NIP (Nursing in Public) – but tuck, too

You read about it once in a while in the papers, often highlighted by mommyboards: A woman breastfeeds her infant in a store, eatery or mall, and is either asked to remove herself and her baby from the scene (possibly a bathroom) or cover up. The local LLL and nursing mommies respond in a fury – HOW DARE THEY?! – and next thing you know, the offending institution is besieged by nursing mommies, all breastfeeding their babies in a form of protest called a ‘nurse-in’. Just to teach them benighted buggerers a lesson, y’know.

I can sort of understand when these sort of things happen in the Bible Belt. But when they happen in such enlightened places as Vancouver, British Columbia, it really makes me start to wonder. I don’t know the particulars of this one incident, and there are probably unenlightened people everywhere…but could it possibly be that in at least some of these cases, women may have had more, um, liberal ideas regarding modesty than the surrounding population?

Don’t get me wrong: I applaud the laws that enshrine a woman’s right to breastfeed anywhere, any time. I’ve taken advantage of these laws as a nursing mother myself all over Israel, and parts of the USA and Canada…nursing on park benches, during university classes, at various eateries and one memorable, glorious loooong Sunday afternoon in a Barnes & Noble in Queens, NY*. That’s me up there in the picture, nursing my then 2-month-old daughter (this particular pic was taken in the privacy of my home, but I consider breastfeeding photos placed in public areas of the WWW to be NIP as well). Nobody ever said anything bad to me – on the contrary, I’ve gotten kudos from passersby in Israel on occasion, i.e, on those occasions when someone actually noticed what I was doing. Americans and Canadians, if they noticed, pretended not to. But I think many of my compatriots (even the female ones) would have something uncomplimentary to say about the type pf NIP espoused by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Some kind bubbes might even have donated their cloth napkins to cover the poor child’s head, yanno, so she won’t catch a cold. But my impression of what Maggie and her ilk are doing is most defnitely that of, “I’ve got my rights, and I’m going to do what I feel like doing…and screw the rest of you”.

Again, I know all about the laws. And you can’t legislate courtesy. But is it really so hard to at least try to be a goodwill ambassador for the Sacred Breastfeeding Cause when nursing in public? I mean, is the reason you NIP about normalizing the sight of exposed breasts everywhere, or is about keeping your baby fed?

I’m sure there will be lactofanatics who consider this idea – that many people don’t consider indecent NIP to be the best thing since sliced bread – to be nothing less than heresy. Let’s go over the common wails one hears from such people:

But breasts are for feeding babies! It’s only our screwy society that made them all about sex! I don’t know about you, but most women I know (let’s forget about the men for a moment) consider breasts to have more than one function. One lasts for a few years – unless you happen to be Veronika Robinson, that is; the other exists from puberty onward. One function doesn’t negate the other, but in many societies, including our own, breasts have a sexual function as well as providing nourishment for babies, and as such, have traditionally remained covered in public.

I don’t think it was society that put all that erogenous tissue in our nipples, frankly.

But look at all those teenage girls in skimpy tops and the buxom models on billboards! Nobody says anything about them! You might want to consider what the objective of wearing such revealing clothing is. Is your objective while NIP to get as many members of the male persuasion to ogle you?

If it is, your issues go far deeper than my ability to help you, I’m afraid. But if the idea is to feed the baby, well, she doesn’t need the whole breast exposed for that.

But look at all those primitive women in the Arab world! They breastfeed freely whenever and wherever!

I tend to think that’s an urban legend. Having seen more than a few religious Arab Muslim women breastfeeding here, more look like this than those tribal women with their breasts hanging out, as seen in National Geographic. Either way, you don’t live in that society, so who cares what they do? (The same objection about those wanton women in Europe who walk around topless will elicit that last response as well).

But the public must be taught a lesson! They really hate breastfeeding! Actually, they probably don’t, having “breast is best” drummed in to the public consciousness for so very long now. But many people feel embarrassed when others stick their exposed body parts in clear view, especially when they’re just trying to go about their business and not stare. If the real issue is that breastfeeding in public (or in general) is bad, well hell, drop me a line and call me to join the nurse-in (as my last nursling weaned 4 years ago, I’ll bring a life-like doll). Anyone who has a problem with the very concept of breastfeeding in public deserves to be chastised. But here’s a hint: When someone is offering you a blanket to cover up, or offers you a private place to nurse… it might be that you’re the one with an overexposure problem.

But my baby hates nursing under a blanket! It’s too hot and stifling! I’m willing to bet that most of the time, Mommy has never actually tried nursing under a blanket; she just figures that any compromise is tantamount to capitulation, and invoking the baby’s supposed dislike is merely a passive-aggressive way of saying “I don’t want to”.

