Why My Nursing Without a Cover Isn’t a Political Statement

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With World Breastfeeding Week upon us, I thought I’d give a shout out to all the moms feeding babies out there. I nursed three babies of my own not so long ago, and I remember it fondly. The snuggles, the eye contact, the bonding.

You know what I don’t remember about it? The nursing cover. Because I mostly didn’t use one. Because the baby didn’t like it. Because at first, it was hard to latch without seeing what I was doing. Because I forgot it at home. Because I needed to keep an eye on whether a sleepy, somewhat skinny baby was nursing or dozing. Because as she got older, she’d snatch it off anyway. 

Because I assumed no one really cared.

So I was all geared up to write a celebration of not covering up, or covering up, or doing whatever you’re comfortable with when nursing your own babies. Yet when I went online to do a little research, I was surprised to find that the majority of articles out there today suggest — no, demand — that ladies cover up. These people (many of whom are moms themselves) argue that breasts are sexual, that nursing without a cover is disrespectful, and my favorite — that those of us who don’t cover up are doing it to make a statement.

You know what else I don’t remember about nursing my babies? Politics.

Seriously, why is every parenting decision today labeled as a political statement? Baby carrier versus stroller. Bottle versus breast. Cloth diapers versus Pampers. Private school versus public. It’s all given this extra weight that we moms don’t need to carry around — especially on top of the stuff we’re literally lugging. We’re raising kids here, not running for office.

Maybe there is the occasional mom who is making a statement. I read a post by one breastfeeding (and not covered up) mom who practically willed people to look at her when she was nursing her baby by staring back at them. And not looking away. For a long time. To me, that seems a tad aggressive. And honestly, kind of tiring. I think most of us moms like to blink. 

Really, I think 99% of moms with new babies are just trying to make it through the day. We’re trying to navigate the grocery store with a newborn, we’re trying to usher an older sib to karate when the younger one needs to feed, we’re trying to occasionally meet a friend for a coffee and feel like a real person. When the baby cries and needs to nurse right there in the coffee shop, we’re not thinking, “Aha! Here’s my shining feminist moment!” We’re thinking, “OK, here we go, let me try to balance the baby’s head in one hand while spoon-feeding the toddler with the other, and please let’s all try to just get through this day without a huge meltdown or a visit to the emergency room.”

Since this is World Breastfeeding Week, let’s take a moment to reflect that in other parts of the world, this wouldn’t even be a debate. In many African countries, women don’t cover up at all, let alone to do something as natural and essential as feeding a baby. Heck, even in First World Europe, people are more relaxed about showing a little skin when nursing than we are here in the States.

So if you’re struggling with whether or not to cover up while nursing, just remember this choice is up to you (and your cover-snatching baby). It’s against the law in Massachusetts for anyone to tell you to cover up while breastfeeding, to ask you to leave, or to suggest that you nurse in the restroom (gross).

If you feel more comfortable with a cover, and your baby will tolerate it, great. But if the cover isn’t working for you or your little one, feel free to leave it at home. Right next to your picket sign.