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By Jessica T

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About this blog: I'm a late thirties mother of a ten-year-old and infant twins. My family moved to Menlo Park 6 years ago from Virginia - where I grew up, went to college, got married, had my first born, and got an MBA (in that order). I'm a manag...  (More)

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The booby burqa and why I won’t be wearing one

Uploaded: Oct 20, 2013
When my daughter was born 10 years ago, I recall that nursing your baby meant lifting your shirt, pulling down your bra, and sticking your nipple in baby's mouth. 10 years later, there is a much wider selection of beautiful nursing bras, nursing tanks, and nursing tops that make nursing even easier without showing off one's stomach rolls.

And yet, there is a "new modesty" sweeping the nation - The Nursing Cover, aka Hooter Hider, or what I like to call the Booby Burqa. I don't understand who this cover is supposed to protect. Is it the jerks who protest when women breastfeed their babies in public? Or is it to protect women from being harassed by these jerks when they are breastfeeding their babies in public? Is it to hide our mammary glands from our husbands, who are supposed to have dominion over our perky, sexy breasts? Or is this the equivalent of girls who change behind a curtain in an all-female locker room?

In any case, it's a sad state of affairs. When we've got pregnant CEOs and lactation consultations covered by the Affordable Care Act, why in God's name are we taking two steps forward and one step back by covering our ta-tas because we might offend by doing what's natural as mammals? What is even sadder is that I don't think breastfeeding moms are even asking themselves these questions before they buy and wear these nursing covers. I would argue that they are doing it by default.

The most tragic example of this was when I was at Day One over the summer before it temporarily closed. It's a boutique in Palo Alto that caters to parents of newborns. One of the unique attributes of the store was a nursing and diaper changing station where parents were welcome to nurse and diaper their babies in a friendly environment. I was nursing one of my twins in a corner, the old school way (shirt up, bra down, stomach rolling) when a woman ceremoniously unrolled her Booby Burqa and tied it around her before she sat down next to me to "discreetly" feed her baby. At first I didn't know what the apron-like contraption was.

Sadly, this woman and many others rob themselves of one of the pleasures of bonding with their babies while they feed. It's difficult to gaze into your newborn's eyes and stroke their soft cheeks, arms, and legs when they are under the cover of darkness.

In America, women can't sunbathe at the beach topless. Now they can't breastfeed without wearing a bastion of modesty. What's next?!

Do you wear a breastfeeding cover? If so, why? What do you see - breastfeeding modesty or exhibitionism?

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Great post. Agree. It should be true in the workplace as well - I remember when I interviewed at Stanford I had a 2 month old and a friend with me to care for him. When he got hungry during an office interview I went out in the hall,retrieved him, stuck him on my boob (old school) and kept answering questions. It was very natural to me and when I look back on it I kind of amazed that I did it. It does seem like we are going back in time with mothers rooms etc. the more "unusual" it is they easier it is to exclude mothers from the workplace. Day care should be on site and nursing should be a right. Mothers have to claim their space.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Hi Michele,

Thanks for sharing your interview experience. It is bizarre that this anecdote seems so far from the realm of possibility today. And it's a really interesting observation that as we confine women to mothers rooms, etc...we are actually making breastfeeding more removed from the norm.

Although my employer does offer limited childcare, I've always preferred to keep my childcare separate from my workplace (lest I find myself staying in a suboptimal situation for the wrong reasons). That said, I am all for accessible day care for all working parents!!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Yeah that makes sense but in the legal world the hours that lawyers have to work mean that on site childcare would do a lot to advance women. And it\'s a good investment for the company in human capital for the reasons you allude to (retention).

If you have the money, which we did, you can afford to have separate child care who can brin g the baby to you at work to nurse. I have to say that I never pumped because it made me feel like a barn animal. I didn\'t have twins and I\'m sure that\'s different but if you can do it without bottles you have less risk of nipple confusion.

All of these innovations such as coverups, mothers rooms etc. serve to remind women that their breasts are objects of sexual desire and gratification and to alienate us from our bodies and the fact that we can be mothers and also workers. If we have to hide then we are being given the message and accepting the message that there is something dangerous going on. Almost all of the salary and achievement gap between women and men today is explained by discrimination against mothers. That is why it is so important that women don\'t "leave before they leave." Better yet, just don\'t leave at all.

