Thursday, May 5, 2016

Breastfeeding Without a Cover Doesn't Compromise My Modesty

On the topic of breastfeeding, one of the greatest divides, even among nursing mothers, is whether a cover should be used. The word "modesty" gets thrown around a lot. "Be modest and cover up." But can't you be modest and opt not to use a cover? I say yes!

When I started breastfeeding, I was nervous about doing it in public because I was afraid someone would get in my face, and I hate confrontation. But there came a time when I was in the grocery store, and my son started crying with hunger. Right there, with my cart full of groceries, I opened my jacket, pulled down my blouse, and he latched on. I felt so empowered. It didn't matter who was around, I gave my child what he needed.  At that time, when the focus was on pushing through my fear to feed my son, it felt natural and right to just do it. I didn't take the nursing cover out of the diaper bag. It didn't feel necessary.

I uploaded this to Facebook with the caption, "Not so scary after all." This was a big moment for us. 
After our first public feeding, I did use the cover a lot in public places. Not because I wanted to or because it felt right, but because I thought I was being respectful of those around me. I covered up in a restaurant, at church, while being shown an apartment, and outside in the wind, where I wrestled to keep the darn thing in place.

Here's the thing...I always felt more off using the cover than I did not using the cover. Weird, right? Especially because I do consider myself a modest person.

Slowly but surely, I stopped using a cover in public. And it hasn't compromised my modesty. How's that?

First of all, modesty can't be measured. Modesty is an abstract idea that looks different to different people. Ask the men and women of the Middle East what they think about our idea of modesty. Since there's no one standard, my personal modesty isn't defined by anyone other than me. So to say that I can nurse without a cover and still be modest is good enough to make it true.

But because I try to honor God with my choices, I want to make sure my personal definition of modesty doesn't contradict the Bible.

"Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works."
1 Timothy 2:9-10

Oh, how differently we can all interpret the Bible. But this looks to me like modesty is more about not dressing in a showy, vain way. Not putting your self worth in your image, but in your actions. Looks like more of a motive and heart issue. I see nothing in this verse that says anything at all about breastfeeding.

I can just hear you thinking, but what about Romans 13:24? "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother."

The thinking here is that women should dress in a way that won't cause men to lust after us. If we, say, wear a low-cut shirt, and our cleavage gets them all hot and bothered, then we're causing them to stumble.

All I'm going to say about that is that, in the case of breastfeeding, that's a non-issue. Why? Because there is absolutely nothing sexual about breastfeeding. And, contrary to what our society is made to believe through marketing ploys and double standards, breasts are not sexual organs. I've seen a man argue that breastfeeding without a cover is gross for the same reason that it would be gross for a man to whip out his penis at the dinner table. Um, no. Not at all a fair comparison. Breasts naturally produce milk for the nourishment of babies. That is their purpose. Can they be used sexually? Yes. But, as a favorite meme of mine points out, so can hands, and I don't ask you to wear gloves in public. Plus, even in the eyes of the law (in most states), a bare breast and nipple right before, during, and right after a nursing session doesn't qualify as public nudity.

If using a cover isn't what we want to do, then doing so anyway makes it seem like we're hiding. (If you want to cover up because you want to, that's a different story.) It just doesn't make sense for me to teach my son that breasts (and all of a woman) aren't sexual objects and that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful, but then go ahead and hide myself so that a man won't get all lusty or some stranger won't give me grief or get offended. By the way, if someone gets turned on by the image of a baby feeding, they have a much deeper issue--one that I can't help them avoid by covering myself.

Is there a better way to overthrow this asinine idea that breasts are inherently sexual than to nurse without a cover? Something that's already natural and good for our babies? However we get rid of this sexualization, whether by nursing in public or any other effort, it needs to happen. By objectifying breasts, we're objectifying women. There's a whole slew of societal problems that stem from this, like sexism and rape culture.

Covering up to satisfy someone else's idea of modesty is a disservice to me, my son, and society. And since there's nothing sexual about my breasts or feeding my son with them, my modesty isn't compromised by leaving the nursing cover in the diaper bag.

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Do you choose to breastfeed in public with or without a cover? Please leave a comment or find me on the Facebook page for Her Arms Are Strong.


  1. My mom and I were discussing this topic, since she nursed both my younger sister and I. She said there was never a need for a "cover" since she always wore a lose fitting tee-shirt and a nursing bra. Lifting the shirt up enough for us to nurse, while any exposed skin was covered by our bodies. When it was time to "switch sides" she'd just throw a cloth diaper over her shoulder. Mom said, in all the times she nursed in public, she never encountered one negative comment or even a "dirty look".

    1. That's a good way to do it! However the mom feels most comfortable, skin showing or not. A lot of my breastfeeding friends do this same method.