But here’s the thing: even if it’s true, being a breastfeeding goodwill ambassador means that you go out prepared for nursing. You don’t have to drop $500 at Motherwear to do this, either: simply wear clothes that don’t necessitate complete or near-complete disrobement when it’s time to feed your baby. Wear a T-shirt that’s a little loose so the fabric drapes around you and your baby when your shirt’s up; if wearing a button-down shirt, unbutton it from the bottom, not the top. And please, please don’t pop your breast out the neckhole of a tank top…

If you’re a newbie at NIP, you might want to consider carrying a thin receiving blanket or cloth diaper to cover yourself up with until you get the hang of discreet NIP, or invest in/make a nursing cover.

Or if you really blow it and have to wear a tight dress that zips up the back (I plead guilty to having done this at least twice – once at a wedding, another time at a Bar Mitzvah) – suck up your pride and nurse in a private room, maybe even (gasp!) a bathroom. Mind you, the latter doesn’t mean you should nurse in a stall: many public bathrooms have a foyer with a large mirror and a sofa…not half bad for nursing and certainly not dirty.

So c’mon gals…I know you can do it. Spread the discreet NIP word in public, and maybe if we try to get along, rather than stand up for our ‘rights’ while trampling on everyone else’s, we can mitigate, if not eliminate entirely, the need for ‘nurse-ins’.

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*Which was probably the closest I’ve gotten to heaven on Earth in my life, excluding matters best kept private 😉 .

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18 Responses

  1. I was tres discreet when I NIP’d but once, in an almost Seinfeldian moment on the Upper West Side in New York City, I decided to feed my son. let me just say you couldn’t see anything – really.

    BUT this didn’t stop a teen-aged boy in a motorized wheelchair from quite obviously zooming around me craning his neck trying desperately to get an eyeful.

    So I’m sitting there wondering, do I shop obnoxious albeit disabled boy to cop at the corner for harassing me while I’m breast feeding? Do I shout at him? “YOU WANTA PIECE OF ME WHEEL CHAIR BOY?!” How to deal without making myself look insane, or like I was picking on disabled teen?

    In the end I looked him straight in the eye and said “IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!”

    He looked disappointed then skulked off to the other side of the subway entrance where he could watch from a distance.

    Only in New York.

    I think women in the throes of it forget that it does take some adjusting to the feed bag/sex toy dichotomy. I distinctly remember being somewhat horrified by the breast feeding book I was given. And then in a sleep deprived moment thinking… ” it’s just like a cow… OR a dolphin… dolphins are mammals… Hey wait a minute, I’M a mammal. How weird is that?

  2. I don’t know…I’m definitely a discreet nurser, and in fact rarely NIP when I was nursing my dd, but I do kind of think people should just get over it if there is someone nursing their baby and showing lots of boob. There are much more appalling things to be appalled at, IMO! And, to many people, unfortunately, *any* NIP = indecent exposure. A friend of mine was asked to cover up while breastfeeding much as you are in the picture, in a corner of the children’s room in the library. No one was even looking at her, because the story hour was going on. And yet a library employee repeatedly, and rudely, tried to get her to put a blanket over the baby.
    I *have* tried to bf under a blanket and really, no matter how thin the cover, some babies won’t go for it. I really do think that on this topic, the onus should be on the public to get over it and look away if they are offended, NOT on the mom to NIP in the ‘acceptable’ manner.
    JMO! – and as I’ve said, I’m definitely not one of the people popping my boob out of a tank top, or even showing the slightest amount of boob! I am an extremely modest person and the way I NIP was in accordance with my comfort level. But that’s the point, to me – it’s feeding a baby, and so it should be done in accordance with the mother’s and baby’s comfort, NOT the public’s.

  3. Nancy – gulp. You did just the right thing IMO!

    You know, that makes me wonder about a past NIP episode, I think with my younger son. A man approached me as I sat on the back steps outside a theater (I wasn’t hiding from anyone, it just happened to be the only place to sit) while I was nursing and started complementing me about what I was doing. He didn’t obviously stare and he didn’t stay for more than a minute…but your description makes me wonder if he wasn’t after the same thing that disabled boy was…no chance he got it, though.

    Oy, now I’m becoming paranoid 😆 !

    Elizabeth – unless you’re a brand-new NIPer or you insist on wearing nursing-incompatible clothing, you don’t really need a blanket, either. Though lots of women here cover their small babies in strollers/slings with loosely-woven cloth diapers as protection from the sun. I would expect that babies who are otherwise used to being covered won’t have an issue with BF that way. This morning at the poolside, for example, there were 2 babies being BF in this manner (the third mother had a shirt on and nursed her baby discreetly). Need I say that nobody’s sensibilities were offended, nor did anyone ask them to remove themselves?