Good post. My story was 13 years ago. All my kids were born at home as well and I was active in La Leche league and think the whole paid lactation consultant thing is really odd. The League is great because it is peer to peer and doesn\'t take away knowledge from women and place it in the realm of experts. The more breast feeding is a moral part of life the better.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally Torbey, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 8:35 pm

I did not use an extra cover while breastfeeding in public, as my shirt and the baby provided plenty of coverage. I never received any critical looks while nursing. Folks just seemed happy that my baby was quiet, content, and not disturbing them!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by CherylBac, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm

CherylBac is a registered user.

Usually when I used a cover it was because I wanted my son to eat and not be distracted by the commotion. Or he seemed tired so a cover helped with a transition to his next nap. I never bought an actual "cover," it was either a blanket or jacket. I personally liked having the choice to cover up or not depending on the situation.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 9:37 am

Jessica T is a registered user.

Michele brings up an excellent point about nursing on the job. With my first daughter, my milk supply plummeted when I went from breastfeeding to pumping...A machine can't fool the body. I don't think I'll be able to swing having the babies come to me to nurse when I go back work, but I would love to see this put into practice much more often. (Another great reason to have childcare onsite as Michele mentions!)

Cheryl - that's an interesting point I hadn't thought of regarding using covers to help babies focus on feeding in a world of distractions. As the twins get older, they are much much more distractible.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 9:56 am

Don't give up on having them brought over to work -- it's not as bad as it sounds. There are so many places at Google that you could meet your nanny, for example over at one of the less-visited restaurants like Crave where parking is not such a nightmare. I nursed right when I left for work at 8:30, then had a feeding brought to me at around 1:00, and then was home by 4:30. Gradually as he got to be around a year old, I started subbing in diluted apple juice for the 4:30 feeding and was able to extend my day. The downside is that you have to nurse a lot at night to compensate for the attachment time, which is not that big a deal if the baby co-sleeps. I don't know how co-sleeping goes with twins.

But in general, that baby is going to be more effective at getting the milk than any pump. And using a pump at work is often so discouraging for women that they give up nursing prematurely which is a shame. Most working moms quit at 1 year and are so relieved to be off the pump. But the real fun of nursing just starts at a year in my (30 year) experience. I would say between 1-3 are the best times when it's not just about food but also about bonding.

Google is a highly flexible and hospitable environment, much like Stanford, so you should be able to try this if you want to. Of course, everyone has to find their own way with this, and lots of women would find it too distracting to have the babies at work even temporarily. The main thing is to figure out what you can do to support extended breasfeeding for as long as you want and keep trying. Just because lots of women use pumps doesn't mean that they are the right answer. Pumps mean bottles, which can confuse babies and lead them to reject the breast eventually.

Check out the Mountain View chapter of the League, too.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 11:29 am

Jessica T is a registered user.

Thanks for your support, Michele. I do want to breastfeed these twins for as long as possible. Indeed I quit nursing (and pumping) when my oldest daughter was one, so I don't have any experience with breastfeeding a toddler - the bonding sounds nice. And it was a relief to do away with the pump and the disruptions in my schedule at work. You are absolutely right that I could give nursing a try at Google - I know that my colleagues would be supportive and there are plenty of spaces where it would be possible. Perhaps I will...


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 11:49 am

I liked seeing my baby during the day, actually. You wrote another post about how you were going to feel about pumping during the day, and I was thinking when I read that how much nicer it would be to see the baby instead of the pump even if it was only a couple days a week. And if your husband brings him, that could also be a nice treat. Good luck, and don\'t believe anyone who tells you it\'s too hard to nurse twins and work. It can totally be done and fortunately you work in a very supportive place.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Appreciative, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Just wanted to say that I whole heartedly agree! Thanks for bringing it up. It makes me sad when I see a woman all tented up - though the distraction issue is an important practical factor I'm glad to be told about - because I'm not sure there's much that's more beautiful than the mother-baby bond and the nurturing of nursing. Covering it up makes it seem like something to be ashamed of. It's really a little grace for the community when we are reminded of the lovely mother-child connection that's all around us.

Just a pumping note - I loved my pump because it made nursing possible, and the dairy aspect just seemed kind of funny!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by CherylBac, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Also, I do think some mothers just prefer to be modest (like some women choose to wear a one piece instead of a bikini). It's great that we have the option to cover up or not. Your post is a great reminder about the benefits of not using a cover.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by RW, a resident of another community,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 6:33 pm

The perspectives above are interesting. But, my perspective is this. There are parts of my body that I don't want to be seen in public. I don't wear a thong bikini, and I wouldn't breastfeed without a cover for my breasts. I also don't go naked in saunas or at the gym. There are parts of my body that I prefer to have covered. I don't think it's a "sad state of affairs" for me to want to be modest with my body. And no, I'm not ashamed, I'm just modest. To suggest that I'm covering up for others is a bit insulting.

