The Problem With 'Discreet' Breastfeeding



I have two breasts.  Several years ago, I dressed them in lace and gave them a little peek of the sky above a plunging neckline.  They were useful breasts.  Several years ago, doors were opened for me, chairs were pulled backwards and attention secured.

I have two breasts.  Today, I dress them in cotton and ensure that there are no wires to block my precious ducts.  They are useful breasts.  Today, milk is made and my daughter is nourished, comforted and soothed.

You see, my breasts have changed over time and with motherhood.  They have undergone a major transformation; from shallow and lofty tools, to wholesome and grounded givers of life, of soul, of peace.  Yes, I mean 'grounded' in the literal sense as well as the poetic sense...am I concerned?  No.  Am I proud?  Yes.

So you will understand my confusion, my disbelief and sadness, when I hear a self-confessed proud breastfeeding mother advise another to be "discreet" whilst feeding her child.

Discreet: careful to avoid embarrassment; unobtrusive.

It is strange, because nobody ever asked or expected me to be discreet with my breasts before I became a mother.  Nobody seemed concerned with a flash of cleavage, or the amount of flesh exposed at the beach in a skimpy bikini.  It is strange, because nobody seems concerned with the lingerie billboard catapulting a ten foot tall bosom into the subconscious of every passer-by, and nor should they.  So why, exactly, must a mother's breast be delivered to her child discreetly whilst breastfeeding?  What is so embarrassing about seeing a child enjoying a drink of milk?  What is so obtrusive, exactly, about the breast?

The 'rules' for breastfeeding are very specific, as are the expectations.  It seems that the tolerated level of 'exposure' must not exceed a small amount of upper breast...but really, what's the problem with a little side boob?  The lower and side regions, it seems, are strictly reserved for milk-free boobs, whilst the nipple and areola are reserved for top-shelves and late-night television.  The nipple, by these rules, is the untouchable, unspeakable, unmistakably censored feature of the breast, which leaves us with a bit of a problem when it comes to feeding our babies...

I suppose then, it is understandable that Mr Average, who wasn't breastfed himself, who doesn't have children of his own and who has been indoctrinated by every societal pressure and media outlet possible, thinks of breasts as being nothing more than shallow and lofty.  It isn't acceptable, but it is understandable.  Yet for a breastfeeding mother to believe this same nonsense...for a woman sitting nursing her own baby, using her own breasts, to actually spread this dangerous word...'discreet'...my heart literally breaks.

Let me remind you...Discreet: careful to avoid embarrassment; unobtrusive.

I ask again, what is so obtrusive, exactly, about the breast?  Apparently, not a whole lot, as milk-free breasts are not expected to face away from a busy setting; they are thrust up and out for the world to admire.  Indeed, babies fed solely via a bottle are not expected to eat in public restrooms; their bottles are not wrapped in cloth, whilst little mouths suckle beneath covers.  So it seems, in simplistic terms, that the perceived 'problem' lies in the pairing of the two entities, each fully acceptable when apart: Milk and Breasts.  Yet when we put the two together, as nature designed and intended, a storm brews...

I like this idea of a milk storm...I think it is important.  You see, storms are powerful; they are headstrong and progressive.  They summon strength from thin-air...much like the 'magic' of breastfeeding.  Who would have guessed that our bodies, tired after childbirth, could produce this perfectly-tailored, antibody-rich, liquid-gold?  This powerful tool that we possess; to actually produce and deliver milk to our children, is utterly mesmerising.

And yet it seems that unless we deliver our nipple to our baby's mouth with the stealth of a secret agent, we are condemned by this strange world in which we live.  It seems that for the minority of people who actually support breastfeeding, a proportion still see it as something over which to exercise caution; to be 'discreet'.

I am sad for the mother who feels the pressure to hide her breasts whilst feeding her child, for fear of embarrassment.  Believe me when I say that I too once felt that pressure.  But I am more saddened still, for the mother who buys into this pressure; for the mother who genuinely believes that breastfeeding is embarrassing.  If only she could see what I see now...

Because like a storm, breastfeeding is a strange combination of magic and normalcy.  It is something to marvel at and respect, not hide away.  If only this milk storm of ours could spread empowerment to mothers everywhere...if only it could blow away the cobwebs and breastfeeding myths and shower us with support and guidance.  Because I have two breasts.  Two magical, completely normal, indiscreet breasts...