    Anyway, the idea behind what I’m trying to say is that even if there is no law about it, the way to get breastfeeding in public accepted by the crowd is to consider the crowd’s feelings too. If the objection is about the breastfeeding itself, then we’re at an impasse and yes, the crowd needs to deal. But most of us would look askance at a woman who bared her breasts in public ‘just because’. If a woman can BF discreetly (and she can), why should the public have to get over it? A baby needs the nipple, areola and perhaps a bit of surrounding skin exposed to nurse, no more, and his head usually covers that part anyway.

    If you’re asking for society’s acceptance (and not just for you, but for all BF women), you need to be considerate of society’s sensibilities, as well. Not a law, just basic common courtesy.

    There was a website which attempted to use shock tactics to promote NIP that has been since removed — pictures of women nursing all hanging out in public places, sometimes with a toddler that had run off and the breast hanging out to dry. I’m blanking out on the name of the website, though I wonder if it was removed because the concept was counterproductive…

  4. Yeah, the NIP-as-exhibitionism is extremely off-putting, but I think it’s rare. I’ve never seen such stunts IRL! But I have seen women asked to cover up while breastfeeding extremely modestly, and heard lots of stories of the same.

    I definitely agree that “extreme breastfeeding” is not a good way to normalize NIP, though! I have noticed on MDC that they are also almost defiant about continuing to nurse their child as the child gets older. I have no problem with that, but too much exposure to that brand of “lactivism” made me feel almost ashamed to *stop* NIP when my daughter was a certain age (9-11 months, I don’t remember). It just wasn’t comfortable for me any more but I felt like I was being too concerned with my discomfort and not concerned enough with my baby…it’s ridiculous that I felt that way.

    (Although it was my unfortunate reliance on MDC for parenting information that gave me that skewed viewpoint, I accept complete responsibility for it, of course. Now when I occasionally lurk over there it is easy to see that a) there are often, if not always, “saner” viewpoints shared along with the extreme viewpoints and the total crazies, and b) you find what you are looking for on the net, as everywhere else. I was looking for ways to be a “perfect” parent and voila! I found them at MDC. It was only when I had to give up any hopes of ever being a perfect parent, lol, that the scales fell from my eyes and I saw MDC for the loony bin it is.)

  5. That should have read, “they are almost defiant about continuing to nurse their child IN PUBLIC as the child gets older.” Sorry!

  6. I’ve never seen anyone getting hassled for breastfeeding, but I have been asked twice by strangers if the pumped milk in the bottle I was giving my son was “formula or the real stuff.”

    So we’ve heard all about MDC, but (since this is a breastfeeding thread, I’ll ask it) where is a good place to ask a question about breastfeeding and get a mainstream and scientific answer? I’ve tried my pediatrician and got an “I don’t know.”

  7. Elizabeth – I would guess deliberate breastfeeding-as-exhibitionism is rare, too, but there’s also the more common type of “oh, BF is so good and natural, everybody else should tolerate me any old way I choose to do it”. I suspect Maggie G. may be in that latter group. As I said before, if I were really dressed modestly and was still asked to cover up/leave, I’d ask what the person requesting this found offensive – and act according to their answer.

    Mind you, many women are awfully touchy about the subject of BF, sometimes really unnecessarily. I remember a woman who came to my office door several years ago who asked if there was a place where she could nurse her baby other than the very crowded waiting room. As the clinic I was working at at the time was pretty packed, I paused to think where such a room could be found on the floor we were on. The woman interpreted my silence as shock and disapproval, apparently, since she huffed at me, “breastfeeding is NATURAL, you know!” and stomped off before I could say anything.

    I’d already nursed two children by then(my daughter wasn’t yet born), one into toddlerhood. But I’m sure that to this day, that woman is telling people about the anti-BF doctor she met once!

    Bap2 – not all lactation consultants are fanatics, and they can be veritable treasure troves of good advice. You can ask around your area for recommendations. For more general advice, I’ve recommended this book before.

    And I really wonder what response you’d have gotten if you answered the questions about what was in the bottle with “formula”…

  8. omg your killing me! Wheel chair boy…..very much like the bubble boy!!!! Damn I think I just wet my self laughing

  9. So if you want to flash your boobs in public, I really don’t care. I mean look at MTV. I think we are getting picky here.

