The GEM Debate: Should Nursing Moms Cover Up?

OR SHOULD EVERYONE ELSE JUST SHUT UP?

 

Let’s get the brand new year underway with a nice, spiky debate, shall we? I read with great interest a Twitter dust up caused when NASACR driver Kasey Kahne tweeted his disgust after seeing a woman nursing a baby in a supermarket, complete with the hash tag #nasty. That came on the heels of an incident at a Target store in Webster, Texas where an employee asked Michelle Hickman, who was sitting on the floor in a remote section of the store nursing her infant, to move to a dressing room. According to Hickman, she was humiliated and harassed, even after she told them she had a legal right to nurse her baby in public.

All of this brings Good Enough Mother to this place and question; should nursing mothers cover-up or should everyone else just shut up?

In the interest of full disclosure I nursed both of my kids for several months and it was a very rewarding experience, once everyone got with the plan. But I never felt that comfortable nursing in public and instead opted for the lounge area of department stores or the stall of a restroom as a last resort. But that was how I felt; I have no problem with women nursing their children in public, as I’m not really sure what could be more natural.

Now, if you want to see some boobs on display, check out some of the comments that were flying on Twitter about this.  One man actually said Hickman should have nursed in the bathroom, like it was a shameful thing. I have nursed perched precariously on a toilet seat; it ain’t comfortable or pretty. Another suggestion from him: to give the baby a bottle, clearly oblivious that the mechanics between breast and bottle are different and some babies just don’t go back and forth that easily. As a last resort he thought she should have stayed home. Really? So she shouldn’t leave the house as long as she’s nursing? That was the most asinine ‘solution” of them all.

How come no one goes nuts when a waitress, carrying a tray of hot wings and beer, is spilling out of her top but can’t take a mother discreetly feeding her baby? I don’t get it.

So let’s debate. Are you offended at the sight of a nursing mother? Should they nurse in private or does it matter to you? Was the Target employee wrong? How about Kasey Kahne? Let me hear ya!

Rene Syler is a wife, mother, breast cancer advocate and television personality whose burning desire to tell the truth about modern motherhood led her to create GoodEnoughMother.com. When not spending time with her family or burning something for dinner, Rene travels the country as host of Sweet Retreats on The Live Well Network and Exhale on Aspire.

26 Comments

  1. Debra

    January 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Great article. I thought the same thing- about the wings and beer and showing it all – no one seems to mind that.

    I, too, wasn’t really comfortable nursing in public either but I find nothing wrong with it- a baby’s got to eat.

  2. Victor

    January 2, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    My wife nursed all six of our kids. Yes, she was highly inconvenienced, especially at work. She had to endure many of the same comments as this mom did. However, I can count the number of ear infections our kids had on one hand, which were far fewer than any of our peers. Any mother who nurses is doing her children a big favor by giving them nourishment that still can’t come from a can of powder.

    Only the most insensitive men would consider mothers who nurse in public to be “nasty.”

  3. Robert @turtle0678

    January 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    I believe that the decision is up to the nursing mother. The mother should decide what she is most comfortable with. I have seen mothers nursing before I always found it funny when they covered the baby up like we didn’t know what was going on. If society has a problem with the nursing mother then they don’t just need to stand the and gawk at it. Just go on about your business. Nursing is a natural part of the bond between a mother and a child. Society should not dictate how a mother chooses to provide her child with the nourishment that is needed. And as stated above… Your not seeing anything more than when you go to Hooters or to the beach. Most mothers nurse so discretely that the average person would not know what is going on. My 2 cents worth!

  4. Wanda Reese

    January 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Agree pretty much with your position on it, GEM…I breast-fed my daughter actually until she was about 16mos old…but always covered up in public whether in the Ladies Lounge or somewhere else—despite family disdain…I didn’t have much support since only one sister breast fed…the other two couldn’t for various reasons, so didn’t apparently like seeing the other two who could, doing it. While my mom nursed all of us, she only did it for the first 3 months, so was a little disproving of my sister and I going beyond 6 months. But I digress…while I chose to cover up (my sister did not), I still don’t get irked seeing a mother who isn’t covered.

