Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Breastfeeding Diaries - no, I can't just cover up!

The other week I saw this article which shows exactly why a breastfeeding mother can't always 'just use a cover' when feeding in public. The photos in the article made me really chuckle - anyone who has a child over the age of two months will know they're wriggly things when they want to be (which tends to be when you don't want them to be) so covering them up with a blanket/scarf/sheet becomes a battle! But one thing frustrated me, and that was the comments.

Aside from the predictable "I'm going to ignore all your points and tell you to cover up anyway" comments there were some from people who claimed to be 'all for' breastfeeding in public, BUT (and if there's a but, you are by definition not 'all for' anything) if this mother had covered from the very start the baby would be used to it.

Rubbish.

First of all, why should a new mother, still getting the hang of breastfeeding, have to contend with covering up too? It's hard enough figuring out how to support their wobbly head with one arm while guiding their frankly clueless little mouth with the other hand, should poor mum have to do all this while trying to keep a scarf in place?

Secondly, while some babies will happily go along with being covered, many won't like it, and will register their dislike as soon as they have enough coordination to start flailing about and dragging the cover off. It doesn't make a difference whether you've only just started using a cover or have fed under a blanket from day 1 - babies develop, and as they develop they find new, often forceful ways of expressing themselves.

Why do I say this? Because when Eleanor was a baby I really struggled with feeding. There is no way in the first two months of her life I could have managed to coax her to feed under a cover, because I needed a completely clear view of what I was doing. Even the slightest bit of fabric could cause an obstruction that would send my reluctant feeder into a tizz. I did managed to use a cover briefly after this period, but then Eleanor worked out that those funny things on the ends of her arms actually BELONGED TO HER (seriously, her mind was blown by this) and, not only that, she could USE THEM! And use them she did - to shove away anything I attempted to cover up with while feeding. She wanted space, she wanted a clear view of me. As she got older she wanted to see her surroundings. No way was this kid submitting to a cover.

And what was the upshot of this? I didn't feed her in public until she was around eight months old. I was too embarrassed, I thought that because these covers existed that meant I had to use them in public, I didn't want to make a scene, I didn't want to be stared at.

But for those eight months, it was a nightmare. I had to try and plan social engagements around feeds, which meant I often ended up late and stressed, or having to leave early. At a time when my life had already changed beyond recognition, this increased my sense of isolation. I would become panicky about going out for a longer stretch of time because where would I feed her? I missed large chunks of a friend's wedding reception by going back and forth to our hotel room to breastfeed.

I really, really, REALLY regret not breastfeeding in public sooner. It was only as I became more informed that I realised that I had every right to do so, and nobody should make me feel like I ought to cover up. And do you know what? I've never actually had a negative comment. I don't think people even notice most of the time. I still get nervous about feeding in public, but I've come to realise that most people couldn't care less what I'm doing, they're just going about their daily business. As am I.

Don't get me wrong, if mum and baby are happy using a cover, then great. But don't assume that, just because your baby was happy to be covered up, then all babies are happy to be covered up. Or that all babies SHOULD be covered up. Making new mums believe that feeding their baby is so shameful that Joe Public must be shielded from possibly glimpsing the act could lead to them becoming isolated at a very vulnerable time.

So no, we can't 'just use a cover'. For many mums, it's a heck of a lot of trouble to go to. If Joe Public is that offended, it's far easier for him to look the other way.

8 comments:

  1. I find it so sad that women feel like they have to cover up in order to feed their babies or else not feed in public. I tried to be more discreet when feeding my elder daughter and used a muslin occasionally to cover her but second time round I just can't be bothered with it - it is so much easier to just get on and feed her. I don't think she'd tolerate a cover anyway as she would get too hot and end up pulling it off. Thankfully so far I've not had any negative comments - like you, my reaction would be 'well if it offends you, don't look!'

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    1. It's great that you've not had any negative comments, and just shows that actually covers are unnecessary because the vast majority of people aren't actually bothered about a woman breastfeeding. I think I'll definitely be more confident next time round, but it's sad that we have to go through that feeling of embarrassment as first time mothers.

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  2. I love this post!!! I have used a cover (it's plain black) with both my babies but I love it when I see people breastfeeding without a cover. I cover up (not for the sake of other people) but because I'm very body conscious and I don't want people seeing my boobs. I find it so funny when people start talking to you...realise I'm feeding and then go all awkward. SO funny! x

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    1. Haha, I've never actually had that situation myself but it does sound funny! I'm quite body conscious too which perhaps contributed to my anxiety about nursing in public, but I feel like it's actually helped me to overcome my hang-ups in a way.I'll definitely be more confident next time.

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  3. I totally second everything you've said hear. I think that if a Mum wants to use a cover then that's fine, there are many reasons for this including cultural. I sometimes use a muslin but I never cover my baby's head. I wouldn't want something on my head when I'm eating. It's a boob feeding a baby, what's the issue here. Can men not be trusted to control them selves and can women not let go of their sensibilities? I could go on....but thanks for sharing your post with the breastfeeding diaries, it's a fab read lady Zx #BFingdiaries

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    1. Absolutely, if a woman wants to use a cover and the child is OK with it, then that's fine. But this attitude that we should use a cover is ridiculous. It's just a bit of skin at the end of the day, you probably see more when a woman wears a low cut top!

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  4. I totally agree. As a first time Mum to my 3 1/2 week old son, the most stressed I've become when feeding has been trying to guide him to latch whilst attempting to keep a muslin in situ over us. I was on the verge of tears trying to do so and am now mastering which clothes to wear to avoid needing to cover up, but also avoid flashing unsuspecting members of the public... I'm still new to this and quite shy!xx #BFingdiaries

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    1. I remember that, it was hard enough getting Eleanor to latch at all in the early weeks without having to worry about covering up. Well done you though and don't worry, it does get easier - both feeding in public and feeding in general!

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