Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Breastfeeding - Cover or Not?

Breastmilk is the most complete food for infants and there is no doubt that because breastmilk is highly digestible, a baby may need to feed more frequently (with their tiny walnut sized stomachs) than us adults. And that can mean every hour or so depending on the baby's metabolic rate.

So how does one deal with the need for frequent (or even infrequent) feedings in the public, once the mother feels well enough to get out of the house?

With the increased awareness and number of mothers breastfeeding, the public's acceptance of public breastfeeding seems to have improved by leaps and bounds. However, we need to recognize that every person's perception and acceptance level appears to be different with public breastfeeding, be it the mother, father or the stranger in the street who chances on the breastfeeding pair. For a new mother who is not used to viewing her breasts as a natural human anatomy that is made for breastfeeding (yes, even in public), she may be rather apprehensive about "flashing her boobs" in public. We know perhaps by writing this post that we may get a lot of protests from our female counterparts or even hate mails (we've seen it appear in many forums - so many we lost count). However, we will like to reiterate the point that we are all for public breastfeeding and the reason for writing this post is purely to showcase different views on public breastfeeding for which we have got enormous mails about.

There are many reasons when a mother makes a choice to cover up when breastfeeding in public:

1) The mother may be unprepared to have her breasts seen by anyone except her partner and her breastfeeding child. For most of us growing up in a conservative society, we have been taught that we should never expose any of our "private parts" which includes our breasts. All these years of belief will not suddenly change every woman's view about having her privacy intruded when she has a baby. We should respect the mother's choice and support what she is most comfortable with. Breastfeeding in public is never about forcing a mother have her privacy intruded on (from the mother's viewpoint). For the more courageous moms who are less concerned, we are more than happy that you are showing the way that breastfeeding is really a natural part of life! :)

2) The father may be unprepared for his wife to be seen breastfeeding in public. The dads may have grown up in a conservative family as well and may feel uncomfortable for the reasons as how some mothers will feel about breastfeeding as listed above. From a more protective husband's point of view, "I really support my wife's decision to breastfeed in public, but I feel so insecure and helpless when there are prying eyes!" We again have to respect each couple's individual decision. Then again there are other daddies who are fine with any arrangements.

3) The extended family usually the grandparents, may be uncomfortable. As many of our parents did not grow up in an environment where breastfeeding is prevalent, it may be difficult for them to see it now as anything other than indecent exposure, after believing so for the last few decades. Old habits die hard and wouldn't it make sense to have a more amiable process for their acceptance by slowly winning them over? Of course, there are other grandparents who are completely supportive and are comfortable with public breastfeeding (without any cover-ups).

4) Friends or strangers (especially males) may be very uncomfortable being in full view of a mother breastfeeding her baby in front of them. They are worried because as a man once put it, "It's difficult for me to go up to this friend when she is breastfeeding nearby and in full view. I am worried that if I accidentally look at her she might think I am rude and trying to peep. So I pretended to not see her and walk away. It really puts me in an awkward position, especially when she spotted and called out to me."

Eventually we do hope that breastfeeding can become so common and people feel that there is no more need to cover up. Until then, rather than forced acceptance, some mothers feel that discreet breastfeeding does help them bridge the gap and allow for the baby to be fed when he or she is hungry and yet be respectful of other's comfort level. Afterall, it is about a gentle movement, at a comfortable pace where the end result is widespread societal acceptance of public breastfeeding where nobody even blinks an eye.

Until then, here are several ways we can think of that a breastfeeding mother can breastfeed discreetly (even in the hospital ward with visitors):

Nursing Covers 

Getting a nursing or breastfeeding cover with a rigid neckline can help loads for those who need to watch baby or to engage baby while avoiding prying eyes. Preferably they should come with a heavier weight at the bottom to prevent it from flying up and exposing the mother. An award winning stylish nursing cover from Bebe au Lait does that effectively. The covers can also be great for older babies who are easily distracted during breastfeeding.

Baby Ring Slings
Not only can a baby sling be used to transport your baby while leaving you hands-free. The tail end can even double up as an extra coverage for discreet breastfeeding. Because it is a baby carrier, you can even shop around while your baby is latched on without anyone ever finding out. A fashionable and comfortable linen blend ring sling from JumpSac can be a godsend for a stylish mommy. No special clothes required (although you should be wearing a top that is loose and easy to pull up if you are not wearing special nursing clothes).

Stretchy Wrap
An extremely user-friendly one like Sleepy Wrap not only allows for the mother to carry her baby hands-free and comfortably for long periods of time, it also allows for quick and discreet breastfeeding. A normal stretchy tank or camisole that can pulled downwards easily allows a baby to breastfeed on the go. Switching breast is a breeze if baby is already in an upright position. Just slide the head over to the side and nurse.

Nursing clothes
There are many clothes made specially with nursing access for more discreet breastfeeding. Some allow for lifting up, others come with zips, yet others come with buttons or clasps (top-down access). Due to the wide range available, a new mother can perhaps think about the type of access she is best able to handle. For example, some women are more efficient with lifting up than pulling down. So choosing the one most comfortable for each individual can be an important decision with a hungry baby. If unsure, get a few different types and try out before getting more.

At the end of the day, we believe that the decision to cover or not when breastfeeding in public or how to cover up is an entirely individual (or familial) one and in order to provide a nurturing environment for continued breastfeeding, individual choices should be respected regardless of whether it is in line with our own.