    We all know the big deal between non-nursing boobs being okay to be seen publicly, and nursing boobs NOT being, is sexually-based. It’s okay if a man is fantasizing about hanging off of them by his lips—but not a baby human-being….as Linda Ellerbee used to say, “and so it goes…”

  5. Wanda Reese

    January 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Oh, and the Target thing: good for her that that mommy stood up for herself…I recall being snitched-on by a co-worker, when I returned to work @the station I worked at in Tampa, for nursing my daughter (then a new-born) IN THE STALL of the ladies restroom! Yes, the door was closed! My ex-husband would bring her to me at lunch time to feed her…yes, this (expletive) complained about it to management. People can be absolute jerks about it. and to Mister #nasty AKA Kasey Kahne’s tweet about it (really!? that is your REAL name…??? dude…): be glad your mom (poor woman) didn’t deprive your ass…spare us your immaturity…
    #thatisall.

  6. Nicole

    January 2, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Yes a nursing mom should cover up and yes I was a nursing mom. I nursed both of my children for the first year of life. There are camisoles from target and online that help moms nurse discreetly in public. I do not think nursing mom should go somewhere like the restroom or car to nurse, its fine to nurse in public. We just don’t need to see your half your naked body while you do it. The men and women who thinks its gross need to get over it. Quit only thinking of breast in sexual manner and see that they are there for purpose higher than a man’s desire.

  7. Audrey Chrisco

    January 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    When I was a nursing mom, I always WANTED to cover up. I quickly became quite good at being discreet, so much so, that I nursed a time or two in church – and never flashed anyone. I’m not offended by nursing moms, although I don’t understand why some insist on flopping it all out there. Does it help with the speed/efficiency of the process?! I think not.

  8. Lynda

    January 2, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I am an empowered woman with great boobs. Whether I’m using them for feeding or entertainment, however, is a private activity. No one should have to see them, whether in or out of use, unless they’ve asked to. We pee in private, have sex in private, pick our noses in private, change clothes in private, why is it really that difficult to take the baby to a private room?
    It’s unclear to me why breastfeeding is any different than any of the other bodily functions that we require people to do in private.

  9. Upstatemamma

    January 2, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Okay. Full disclosure – I’m currently nursing my six month old baby. She is my second breastfed baby.

    So, my opinion is that moms should cover up or not as they and their baby want. My babies have never liked nursing covers. With my older daughter I let this mean I sat in the car while my husband went into places with my son. This time I swore I would not do that. Missing things like that caused me to wean at a very young age. Now I nurse where I am without a cover. I bought myself nursing shirts that more or less keep me completely covered because I like them. They make me feel more comfortable. However I don’t think they are necessary. I don’t care how she is doing it personally it makes me happy to see a nursing mama.

  10. Lynda

    January 2, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    PS, I avoid Hooters too.

  11. Upstatemamma

    January 2, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Oh and Lynda,

    I don’t understand. You say you breast-fed your baby and yet you compare it to peeing. It is EATING. When was the last time you felt it necessary to eat in private?

  12. Nicole

    January 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm


    Lynda:

    I am an empowered woman with great boobs. Whether I’m using them for feeding or entertainment, however, is a private activity. No one should have to see them, whether in or out of use, unless they’ve asked to. We pee in private, have sex in private, pick our noses in private, change clothes in private, why is it really that difficult to take the baby to a private room?
    It’s unclear to me why breastfeeding is any different than any of the other bodily functions that we require people to do in private.

    Nursing is eating…just like anyone else. I dont eat on the toilet. Not bashing cause I have my opinions about breastfeeding as posted. It is nothing like going to restroom..its feeding your child. Mom’s who bottle feed dont need to take it somewhere else. Why should a breastfeeding mom.

