I’ve written before about breastfeeding (nursing in public because the Pope said to and because the Blessed Virgin Mary does it) and I’m often asked how to be modest when nursing a baby. I think this is the wrong question because breastfeeding is not immodest.
In most places in the world, women don’t have to think twice about feeding their babies in public. Breastfeeding is not viewed as sexual (because it’s not). It’s simply not a big deal. But here in the U.S., many women feel uncomfortable about it and their anxiety is understandable considering that breastfeeding in public is sadly, often taboo. It’s obviously not reasonable to expect a nursing mother to remain in her house for the months to years of the nursing relationship. (And if you have a big family and practice extended breastfeeding, that could be a decade–or more!–of nursing, so c’mon you can’t just stay home).
So, what’s a mama to do?
I think the question shouldn’t be how to nurse in public modestly, but how to nurse in public comfortably and confidently. If a woman doesn’t feel comfortable breastfeeding because she feels like she stands out or is being judged, it’s going to be difficult for her.
Breastfeeding is not something that needs to be hidden, so I’m not crazy about the phrase “discreet breastfeeding.” However, because public nursing is mistakenly viewed as sexual, most of us (me included) feel more confident if we show less rather than more skin when breastfeeding. (Let me be clear that I’m not saying this is necessary, or that doing otherwise is immodest. I’m just saying that being mostly covered up allows many of us to nurse publicly in comfort and that’s what we’re going for.) This is for the mama, not about other people.
Some women like to wear nursing aprons or covers and it makes them feel at ease and comfortable nursing, but I am not one of those women. They always drive my babies batty and distract them. And it’s just one more thing to try to retrieve from the bottom of my diaper bag when my baby is impatiently waiting for a snack. Furthermore, for the first several months, I have to use both hands to nurse. One hand to support the baby’s head and the other to support the breast. So that makes any nursing cover adjustments pretty much impossible. I’ve talked to lots of women who have this same issue, so I know I’m not alone.
Here’s what I do instead:
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I wear a nursing tank under my shirt. That way my tummy is covered when I lift my shirt to nurse and the top of the breast is covered up by my shirt. And there’s a baby head covering pretty much everything else. I also like to wear a cute scarf around my neck, mostly because I like cute scarves, but also because you can easily drape it over any exposed areas you want to cover.
After nursing three babies, I’ve found a way of dressing to nurse that works for me, my babies, and my body. That’s what I’m sharing today, but it doesn’t mean that you have to do the same. The goal is to find what works for you to nurse comfortably like this gal:
Have any tips about confident breastfeeding to share?
Kathy Biallas says
Amen! My son is four years old and still nurses at bedtime. When he was an infant and nursing frequently, we nursed wherever we needed to, although I was definitely more comfortable being covered up. I found a combination of the above techniques worked for me. If we ever have a second child, I will definitely be more comfortable going all-out and nursing anywhere. There are Pinterest guidelines for making your own nursing tank tops, FYI.
Yes!! It is all about what works for you and your baby! Personally I’m a big fan of baby wearing, and the tail of a ring sling is perfect for covering up any bits of skin you don’t want showing.
Also I’ve found that the more babies I nurse, the less I care about what others think. I’m just feeding my kid over here, and if you don’t want to see my pudgy tummy peaking out beside baby, hey, don’t look. 🙂
Haley, this was a great article! I have lots of expectant first-time mama friends (you and I started young, so many of my friends are just now getting around to babies) and I’ll send this over to them. To add my 2 cents, I rarely wore a nursing tank or even a nursing bra. I wore a camisole (the stretchy type) under my sweaters or shirts, pulled it to the side and then folded the bra cup in half. This actually provided quite a bit of helpful support!
Danielle @ Blissful Thinking says
Ditto to so much of this!! As the owner of a little but bigger “girls,” nursing bras and I had a rocky relationship. When my babe was about 6 months I started just wearing my old bras and folding it down under to nurse…it was way less of a problem than I anticipated and I haven’t looked back! Thanks for writing this article and hope you continue having what seems to be a fabulous vacation 🙂
This is pretty much what worked for me too. I am the worst person in the world when it comes to keeping a diaper bag packed. In the early days I usually have a swaddle blanket and use that. I also laughed at your bouncy seat comment. We have three baby contraptions: a playmat for babies (ok, so I actually have two because I was excited about a girl and Steve’s was sports themed), a basic chair for newborns and a big jumperoo for the 4 month-crawling phase. None gets used for more than a couple months, but they are invaluable during those couple months. The chair and jumperoo are how I shower, etc.
