On Breastfeeding Rights: Is Being Told to Cover Up a Form of Oppression? (Uhm, yeah. It is.)

Amidst the fantastic public response to my post about an incident of breastfeeding discrimination earlier this month, there’s also been something very confusing going on.  Something I wasn’t expecting was the number of women who commented something like, “Yay, breastfeeding rights!  But have some respect and cover up.”

I just don’t understand how in the world it makes sense for folks to be committed to the right to choose what to feed your baby–breastmilk vs. formula–but at the same time, think it’s ok to tell someone how to feed their baby–with a cover.

So I was beyond thrilled to find the video Covering Up is a Feminist Issue by PhD in Parenting.  It speaks for itself and makes a dramatic point, but without all the drama.

What are your thoughts?  Can you both support my right to breastfeed and insist I cover up?  Is telling a mama to cover up, like the video says, a form of oppression?

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15 responses to “On Breastfeeding Rights: Is Being Told to Cover Up a Form of Oppression? (Uhm, yeah. It is.)

  1. I love to see a woman nurse her baby and have no issue with her remaining uncovered. However I do think there are certain places where to nurse uncovered is going to be provocative and I get tired of hearing about women who nurse in such circumstances indiscreetly. It feels like such women are spoiling for a fight and the “what, I’m just nursing here, gotta problem with it?” line was something they couldn’t wait to use. I do feel that breastfeeding should be normalized but I also don’t feel breastfeeding mothers need to make a statement every time they nurse publicly.

  2. I’d like some of the people who insist that people need to cover up that the baby isn’t always copacetic to that – my son HATES being covered with a passion. It doesn’t matter if it is a nearly see through muslin cloth, he hates fabric on him when he is eating. So … I’m not trying to be indiscreet. I’m trying to feed my son, quickly and easily. If I tried to struggle to cover him? Trust me, he’d make much more of a scene and draw more attention to us.

  3. Carla- it’s too bad that we are in such a state as a society that a nursing mother IS making a statement every time she publicly breastfeeds, whether or not she is ‘intentionally’ doing it or acting defensively, as you say “spoiling for a fight.” It seems like most people would agree with you-that it is alright for a woman to publicly breastfeed while remaining uncovered, as long as it isn’t offending anyone. This argument is ludicrous. There is no way to function in society today without offending someone. I’ve breastfed two boys and am currently breastfeeding my third. When my son is hungry, he will eat. I’ve never had someone complain (to me) about it and I do not cover him up- it’s hard to bond with my baby without eye-contact and I don’t see the point in wasting efforts to struggle with him and a cover because I MIGHT be offending someone. I completely agree with the video-if you don’t like it, don’t look.

  4. I don’t personally have any issue with a woman nursing uncovered, and I understand that covering may at times create a bigger scene. I agree that it’s unfortunate that currently breastfeeding openly is making a statement; I hope that changes in the future. As a woman who has never nursed perhaps I can’t understand the lactivism. Sometimes it feels like “Alright already, we get it, you have a right to nurse.” Which is where the tiresomeness of it comes from for me I suppose. Just a difference of opinion I guess.

    • I do not have a right to nurse…my child has a right to eat the natural way every single other mammal infant does. Period. A puppy eats dog milk, a cub eats bear milk, a kid eats goat milk, a kitten eats cat milk, a calf eats cow milk and an infant eats human milk. So, since man has sexualized my breast I have to get looks when breastfeeding? Or I have to feel bad about feeding my child the way nature intended because a non nursing mom may not want to see or hear about it?

  5. @ Carla – It is less a difference of opinion as it is a difference of experience. Breasts are heavily sexualized in our culture which leads to cultural issues around breastfeeding. Unless you have been subjected to the experience of shaming for feeding your baby, you can’t fully understand it. Lactivism is a much needed part of feminist praxis.

  6. Telling women to cover up is controlling women. End of story.

  7. Anyone who says in the same breath, “I don’t mind breastfeeding, but you know there are places where you should cover up out of respect” (i.e., Carla) has some serious personal issues, that would best be worked through in therapy, and not on the breasts of another woman.

    Let me say this more simply, Carla. Your concern about other women covering up reflects on you, and it reflects on you alone, and it does not reflect well. I’d suggest you refocus your prurient interests.