  13. Nicole

    January 2, 2012 at 5:46 pm


    Audrey Chrisco:

    When I was a nursing mom, I always WANTED to cover up. I quickly became quite good at being discreet, so much so, that I nursed a time or two in church – and never flashed anyone. I’m not offended by nursing moms, although I don’t understand why some insist on flopping it all out there. Does it help with the speed/efficiency of the process?! I think not.

    I agree. I was in babyrus us with my baby and a mom sat in a chair pulled out her breast for all the see and started nursing. She was less than 5 feet from the nice and clean nursing room the store set up for mom’s. I’m ok with public feeding but I still think a camisole to cover the tummy and main breast area is being considerate of others in the surrounding area

  14. Shasha

    January 2, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    I seriously do not beleive that anybody should have to feel pressure to cover up or go anywhere else.If you want to feed your baby and you want it to all hang out, who has a right to have opinion that pressures women to do otherwise? If anyone in public is uncomfortable ,do what a normal person would do and vacate the area. Don’t new mothers have enough to worry about already?

  15. Dawn B

    January 2, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    I breastfed all 4 of my children for extended periods and I nursed every where and any where. I have nursed while walking and shopping in Target. I had one baby who didn’t like to be covered, but I never exposed myself in the process. It can be done discretely and while I was doing it, I never paid attention to others. I don’t care if me feeding my baby makes you uncomfortable. If you don’t like it, that’s your hang up, not mine.

  16. Upstatemamma

    January 2, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Nicole and Audrey,

    You shouldn’t judge the mama you see “letting it all hang out” so harshly. Maybe she’s a new mama and hasn’t learned to be discreet. Maybe she thinks she is and doesn’t see that she’s hanging out. Maybe her baby won’t tolerate a cover. Maybe she can’t use that nursing room because she gets no cell reception and is waiting for an important call. Or maybe she cant go in there because shevis watching an older child try something on or look at a product on the shelf. You don’t know. And really it’s not on her to make anyone else comfortable or to be considerate. It’s on her to take care of herself, her baby Abd her life. And maybe that’s the best she can do in that moment.

  17. dianthe

    January 2, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    oh lord, here i go …

    i nursed my daughter until she was 3, am currently nursing my 23 month old son and tandem nursed the both of them for a full year – i have been nursing for almost 4 years straight – i have nursed EVERYWHERE – at the park, at Costco, at the library, at church, in my car, in the food court at the mall (because that’s where everyone else was eating), on a bench in the middle of the mall, Sesame Street Live – the list goes on and on and on – not once has anyone said a word to me – for the most part, i don’t think many people have noticed – and the ones who did, either smiled in support or continued on about their business

    i wasn’t always comfortable nursing in public – i even practiced at home with a cover before i took my daughter out the first time – she screamed the whole time and i could never see her well enough to see what either of us was doing – i also went through the hassle of pumping and bringing bottles to feed her while we were out – the problem was, no matter how many bottles i brought, she always finished them and wanted more – one day, i just had to suck it up and feed her in public – and it wasn’t that bad – i just sat down somewhere and nursed my daughter and when she was done, we went on with our day – that was the last time i pumped a bottle so that we could leave the house – and don’t get me started about what bottle feeding can do to a nursing mother’s supply …

    i will never understand why nursing mothers are asked to feed their children in private – no one asks a mother who is bottle feeding to feed her kids in private – if my baby is crying which option would you prefer?

    1. listen to her scream for however long it takes me to find the nursing lounge or quiet place or bathroom or whatever other place i can find
    2. listen to her scream for however long it takes me to prepare/mix/heat/etc a bottle
    3. listen to her scream for 10 seconds until i can put her to my breast

    and the “discreet” argument? yeah, that makes me want to punch people – if you want discretion, how about starting with the Victoria Secret ads and the scantily clad models on the Abercrombie & Fitch shopping bags that my 3 year old sees at the mall – then move on to the tweens who are showing off their thongs (and often the crack of their behind) above their low cut jeans – and the boys with the baggy pants who are showing off their boxers (and crack of their behinds) – i’m sure there are some moms who “bare it all” while nursing to prove a point – but the majority of us just want to feed our kids and not be judged or harassed for it – come on people – this is such a non-issue – new mothers have enough judgment and with breastfeeding being at an all time low, why are we harassing mothers for using their bodies for what they were designed?