I don't care if others are naked at the gym or breasfeed in public, so why should you care if I choose to cover up. Let's let women breastfeed however they want to without judging why they are or are not covering up.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

RW - Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I've actually had many conversations with friends who use nursing covers since penning this post, and they are like you - modest. If you are using a cover for yourself or your baby, more power to you. I'm discouraged by the notion that one might be using the cover for others. Perhaps it's also unfair for me to wish others were less modest - it's nice to know that as someone like yourself is comfortable for others to do as they wish. I've been surprised at how many young women, though, are using these modesty covers and I wonder what it means. My husband was remarking just the other day how strange it is that I don't have a single friend with a baby who has breastfed openly at our house (without a cover). When my 10-year old daughter was a baby that wasn't the case. And, for me, that has also eliminated a bond I remember feeling when I breastfed my daughter alongside other nursing mothers.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of Atherton: other,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 9:08 pm

I find the tone of the post somewhat offensive. I don't think it's "tragic" or a "sad state of affairs" that a woman at Day One or otherwise would choose to use a hooter hider for her own modesty, because she feels like she might make others uncomfortable, whatever other reason she may have. Perhaps some of these women are now encouraged to get out more with their infants, knowing that they can nurse in public in a way that is comfortable for them. Do you really need to judge these women as "sad" because they "can't gaze into their newborn's eyes" during the time they are nursing in public? PUHLEEEZE!!! These "mommy blogs" (and comments made to them as well) are often so frustrating with their lack of compassion and tolerance to different choices that moms make.

As I often say to my children: "who do you need to worry about? Yes, yourself. That's right, just worry about yourself"

ps. for me personally, I could care less about showing my boobs when I nursed, but I also wouldn't judge someone if they chose to cover up when THEY nurse.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Park Mom, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 12:34 am

I hear you. I have noticed the same thing. When I had my first 11 years ago, I don't think they made modesty covers. I breastfed in public (subtly of course) and just used my shirt, the baby blanket, or a "burp cloth" to cover parts of my body I didn't want exposed. I was also dismayed a couple of years ago when I had my third child to note that so many women were putting their babies under "tents." I am a modest person, but losing eye contact with my baby would have been unthinkable. Ultimately it is the mother's choice. I do wonder though if the covers have now become the new normal.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 10:24 am

Jessica T is a registered user.

Gentle readers, I don't mean to offend you with the tone of this post. It's a touchy subject and when I have an opinion, I'm going to share it with you. I felt strongly about this one from the angle of feminism. Through this discussion, you've helped me understand some of the nuances behind wearing these covers. Thank you. And read on...I will have more to say on this topic.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Steve, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I have never in my life heard of one single incident of any of the reasons the author lists for covering up when breast feeding. I believe the term for this is "straw-man argument".

And a company trying to sell something that people do not need? I am shocked...


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Great Auntie, a resident of Slater,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 6:45 pm

When you are in public, I think "modesty" is the key word, whether it is for yourself or others. Not everyone wants to watch you breastfeed and they shouldn't have to watch it in public. Covering your breast with a cloth when feeding is considerate of others. Your baby and you can get plenty of eye contact when you are at home feeding. You can still caress the baby under the cloth. I don't think special baby burqas need to be made and extra $ spent, just use a cloth, like a baby blanket, to cover the exposed area and everyone, including baby, should be happy. Some individuals seem to think the world revolves only around them and what other people think or feel is irrelevant. It isn't. I shouldn't have to watch you breastfeed your child. Certainly it is your prerogative to breastfeed. Consideration for others while doing it would be appreciated.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by big momma, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 10:24 pm

No one is going to pay attention to you nursing in public unless you make a show out of it, and pulling out a tent garment and draping it over your upper torso is one way to draw attention to yourself. I nursed four babies for extended periods of time, and I could walk down the grocery aisle with a nursing baby tucked under one arm, my other hand pushing the cart, no coverup, and no one ever gave me a second look.

No, there was no eye contact in those settings, but come on. Not every meal has to involve romance and candlelight. Sometimes all you need is a quick snack.

I was walking down University during lunchtime a week or so ago and saw a mom sitting at an outdoor table with a baby on her lap, one boob fully exposed. I personally would not have felt comfortable with all the foot traffic passing by, but that was her prerogative.

