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Maggie Gyllenhaal and Breastfeeding in Public. Babble’s Parental Advisory.

I’ve been reading about Maggie Gyllenhaal’s big public breastfeeding moment and it’s made me pretty tense about my own situation. I see that there are a lot of people supportive of it but I’m nervous. I have a five-week-old and I have yet to publicly breastfeed. I feel like I should be confident enough to do it. I have no issues about it in theory. But it freaks me out. And I don’t want to be stuck inside forever. Do you have any ideas for building confidence? Or for being discreet? – Nervous NIPper 

Dear Nervous,

First, we must disclose that the subject of nursing in public is near and dear to both of our hearts (and all four of our breasts). When there was a brouhaha involving Barbara Walters and a nursing woman on a plane a few years back, we found ourselves impromptu pundits for the breastfeeding nation.

We are still shocked that people aren’t okay about this, especially in supposedly progressive areas like New York. But as the recent Maggie madness has shown, some people continue to be freaked out about seeing women breastfeed. When it comes to boobs, there is still a clear line between recreational and functional. Despite all our “progress” (Girls Gone Wild!), there’s some serious puritanical baggage lingering amidst all the silicone of modernity.

Madonna/whore complex aside, this issue actually has major ramifications. Women are told by the medical establishment that they should breastfeed for the health of their babies, but they’re not getting the support they need to do it, wherever and whenever they need to. For most nursing mothers, especially urban ones without cars to retreat to for privacy, breastfeeding in public is not a choice. It’s a fact of life.

Reminding yourself that you are simply following doctor’s orders may help take the edge off when awkward situations come up. But sometimes the best way to build confidence is just to try it. We’ve heard from many women who swore they’d never feed in public but were forced to do it and then never turned back. Nursing in public is one of those things that seems a whole lot scarier from the outside.

Here are some tips for taking care of business with discretion and relative ease. Use whatever works for you and your baby.

go under, not over:

Wear something that allows you to pull your breast out below the hem rather than over the neckline. Maggie’s full golden globe exposure method is fine for the brave (and nicely evokes all the Madonna and child portraits we saw in art history class). But you can feed your baby with less skin showing if you use your shirt to cover the top of your breast (the baby’s body will cover the bottom, as well as most of your belly.)

use a cover-up:

We devote way too much space in our book to this “blanket solution.” The blanket is often offered as a cure-all for the problem of public breast exposure. But it is a bit more complicated than that. A baby may not take kindly to the idea of eating under cover. You may end up futzing around so much that you interfere with the feeding. And on a deeper level, covering up does reinforce the idea that breastfeeding is something that needs to be done under wraps. But in some situations a cover may be the most comfortable choice, if not the most consciousness-raising one.

be no-nonsense:

At home you may be used to breaks in the action for smiling, burping, etc. When this happens on the road it can leave a fully exposed breast in plain view. So try to keep the nursing interaction a little more minimal. Also, every baby nurses differently and they change their feeding moves over time. You may go through a period where nursing needs to be a quiet “shut down” activity and public nursing will be a struggle, with baby regularly flinging her head away from you with boob flashing each time. If this is the case, turn the baby away from the action: feed in a corner, or against the wall.

Good luck (and may the AAP be with you)!

Have a question? Email parentaladvisory@babble.com

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