t breastfeeding, they probably wouldn’t wear very lowcut / revealing tops, but when they’re nursing it’s open season for the décolletage.

I know, talking about women covering up might sound like policing, but that is not the case. I’m not being squeamish about women’s bodies, or body shaming women who are out there doing their thing. I’m coming at it from the view of a young woman who’s only just waking up to the idea of having kids, and cannot imagine baring my breasts to all and sundry to feed said kids.

Dear readers, what do you think? To the moms who breastfed their kids, how did you do it while shielding your modesty? Everyone else: does it bother you to see women breastfeeding with their breasts all out? Please let me know in the comments.

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5 thoughts on “Should Women Cover Up While Breastfeeding In Public?

  1. Hi Toby,
    I love the fact that you would love to some day breastfeed and I totally understand how the situation you observed can come across as off putting. However, most times when a mum is trying to sooth her child the last thing on her mind is protecting the sensitivity of the onlooker. She’s probably tired of having a child with her 24/7 and just wants to get the baby to settle so she can catch a break.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying mum’s should bare all but when you consider how much boobs people display in public as a part of being ‘fashionable, forward thinking, empowered, sexy women’ I start to wonder why the most empowering DIY skill we have as women should be frowned upon at all.

    I breastfeed my daughter for fourteen months and I did so anywhere she needed feeding. Occasionally I used a shawl but on a hot day my daughter would not stand for a cover over her face while feeding, as I suspect most people won’t. I did however seek a somewhat secluded area or corner where ever I was and this has more to do with my personality (I really am not one for body/skin flaunting and I am an extremely private person) and less to do with who was around.

    Going to stop here now, if you have the time do have a look at these write-ups and let me know your thoughts.

    1. Thank you for such a measured response from your experience. I hadn’t considered that the baby might not take kindly to being covered up. I note the fact that you would seek a somewhat secluded area because of your own nature.

      I read the articles you linked to, and this section really resonated with me:

      The underlying debate rises from our personalities as individuals which doesn’t change a whole lot with the advent of breastfeeding. Some mums are extremely private people and some are not, this has nothing to do with confidence and everything to do with their personalities. Some mums prior to baby had no issues with showing some flesh; some found a flash of skin a little off putting, and for some it’s the other way round; breastfeeding and motherhood doesn’t rid us of those traits, if anything it further compounds them.

      This is really valid, because I’m quite private, and would not breastfeed my [future] baby in public, without at least a hanky spread over my bosom, not necessarily covering the baby entirely.

      I’m in Nigeria where breastfeeding is still the norm, so I wasn’t looking at the normalization of breastfeeding as a struggle.

      In the end, a hungry baby has to be fed, and that should be completely normal. I still lean towards discretion though.

      Thanks for giving me a few different viewpoints to understand.

      1. You’re welcome Toby.

        I can totally understand your leaning towards discretion, mum also needs to be comfortable with the whole process and like you said ‘a hungry baby has to be fed, and that should be completely normal.’

        Have an awesome night. xxx

  2. Its certainly not pleasant to look at. I’m all for breastfeeding exclusively as appropriate, but baring it all in public is definitely a No-No.
    Cover up mums!! The Muslim nursing mothers wearing hijabs don’t have such problems. One wouldn’t even know breastfeeding is ongoing.
    I no talk say make una dey wear hijab o. There are options listed above. Mothers, pick one and cover up.
    Nice post Toby. As always.

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