That said, I do think you need to be respectful of the people around you. We all have to restrain our natural impulses at times -- just part of being considerate. And I never would have nursed a baby during a job interview...unless I was pretty sure I didn't want that job.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mom of two, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 10:38 pm

First off, I think it is totally fine if anyone wants to breastfeed in public, with or without a cover -- or even a shirt, for that matter! To each her own. And we should embrace and encourage women (and men) to feel comfortable in their bodies and with their babies.

With that said, I usually wear a nursing cover when I'm nursing my 5-month-old son in public. He's at an age when he's constantly popping on and off the boob, so there's often a lot of nipple showing. I also have a somewhat low milk supply, so I sometimes squeeze my breast to check if there's still milk flowing. It's a rather nipple focused process. And while I believe that women should be able to show their nipples in public, and I would support other women who choose to do so, I'm personally not all that keen to sit around visiting with friends (male or female) with my nipples often popping out.

With my older son, I went for a few months of using only a blanket or sweater as a cover because I thought the special nursing covers were silly. But then he started getting more fidgety while nursing, and he'd often pull the blanket off, so I gave in and got a "real" nursing cover. I have to say, it was a huge improvement. Not only does the strap prevent the baby from pulling off the cover, but the shape also allows me to see the baby. There's curved boning at the top, which creates the tent shape and allows me to look down at my son. I can see how he's doing, check to see if there's still milk flowing, and, yes, gaze into his eyes.

I should also note that the majority of the nursing I do is at home, without the cover. That's really the time I spend bonding with my son while nursing. When I'm using the cover, it's usually when I'm with other people and, cover or not, I wouldn't be gazing into my son's eyes.

I don't have any data on the trends in public nursing, but I wonder if the change the other has seen in the last ten years may be that more women are nursing in public now that they have a convenient cover that doesn't fall off and allows them to see the baby. So she may be seeing more covers simply because she's seeing more public nursing. (I have no idea if this is true or not.)


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stick to what you know about, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 10:57 pm

"That said, I do think you need to be respectful of the people around you. We all have to restrain our natural impulses at times -- just part of being considerate. And I never would have nursed a baby during a job interview...unless I was pretty sure I didn't want that job."

Well I guess that all depends on your qualifications and abilities. In your case I am sure you are right.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Aran, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Oct 23, 2013 at 12:28 am

My wife had one of these and used it sometimes. Like many moms, breastfeeding was very difficult for her. While breastfeeding her son, he would often "pop off", milk would spray out, he would fuss with the nipple, and he would get easily distracted.
Breastfeeding is not ALWAYS a calm tender moment between mother and child, and my wife found that the nursing cover was a very helpful tool for some of the the fussier moments while in public.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stick to what you know about, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Oct 23, 2013 at 8:34 am

It may not always be tender but it is always natural and normal. That is what I think this blogger is trying to say. There's no more reason to hide it than to hide a baby who is "poppiing" off his bottle, throwing his cheerios on the floor, or having any other kind of issue or momentary difficulty with food. Breastfeeding is not about the exposure of a sexual organ, i.e., nipple, breast. Breastfeeding is feeing a child. Breasts are hyper sexualized in our society to the point that it is OK for you to buy the swimsuit issue, or see them in an R-rated movie, or now on television pretty much anytime, as sexual objects, but we need to cover them if they are in a baby's mouth (or popping out). The blogger is pointing to that double standard and saying that is interfering with womens' willingness to breastfeed in public. That is causing women either to stay home or to cover up with what she has called a burqua like object -- which makes us seem more like Saudi Arabia than I think many people would find comfortable. As a society we need to recognize that the sexualization of womens' breasts has caused harm to both women and babies. It wasn't so long ago that no one breastfed. Now you can only do it under a "modesty" cover -- sending the message that breasts cannot be shown because they are the equivalent of a penis or a vagina, which they are not.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 23, 2013 at 11:52 am

Jessica T is a registered user.

Thanks for all of the thoughtful comments and perspectives. Stick to what you know about has got my number for sure.

I wanted to share that yesterday afternoon, I nursed my son at Philz coffee in Palo Alto right in front of the counter where customers were ordering coffee. Nearly all of the customers were young professional men, and I felt remarkably comfortable, even when my son popped off and then got back on. Not only were the men not paying attention, but when I was cuddling my son afterwards I got several smiles. We've managed to raise a generation of feminist men, but interestingly the covers seem to be a convention that today's women are adopting in droves.

For those that are frustrated by my more exhibitionist perspective, read my next post. A recent incident challenged my notion of nursing propriety...


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