Thank you for this… I’m right in the middle of this dilemma!! What brand of nursing tanks work best for you?? =)
I love this! Camisole tank tops are my best friend while nursing. I don’t do so well with scarves, but I carry around my baby’s favorite muslin swaddle blanket when we go somewhere public (church, moms group, gym nursery, etc) so that I can hold it and use it to quickly cover up if I feel uncomfortable for whatever reason.
I wholeheartedly agree – nursing is not immodest. And to me, my nursing wrap draws way more attention to the baby nursing than without. It’s like a giant flashing sign – “look at me! i am BREASTfeeding my baby!” 🙂
I’m just waiting for SOMEone to come out with a line of reasonably priced, attractive nursing dresses. I had my first baby in 2004 and have been nursing and/or pregnant pretty much ever since, and oh, how I miss being able to wear a dress!! I really don’t get why decent nursing clothes seem to be so difficult to produce. They cost twice as much as regular clothes, and half the time only make things more difficult. My go-to uniform has become a nursing bra and t-shirt, paired with jeans most days, skirts for dressing up. Going on year ten, it’s getting a little old. 🙂
Lots of Old Navy v-neck dresses work for me, and they’re very affordable. Not the highest quality but for $30 or less they’re decent enough!
I love that I first read this on my phone…while nursing 😉 I have a nice woven shawl/wrap type thing that I just drape over my shoulders and wrap him up in and he can nurse where ever we are.
A couple of weeks ago at church, I was sitting in the corner at coffee hour nursing him (with the shawl) and talking with a friend and a woman came up to me and said “I think you are SO brave. I’m so glad you can do this, we were so afraid to nurse in public when I had young children.”
I didnt feel particularly brave, but I thanked her, and was grateful to be in a time and place where nursing in public is acceptable (although it could be more so, for sure) I find that if I treat it as no big deal and don’t draw a lot of attention to what I’m doing, then others don’t make a big deal out of it either. It’s your natural ability and something so good for your baby, there should be no shame in it!
This is my go to. Not always the scarf though. I have larger ladies so I do a nursing bra and an undercover mama tank.
For nursing dresses, I found the lands end fit and flare dresses with the cross body are perfect.
THIS! I LOVE my Undercover Mama tanks, as regular nursing tanks don’t provide enough coverage or support for my ginormous chest. I mentioned to someone the other day that I have to cover myself when I bend over to keep from flashing anyone and to keep from falling out of certain bras. She looked at me kind of funny and told me I needed a new bra, and my response was that it’s kind of tough to find a good nursing bra in a 38GG.
Bravado has great plus size nursing tanks. Not inexpensive, but they work for me.
I agree completely. I don’t think nursing in public is wrong at all, but some of us are just more comfortable not letting it all hang out (and there’s nothing wrong with that or letting it all hang out!). I’ve found just a regular old tank top under my clothes with a nursing bra under that also works well, but I had never thought of the scarf idea!
I don’t know if I just don’t care about being discreet with baby #3, or that I know what I’m doing now so I’m discreet without trying. I just don’t care who cares!
That said, public breastfeeding here, where everyone breastfeeds, feels very different from breastfeeding in my old hometown, a formula culture. I’m not less likely to do it, but it just has a different vibe.
Thank you for this! I’m due in a week with our first kiddo and have been wondering about good and simple options for nursing in public. This definitely helps, especially since I love scarves too!
Love this post! Now that I have twins (and thus twice as many diapers to carry around) I’ve found myself ditching any accessories I deem unnecessary, and the nursing cover has been one of them. If for some reason I am not wearing a nursing tank or have a button-down shirt with no scarf, I just use a muslin blanket to cover anything I’m not comfortable showing. But I’ve found that if I can nurse without covering it’s a less awkward situation for others anyway, because they often don’t even realize what’s happening! 🙂
And I am with you on the bouncy seats … so, so with you. They are essentials round here!
Gosh, Haley. I don’t know…. That tiny triangle of skin is making me really uncomfortable right now.
Ha, I’m reading this while nursing, too! She’s #6, so I’m definitely more comfortable nursing her, but I have quite a bit more to cover up, too! 🙂
This is my first time using the nursing camis, and I love how I feel more covered in them — no one wants to see my tummy or sides coming out! And I have been using a coverup thing when we’re out, but I’ll have to think about just using a scarf. It’s definitely cuter. 🙂
And thanks for whoever mentioned the lands end dresses! I’ve been thinking that they might work, and it’s good to know that they do!
