Ditch the Cover: A Dad’s Feelings on Open Air Breastfeeding
I’m just going to say it up front. I’m a huge supporter of open air breastfeeding. It’s natural. It’s beautiful. It’s 100% acceptable and supported by my wife, family and myself. I read this post by a Chicago Dad and have to respond. Not all Chicago dads are so easily made uncomfortable and I needed to make sure the Internet knows that.
A few years ago I was with my wife and her family at a county fair. It was hot out. I mean, seriously hot, for a midwestern summer day. The sun was beating down on us, not a cloud in the sky, and the fair was pretty crowded. My wife and I were newly married and not parents yet. My sister-in-law however had a little boy who was nursing at the time.
The whole family was hanging-out and having a good time. It was hot, but everyone dressed appropriately for the weather (short sleeves, shorts, etc.) so we were all coping with it just fine. I distinctly remember my wife finishing a drink of water and then asking the group where her sister had gone off to. Naomi, of College Kid With Kids, had found a place to sit a few steps away to nurse her little one. She was using a cover then, because “modesty,” but the uncomfortable and over heated look on her face will always stick with me. It was over 90 degrees out and there she was completely miserable. Sweat dripping from her face. When her little one was done and uncovered he was drenched in sweat and appeared miserable too. And for what? To make people she didn’t know feel more comfortable by assuming she knew what they preferred? That is ridiculous. Fast forward to my sister-in-law’s next kid and she quote, “realized how stupid it was” and she breastfeeds without a cover now.
While Kevin, the author of the post that inspired me to write this rebuttal, does say “Public breastfeeding should be perfectly acceptable. Anywhere. Anytime. Always.” He quickly follows that line up with this:
If you want to breastfeed in public, COVER UP.
It makes me very uncomfortable to be around a stranger with their private parts hanging out. I’m sure that I am not the only person that feels that way. They make cloaks, and blankets work too. It’s simple to do. Please don’t feel the need to make everyone else in the store, room, school, or wherever you are, uncomfortable. It’s simply not necessary.
The ego of the author of that article is seriously showing. Why does he think his comfort trumps all mothers in Chicago? Why does a mother and baby need to suffer if open air breastfeeding makes someone else uncomfortable to see? Why should they be a sweaty mess when those uncomfortable with it could just, ya know, not look. Breasts are not genitals. They’re not “private parts” any more than knees are private parts. They’re just body parts. Is the author of the “Cover Up” article uncomfortable seeing women in a bikini? It’s way more skin. If so, does he feel like he has the right to ask them to cover up?
Breastfeeding should be a completely socially acceptable way to feed a child at a restaurant, theater, museum, park, place of worship or other public space. My wife breastfeeds without a cover. It is what she and my son prefer so I encourage it. That also means one less thing to carry around in the diaper bag and one less thing to worry about forgetting when leaving a restaurant. My son would never take a bottle so breastfeeding was a required task and having to worry about covering up would have made the process more complicated than it needed to be.
Another argument against ditching the cover I read last week was a woman’s guest post on another dad blogger’s site. In it she tells the story of friends gathered at a table for games and food when she says this:
What I and many others don’t want to see is the ACTION of breast feeding. It’s an intimate act. NOT sexual, intimate – a very deep form of connection between two human beings. As an artist, I have seen many, many nude women, and even posed nude myself for figure drawing sessions. If I see a boob in public, it’s not going to shake the foundations of my world. But when my friend exposed herself to feed her baby, I felt suddenly as if I’d intruded on something private, and I couldn’t unsee it. I respect her for giving her baby the best nourishment and a healthy start in life, but had I been in her shoes, I would have excused myself for a few minutes.
Breastfeeding is definitely intimate. It’s is an act of affection, bonding and closeness. It’s also eating. It can be a loving, quiet meal or it can be a quick grab and go snack. The act of breastfeeding, even when it’s a bonding moment, is no more publicly unacceptable than a parent and child holding hands, hugging or cuddling each other. These are appropriate signs of affection between parents and children that should be encouraged and not hidden away. There is no reason to exclude a breastfeeding mother from a social situation because breastfeeding is intimate. It’s a meal and just like any meal the amount of intimacy and privacy required depends on the occasion.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with covering up if baby and mother are comfortable with it. If a mom prefers to use a cover when nursing then all power to her. But if not, why should a mother and baby be uncomfortable because some anonymous stranger might find a glimpse of it uncomfortable? How is she supposed to know? Should she take a survey before she latches on? Ask everyone who passes by? There is nothing sexual about a baby attached to a boob. It’s just eating.
All debate aside, Illinois state law protects a woman’s right to breastfeed uncovered as do 47 other states. So, while everyone is entitled to their opinion, a woman can breastfeed uncovered wherever she is legally allowed to be and you can’t legally ask her to stop.
I’m sorry the way my kid eats makes you uncomfortable. The fact remains that its none of your business how he eats. I’m not a fan of kids (or adults for that matter) chewing with their mouths open. That doesn’t mean I’m going to ask a stranger to throw a blanket over her kid’s head. How about everyone does what they’re comfortable with? She breastfeeds uncovered and you avert your eyes. Problem solved.