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Nursing Covers & Empowering Breastfeeding

Yesterday I shared a photo of our nursing covers in our Facebook Group the “Global Tapestry Village”.

Nursing Cover Breastfeeding - Global Tapestry

 

Many people commented that they looked pretty and beautiful, however we did receive the following comment:

“While I appreciate their beauty, I don't support their purpose. Nursing covers are a 21st Century US invention which has spread to countries like Australia where women happily breastfed uncovered or with a light wrap over their shoulder. The message they convey is that breastfeeding must be hidden from public view and there is shame in exposing the minimal amount of skin it exposes - which is far less than most swimsuits and singlet tops in summer. They fuel women's fear of public humiliation and harassment, in a country with laws which protect their right to breastfeed wherever they wish.”

I feel compelled to respond to this comment. To me, this statement says “if you’re going to consider yourself a modern breastfeeding mother, then you should suck it up and breastfeed in public without a cover no matter how you feel or without regard to the situation you are in!” I find this to be a very unsupportive view for breastfeeding mothers and one I do not agree with.

I breastfed both of our girls until they were 13 months old, sometimes with a nursing cover, sometimes without. (Edited to add March 2017 - and I'm currently still breastfeeding our son who is 11 months and plan to continue for some time.)

During my early breastfeeding days with my first, using my cover was the only way I felt comfortable enough to feed her in public. When I used the cover I felt relaxed and enjoyed the moment. I know it’s legal for me to feed my child in public from an exposed breast – but having that right doesn’t automatically give someone the confidence to do so.

Nursing covers do NOT convey the message that “breastfeeding must be hidden from public view and there is shame in exposing the minimal amount of skin it exposes”. Nursing covers ENABLE, ENCOURAGE and SUPPORT mothers' to feed their child in the way that THEY feel comfortable. Not every mother will want to use a nursing cover.  However, showing support for breastfeeding shouldn’t be laced with a political or feminist statement, it’s should simply be “supporting mothers to feed in the way THEY want”.

In the beginning of our nursing journey, my nursing cover enabled me to feel supported while I worked out the finer details of breastfeeding in public. Over time, as the cover enabled my public nursing to become second nature, I was able to become more relaxed, confident and comfortable in where and how I fed. As my ability and confidence grew, I often didn’t use my cover.

However, even after months of not using my cover, there would be occasions when I would revert. If I was in a religious synagogue, a setting where exposed skin (even bare shoulders) is frowned upon, I would use my cover to be respectful to the people I was surrounded by. If it was a hot sunny day, I would use my cover to shield bubs from the sun. Just because it’s legal for me to feed without a cover, doesn’t mean I always need to exercise that right.

There were other times when bubs started to become more aware of the world and would get distracted while feeding – a nursing cover enabled her to easily block out that stimulating world, would calm her down and help her to concentrate on filling her belly. There were also times when I used the cover to create a peaceful haven such as while being in busy crowds during peak Christmas shopping. The cover was like a magical forcefield that dimmed out the surrounding chaotic world so I could have this lovely peaceful moment with my daughter – I could peek into the cover and smile down at her, she would caress the cover like a loved blankie while smiling against my breast as she fed – it was a beautiful sanctuary where we could both take timeout while being in a busy public space.

To blame nursing covers for fueling “women's fear of public humiliation and harassment” when breastfeeding uncovered in public, is an absurd accusation. Yes, nursing covers can be used to help shield a mother from prying eyes of the public, but as mentioned above, there are many personal, non-socially projected, reasons a mother may choose to use a nursing cover. There are also non-breastfeeding related factors why a mother may wish to cover up while feeding, such as: anxiety, body image, PND, the mothers’ own religious or cultural background. A nursing cover can be a key enabler for these women to breastfeed in public - I know for myself I would sometimes avoid needing to feed in public if I didn’t have my cover or knew there wouldn’t be a secluded place I could feed when out. It’s far more important to support and encourage all mothers in THEIR chosen breastfeeding journey, then it is to stamp a foot and force the issue of “it’s you’re right to feed uncovered in public – so do it!” which may increase levels of anxiety and have a negative affect on their nursing journey.

Teaching expectant mothers and the general public to accept and normalise breastfeeding – regardless if it is done in public or private – is important. However, banning nursing covers won’t change those with a negative attitude towards breastfeeding to suddenly be for it. A shift in attitude requires education, information and encouragement, and that’s a lot more involved (especially if there are mental blocks) than simply blaming and burning the nursing cover.

So, when you breastfeed in public or at home, it doesn’t matter whether you use a dedicated nursing cover, or feed with a fully exposed breast, or lift up your baggy t-shirt, or use your baby’s blanket, or feed behind a pusher, or feed in a nursing station, or feed while babywearing, or feed center stage in a bikini – all that matters, is that you and your baby are happy and content with YOUR chosen nursing method and journey, regardless what that may look like.

Global Tapestry - Nursing Covers and Babywearing
Nursing Covers also make great sun covers while babywearing!  This is a photo of our first daughter at 2 months with one of our nursing covers as a sun cover - this would have been one of our first attempts at babywearing.
(Make sure you ALWAYS have good air/ventilation getting through to your baby if using a cover to protect them from the sun).

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