Kate M says
Thanks so much for this post, Haley! I wholeheartedly agree that breastfeeding is not something that should have to be covered up, and I have been trying my hardest to be more confident about it (plus my babies also don’t nurse well under the covers). I have a couple questions – Do you find that wearing a nursing bra and a nursing tank feels restrictive around your ribcage? I have tried this combo a few times and have struggled with everything feeling tight and uncomfortable. Maybe I just need to try some different brands. Also, do you try to use these same methods when dressing for church (top, tank, and skirt for example)? That is definitely what I have the most trouble with – finding church appropriate, nursing-friendly clothes! Do you nurse without a cover in church too?
Kate, I actually gave up wearing nursing bras because I couldn’t find a good fitting one that was supportive enough. So I wear a nursing tank and a regular bra that I pull down when I want to nurse. For church I do the same think. It’s hard for me to find dresses that are nursing friendly, so I usually go with a blouse and a skirt. I don’t nurse with a cover at Mass. I usually just drape a scarf over any exposed skin, but with the nursing tank and blouse over the top of the breast, there really isn’t much skin to cover. Hope that helps!
I really like these tips. Before my daughter was born I was very focused on finding button down tops and dresses for nursing, but now that I’m a few months in I’ve realized these are actually much less discrete because basically the whole chest/breast is exposed. Sometimes this also leaves me pretty cold! I’ve found that I’m more comfortable lifting my shirt up than pulling down. Wish I had realized that before I stocked up on the button downs.
Thanks Haley. I think this is great. I just posted on nursing fashion today as well, and linked back to this post of yours. I’d be happy if you checked out my blog, too.
I tried a muslin wrap for ages, but bubs just kept pulling it off. These days I tend to wear a breastfeeding singlet under whatever I am wearing so there is little to no skin showing while I am feeding.
I was just interested to see what people wrote, in case I wanted to share this post with friends who have bubba’s.
However, I am a seamstress/costume designer & I noticed many people saying that there are no suitable nursing dresses on the market.
With no experience of my own, I haven’t had any babies & sadly won’t be having any, what would you like to see in a nursing dress? I’m always up for a challenge & would love to see if I could come up with something that works.
So let me know in a reply what you feel are the dream options for a nursing dress.
Erin K D says
I would want a nursing dress that is not “nursing friendly” because of a low V-neck that shows more cleavage than I want. It needs to stay in place so baby can’t tug it and expose anything, and not show anything if I need to bend over. Basically my same standards for necklines in general.
Erin K D says
Haley this is a good idea, it has been working for me, but I was wondering what I’ll do in summer when it is too hot for me to wear layers (i.e. a cami under a shirt makes me too hot). Do you have any suggestions?
Great ideas! I’ve just been wearing the nursing tanks all summer, but come October-ish it gets pretty cold here (Bend, Oregon), so these tips will help! 🙂 Plus, I go back to work in September and will have to pump, so I think I’ll wear a nursing tank under whatever shirt I want to wear to work and a scarf like you suggested! The scarf mostly for fashion since I won’t need it to cover up my baby while I’m at work.
I have nursed 4 babies, and soon my 5th. I have found that cardigans and and a strapless bra really help me! I love it because I can lift up my shirt and just scoot my bra quickly out of the way and use a receiving blanket to cover my stomach and my cardigan covers everything else including my back and even my baby’s head. Most people talk to me and don’t even realize I’m nursing but I mostly love it because I do feel confident chasing my other kids around or just being around other people. 🙂 I use to use nursing covers but they do t work for me, either and they are so hot.
I just have to write to support all you wonderful young moms who are breastfeeding your kids. How anyone can ignore, criticize, or attempt to pollute this wonderful God-gift, is beyond me. The things we think we are too civilized or too busy or too whatever go do — !
I was curious, though. When I breastfed my girl (who is now 22 and heading out into the world), there were clothing companies dedicated to breastfeeding moms–garments with two layers, one with vertical slits for breasts, and one which was layered over that. I had some beautiful breastfeeding dresses and tops that I was loathe to give up when when my girl no longer needed the breast. Don’t they make those anymore? When worn for several years, I considered them a good investment.
Call La Leche League for problem-solving and advice, and, oh, and don’t forget to drink lots and lots of water!
What an encouraging, kind comment, SusanLee! I actually had one shirt like that and found it difficult to work with, but it could have just been the cut of that particular shirt. I think they do have something similar, although what I’m seeing more often is crossover tops that you can easily pull back to nurse. And yes to the water! It’s hard to drink enough when you’re nursing.