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21 comments:

  1. Well said, plus hard to be discreet when your toddler demands milk and if you're not quick enough will just pull your top up, no matter where you are. The problem lies with the people looking, if they don't like it, move your eyes somewhere else.

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    1. Thanks Belinda, there is something particularly special about toddler-aged nurslings who know what they want and how to get it! Thanks for the comment :-)

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  2. I couldn't agree more. I have yet to meet anybody, man, woman or child who really feels offended by breasts. Mostly, people really like them and don't mind seeing them. I reckon it's the exchange of bodily fluids that has most Westerners a bit squeamish and also the intimacy makes them feel uncomfortable. I notice only those who were weaned have an issue with breastfeeding so I can only guess that witnessing what they were denied brings up feelings of abandonment or similar.

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  3. So very well-worded! Thank you for this! I'm a new mama to a beautiful 3-month-old baby girl and I do often feel the pressure to cover up. In fact, I hesitate to leave the house sometimes knowing that I'll have to nurse her in public. I'm also a bit embarrassed to admit that I've rushed to the car with a hungry, crying baby and nursed her in the backseat (with a nursing cover on in case someone were to walk past our window) a couple times. It sounds so silly as I read that back to myself. Your words breathe confidence right into me. Thank you.

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    1. I too used to feel those pressures; I'm just so glad (and humbled) that I could play a small part in boosting your mama-confidence. X

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  4. Love this. My son will be 3 on the 28th of this month and still loves the breast. He does not care where he is or who is around. When he wants it he lifts my shirt or screams I want booby or give me booby. He demands I leave them open at night so he can have free access to it. I love my son and to him they are a sense of security, nourishment and a display of love only a mother can give.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Kimberly, I love that you see them through your son's eyes, not society's...such mama strength :-)

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  5. This is absolutely amazing!!! So well said.

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  6. I think its ridiculous the way people go on, breastfed, bottle-fed, what's the different? Baby is being fed, baby is happy, that's all that matters. I don't breastfeed myself (not through lack of trying but due to having a breast tumour removed) but I have always found it lovely to see a woman breastfeeding. If they don't like seeing breasts being used for the purpose we have them, don't look! I've posted this onto a group on facebook that I am an admin of in case it helps another mother to not be embarrassed about breastfeeding in public - Chels
    (I don't have any of the accounts needed or wouldn't have posted as anonymous)

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    1. Thanks Chels - love your sentiment of helping other mothers <3

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  7. Get a life people...Leave her alone.....

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  8. Wow. I'm breastfeeding my 3rd child and my family has only breastfed (I was, my mother was, my grandmother and so on). I suppose I was discreet before becoming a mother because I never flashed cleavage or wore skimpy bikinis. I am disturbed by the hyper sexualized breast in our culture and I am offended at the 10' tall bosom on billboards. Breasts are for nurturing not for exploiting in our sex obsessed culture. However, I don't want to watch someone breastfeed, neither do I want an audience. I don't think you should criticize a woman who is more comfortable covering up. Just because some women are exhibitionists doesn't mean we all need to be. I know this post is old, but I wanted to comment because I didn't see any support for this viewpoint.

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  9. I wish I could get my husband to see it like this. I nursed our first and will nurse the next one. I guess I am lucky that he doesn't see it as embarrassment but as something else. Lol, he doesn't want anybody else(other men) to see my boobs! So in a way to meet him half way I cover my exposed breast up with the burp cloth.

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  10. I never exposed my breasts before my babies, I've always dressed conservatively. But my babies wouldn't stand for being covered while they were eating so they forced me to feed them uncovered which was often impossible to accomplish because i was too embarrassed. I fought with them to eat while being covered but it would always end with both of us in tears. Eventually it was so difficult to feed them in public that I resented breastfeeding altogether and decided to switch to the bottle. Then my husband told me he didn't understand what the big deal was, I should just feed them whenever, wherever and however. This opened up a whole new world to me and made my life so much easier. Everyone should read this

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  11. I agree with Anonymous 16 August 2015 - the problem is not so much the breastfeeding breast, but the amount of flesh displayed in public by non-breast feeding teens and women in general.

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