  10. ITA about some women being very touchy and assuming bad intent where none exists. I threw a baby shower for a friend and one of the attendees had her 3-mo BF baby with her. During the shower she was trying to latch the baby on and having a really difficult time, and the baby seemed really distracted. I empathized with her because I had had similar issues with my daughter. So I quietly went up to her and told her there was a room down the hall with a really comfortable chair if she wanted to nurse there. She looked shocked and said she would feed her child anywhere she pleased! I turned red and babbled “of course…I just thought you might be more comfortable…” – which was, of course, ALL I had thought of! But she probably thought of me as one of those awful people who can’t abide NIP. I tried to explain myself but she wasn’t hearing it. I still feel bad about that, and don’t really know what I should have done (just said nothing, I guess!).

  11. For “mainstream” BF book recs, how about “The Complete Book of Breastfeeding”? I read it before my baby was born, and haven’t revisted it since (checked it out from the library), so I don’t know what opinion I’d have of it now. However, at the time I read it, when I was also reading things like “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding,” it seemed very straightforward, with lots of explanation, no guilt-tripping, and a lot of info on pumping for working mothers.

  12. “I’ve never seen anyone getting hassled for breastfeeding, but I have been asked twice by strangers if the pumped milk in the bottle I was giving my son was “formula or the real stuff.”

    A good response would be to say, “oh this is fake milk. We give him Kool-Aid too.”

  13. I think that there is definitely a middle ground with NIP. I personally prefer to use a blanket, but that’s in part because my daughter likes to play with my shirt and I’d rather stay covered. 🙂 However, when possible I find a private room because it’s easiest for both of us. She gets really distracted when there are noisy people around.

    I don’t have a problem with people breastfeeding modestly, though. There was a post a while back on the moms website I frequent (www.cafemom.com) about a woman at Walmart who was nursing her baby as she walked around. She had pulled down the top of her tank top, exposing both breasts and was just wandering around like that. I think she even beat out Maggie G! 🙂

  14. You know, I’ve never IRL seen one of those ‘whip it out’ women. I think they’re such a tiny minority that it’s hardly worth worrying about, you know?

    I have, however, seen women nursing discreetly (as in, you couldn’t even really tell they were even nursing unless you really looked carefully) hassled and asked to move somewhere else – once it happened to me, and I had a stupid blanket over us! You couldn’t see a darn thing, and still the waitress in question told me I’d need to move to the bathroom. I settled for giving her a incredulous look and saying I was fine right where I was, and that was the end of that.

    There really do seem to be a lot of people out there for whom the very idea of breastfeeding freaks them out.

  15. Maybe it’s because I live on the left coast but I’ve never seen or heard about anyone hassling a breastfeeding mom even when they are of the less discreet variety.

    Unfortunately, I do know a “whip it out” mother who basically does this with the attitude that she dares anyone to say anything. She is very vocal about her right to feed how and where she wants. I’m all for breastfeeding whenever necessary but it is a bit much when this woman pulls her top down and starts squeezing her breast while her 18 month old child is playing and not showing any interest in eating. She then places her little one at her breast and the child is really not very interested and just climbs down and continues playing. Just saying these women do exist and they’re not doing anyone any favors.

  16. Eh, I don’t care how women breastfeed, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for restaurant staff or store clerks to discretely request that the woman make sure the other, non-nursing breast is covered and the woman lifts her top up instead of opening a button-up shirt. I don’t think it’s fair to ask women to cover up with a blanket. It calls more attention to the whole thing and if the baby is young and has a bad latch the mom may need to be able to see what she is doing.

    That said, in some areas of the USA there are still many, many people who think breastfeeding is a little gross and except when they have those insane Hooter Hider things (seriously, I have no idea how women work when they can’t even see the baby), many women pump milk into bottles for when they leave the home. I think that’s what many people expect– that if you’re out and about you’ll either find someplace private or have a bottle of expressed milk, not that you will nurse at a table or something. It’s a weird attitude because most people seem to both understand that breastmilk is best and yet at the same time think that doing it around other people is weird. This might be why so many women quit. In fact… I have never seen a woman breastfeed in public IRL. Actually, I haven’t even seen it done in private (well, since I was an infant myself), since my family members would go into another room. I fully expect some opposition where I live because NO ONE breastfeeds in front of other people around here.

    And to be honest… if I saw a woman NIP I would probably stare, though if she caught me I would smile and look away. I can’t really help it, I have honestly never seen someone breastfeed in person. And I really, really want to change these attitudes, not so much to get it more acceptable but because while I have seen videos of breastfeeding, I honestly think I’m gonna go into the situation with my own kids going, “Okay, so… how does this work?” NIP provides another service– it helps young women like myself actually understand what breastfeeding will entail!

  17. I don’t get asking someone to cover up if what you’re opposed to is the very idea of NIP…nothing screams “BREASTFEEDING” louder than if a woman sits with a blanket over her chest area with an unidentified bulge underneath!

  18. Hey not all the public hates breastfeeding, my friends and I think it’s the best peepshow around!!!

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