    • What an interesting response. Apparently only one type of viewpoint is considered acceptable, lest anyone with an opposing viewpoint (i.e. me) be accused of mental and emotional health issues dealing with my feelings about women’s breasts. I have every right to feel that there are some places where breastfeeding discreetly is appropriate, with no need to refocus or seek therapy for serious personal issues. Further, I did not say that I personally have an issue with it but I could see how others would. In many places the law is on the breastfeeding mother’s side, and I’m glad it is. But that doesn’t mean I or others don’t have a right to feel uncomfortable or to voice that opinion.

      • Carla,

        I feel for you being insulted for this is not the platform for that. Help me to understand…where are those places that you can understand people feeling a mommy feeding her child should cover him/her up? Maybe that would help us understand.

  8. Truth be told this is not Carl’s fault. SHe is not, nor are any others at fault for feeling a mom should go some where or cover up. The fault lies with insidious marketing a century ago stating man made milk/formula was superior. It caused breasfeeding to be looked down upon and it has taken a very long time to undo that damage. It is that marketing targeted first to physicians and then to parents that is to blame. Mother’s were told not to breastfeed and artificial formula feeding became standard of care. That horendous marketing to physicians and mommies was done by those with financial gain in the formula industry. Artificial feeding should be considerd an absolute, very last resort after all attemps have been made to human milk feed. Breast milk is the norm. A human woman gets pregnant and milk starts to build and is ready, (in most cases) immediately after the child is birthed for immediate feeding. It is a normal human bodily process and does not need to be covered up or put in a nursing room somewhere.

    • Understandably my viewpoint is at odds with most who would read this blog. And I just want go clarify that point before I answer your question. I unequivocally support a woman’s right to feed her baby wherever, whenever. However, I do realize that not everyone shares my support and do feel uncomfortable with seeing it. I think that reaction is likely in any public place where you have a mixed population, such as a mall for instance. Nursing publicly is important to normalizing breastfeeding and responding to a disapproving reaction with sensitivity and information rather than indignance (however justified) could help someone who feels uncomfortable to understand. Having a fully exposed breast will probably make some people squirm, right or wrong. I therefore don’t see an issue with using a little discretion if nursing in an environment where it could turn into a bigger deal than it has to be.

  9. I find it interesting how quickly people (women) jumped all over Carla for expressing her opninnion, and it’s not like she said breastfeeding was wrong in anyway.
    I EBF DS who is almost 3 til 1 year, with bottles used for expressed MBM okly on rare occasions , unless I was at work 3 days every two weeks, about 2yrs & am currently BF his 2 mo old sister. I often use a cover if not at home, neither of my children have had any trouble with this (admittedly if they did I’d nurse uncovered). I do it firmly comfort as well as others. I’d rather not show any of my post-baby belly & breasts, in some clothes I can comfortably nurse and still be quite discreet, with very little skin showing but in most of my clothes that just isn’t possible. Certain family members especially men of an older generation seem more uncomfortable so in their presence or at large gatherings I often find another place to nurse (out of respect for my in-laws & cultural differences). It’s not like I go sit on a toilet or any thing, in most cases there is a comfy chair, bed etc… in a quieter place. In reality this works better for everyone. Babe is less distracted, so am I, no family or friends are made to feel uncomfortable. I have yet to watch the video & I do find it to be an interesting topic. Maybe me using a cover or choosing to leave the room imposes on my feminist rights a bit but at times I think (for me at least) doing so is the most appropriate and respectful option. I nurse at home uncovered even if some relatives or friends are present or maybe I just use a bit of a burp cloth over exposed part of breast in case kiddo decides to suddenly stop feeding and take a look around. At times I’ll nurse fully uncovered in public (like at a park) I just try to gauge the environment & base my choice on what feedback I get. I won’t stop feeding my child but I can make some changes to how I do it if it seems the most appropriate choice in any given situation. I prefer to stay covered if I’m “chasing” my nearly 3 yr old around a park while his sister nurses. That way my hands are free to hold her & occasionally help him climb, jump etc…. And I have no concerns that she’ll suddenly stop eating leaving my bare breast & nipple exposed for all to see. Yah the cover may blow in the breeze & give a peek to anyone who cares to look & I don’t care if it does.

    Ironically I do think nursing with a cover can be much more “obvious” though possibly more “discreet” than nursing without one in many cases

  10. Excellent video says it so well. The fact that each woman can & should choose seems to get left out of discussions with it some how being implied by some in breastfeeding community that using a cover is in some way wrong since it does less to mormalize breastfeeding and issue of NIP. But I don’t always want to be the one trying to change our societies beliefs on this (or any other issue) some times I just want to feed my child in peace however I choose to do it.

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