    and Lynda –
    It’s unclear to me why breastfeeding is any different than any of the other bodily functions that we require people to do in private.
    seriously?? as a breastfeeding mother you’re going to compare feeding your child to the bodily function of eliminating waste? please. surely you must understand that breast milk is not the same as urine and feces – one is a healthy and nutritious food and the other is WASTE!!

    if you’re one of those people that have a problem with mothers nursing in public, i have a suggestion for you – use the neck God gave you and turn away – besides, didn’t your mother teach you that it’s impolite to stare?

  18. Upstatemamma

    January 2, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Go you dianthe!!!!! You totally rock. I’ve written quite a few blog posts about the hypocrisy of hiding a nursing mama and baby but allowing Victoria Secret’s ads

  19. Karen Baitch Rosenberg

    January 2, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    Sigh, another breastfeeding debate. In 2012, mothers feeding their babies naturally, the way nature intended, with the most nutritious form of sustenance known to humans are still being subjected to scrutiny. Human breast milk is the ideal food for human babies. Yes, nursing women should be discreet (no gratuitous nipples showing, etc.), but they should also have the right to feed their babies wherever and whenever their children need. I do not expect toddlers or adults to eat in a bathroom stall – suggesting nursing mothers feed their children there is repugnant. We need to get over the *titties* and giggles, and recognize breasts for what they are meant for.

  20. Noreen

    January 2, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with breast feeding in public as long as the mother is comfortable with it. I personally would not be comfortable breast feeding in public but for anyone who is I say
    “Go for it”

  21. Lynda

    January 3, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Do those who are such big supporter of public breastfeeding also believe in such freedom when the mother chooses to nurse a three year old? Or is there an age when it is suddenly not ok to publicly breastfeed? Do you remain such strong supporters of choice then?

  22. Kay

    January 3, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Why is it only an issue in the western world??? In Africa mothers proudly breast feed in public, its the norm, its expected and no fuss. If breast feeding is a natural process, part and parcel of feeding a child then whats the fuss. If breast feeding is then perceived as some form of mechanical high tech procedure which isnt human then problems kicks in. I salute those mothers that proudly breast feed in public, its your child feeding time, and should be governed by meeting the child needs rather than starve the poor baby until you get home away from the public.

  23. Karen Baitch Rosenberg

    January 3, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Lynda, if the child is still receiving nutrition from it, yes; just as much as I’d support a mother artificially feeding her toddler in public. Being breastfed and breastfeeding are basic human rights.

  24. dianthe

    January 3, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Yes, Lynda. *sigh* I nursed my daughter until she was 3 years old – actually it was 3 years and 13 days if you want to be technical – we didn’t nurse in public as often when she was older simply because she didn’t need to nurse as often – but you can rest assured that i had no problem nursing her in public if i needed to, no matter how old she was – frankly, it’s no one’s business how old a nursling is – if it’s not your kid or your breast, why do you care??????

    and Kay is right – in the rest of the world, the average age for weaning is 4 years old – it’s only in the western world where formula is the norm, do people question anything and everything about breastfeeding

  25. m.e. johnson

    January 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I don’t know. Back in the day it wasn’t public. But back in the day women weren’t seen in public when they were pregnant. I think it is a reminder of something sexual, especially if it’s noisy. Also, some women are proud of their ‘big ‘uns’. I’ve heard women say this. Then again I wonder why a woman who is otherwise at least somewhat modest has no problem pulling out a big ol’ floppie for the world to see. But these days I don’t let much of anything bother me except the rotten politics.

  26. Upstatemamma

    January 3, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Lynda,

    I absolutely stand by a mother who breastfeeds her three year old. There is a lot of value in extended breastfeeding

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