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Nursing

By Justine Dorton

In another life, I think I must be a nudist.

I don’t particularly care to see anyone else wandering around in their flabby skin, but my flabby skin? LOVE IT. I’ve curbed my tendencies since children have come into our home, but maybe this nudist thing has something to do with why I love nursing my babies so much. My way to break free? Let loose? Hang ten?

But talking about nursing, and let’s be honest here, there’s really just plenty to love about it, isn’t there? I love the private quiet nursing time, when the world seems to stop and I am swallowed by calm and suckling. I love the noisy, carry the baby around nursing while making spaghetti and correcting math homework, where I feel like superwoman for nourishing my baby while simultaneously being a wizard of fifth grade math (and cooking noddles, don’t forget). I love that when I’m done nursing, my breasts shrink and shrivel up and get ever and ever smaller with each baby (size B, here I come!).

Kylie Turley’s essay on nursing left me in stitches. I’ve always considered these annoying big lugs on my chest such a bother (I’ve named them George and Martha. Don’t ask.) But when I’m nursing, I feel so useful! I feel like my body has actually come through for me! Way to go breasts!

But Kylie brings up a really valid point — what’s the deal with public breastfeeding controversy? (and please say controversy like the guy on the news would say it — deep, husky, almost throaty voice, trying to make something into more than it is).

Women’s breasts are all over popular media. For goodness sake, have you been to Vegas in the last 15 years? Or even come visit my street, where there’s the lady who likes to weed her garden wearing camisoles and going commando. Boy, all those poor Mormon boys on our street can hardly catch their breath for getting by her.

So what’s the big deal with actually using George and Martha? Does making them useful somehow diminish their ogling allure? Is it some right-wing plot? Is it a left-wing scheme?

All I know for sure is this: Breastfeeding was good for my babies, and it was good for me.

So, I say, Ladies — bare ’em.

Or not. What do you think?

About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

26 thoughts on “Nursing”

  1. For heaven's sake, bare 'em. Kylie's essay made me laugh too, just so much to relate to. I've never actually been confronted by someone for nursing in public, but I have had a few dirty glances sent my way. Somehow I have become less and less shy with each month of nursing and with each child. It just feels like the most natural thing in the world. I try to remain modest and relatively discreet, but if someone's got a problem with it, I really do think it's their problem.

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  2. Justine, you are in my brain this week.

    I've actually been puzzling about this topic for a few weeks. I guess as my latest baby gets older and it's getting harder to hide nursing, I started wondering exactly how we came to this "Nursing In Public" phrase. I have yet to read anything prior to the second half of the 20th century that even references NIP. It must have been just nursing, or even merit NO attention at all.

    Then I found this amazing blog where the author has been culling through pictures from the Library of Congress to find pictures of women nursing. It is incredible to see American women simply nursing, no blankets, no covering, because there was nothing to be ashamed about, it just was. The author has traced the NIP attitude to someplace around immediate post-WWII. You should see the picture she has of a woman nursing separated behind a screen from her own husband in her own house. What a change from the open nursing of the 1930s and time immemorial before that.

    Anyway, I'm not to the breast-baring stage (yet, haha, this is only my second child) but I don't want to put myself into a closet either. I really do think that women need to nurse more in public so that we can overcome this late 20th century oversexualization of breasts. If women will nurse, perhaps girls will understand what the purpose of their shapes actually can be, and that boys will grow to understand the utility along with the beauty.

    NIP is NEW; given a name only in our recent past. So rock on, Justine, let's have a nurse-in.

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  3. I didn't figure out nursing with my first two kids, but I was able to nurse my youngest. Good times. But I never figured out how to nurse in public discreetly. I tried a few times, but it was always this tense thing, with me paranoid about my blanket slipping off or something. Then my baby got old enough that he didn't want stuff on his head, and I just gave up the public nursing quest altogether.

    I like Kylie's article. But I don't know… if you can't nurse discreetly, then I think it's probably best not to nurse in public. I'm counting myself out with that, I realize. But I think there's something to be said for avoiding behavior that's likely to make people around you uncomfortable.

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  4. We HAVE to stop thinking about making "people" around us uncomfortable. We have to. This is not about the people, this is about your baby. Who is more important? Baby or people? This whole nursing discreetly thing is NEW, it's not old, it's only been around for about 50 years. It was NEVER an issue before that.

    Not only is NIP specific to a time in American culture, it's just that, American culture. Just ask our missionaries who were severely unprepared that women nurse in church and everywhere else, openly all over the world. We would do well to nurse more so that our children are prepared for other cultures.

    I want other women to understand that they are being shortchanged. They are being told that they are, in forcing them to be "discrete" and be aware of other's feelings, doing something dirty when they nurse. Are you trying to tell your daughters that their bodies are dirty? When you really start parsing the logic, it dawns on you, that this has roots in misogyny. We need to embrace the divine in ourself, all of it, including that milk comes from breasts. As my grandmother said to the doctors in the 40s who urged her to formula feed, "Are you calling God a liar?"

    Jesus was nursed. The scriptures are chock full of nursing mother analogies. Go to any sacrament meeting in Latin America. I am tired of making my baby pay for the latent fear of "people."

    Discussions like this make me want to leave my receiving blankets at home forever.

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  5. I have always been a bare-em kind of nurser, mostly because I hated suffocated my babies under blankets (and the previously mentioned nudist tendencies…).

    Truth be told, I've nursed babies in the middle of sacrament meeting, Relief Society, the public pool, everywhere. I mean really, who's looking at you anyway!?

    And I would tend to agree with you Azucar, people need to get over their ill laid preconceptions about nursing.

    But I do admit to being more discreet around my father-in-law. The poor guy used to just turn purple faced when I nursed. He's gotten better — and so have I.

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  6. To be honest, it's not just other people I worry about being uncomfortable–it's also me. Kudos to you who are comfortable with your bodies; I'm just not. Except just after delivering, when I don't care who sees me or how.
    But really, I'm more comfortable alone with my baby, and I guess I assume others will be too.

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  7. I'm no good at faking nursing modesty. The truth is, I don't care that much. My baby needs to eat, and I see nothing sexual or otherwise inappropriate about feeding her. I Of course, I used to be a nudist too, bk (before kids) and bca (before becoming active in the Church). One thing, though, nursing multiple kids does take a toll on those of us who started out at a size b!

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  8. Don't worry, Angie, it comes back. I nursed five kids for a cumulative total of nearly nine years (that's right, some of them were asking for num-num in full sentences by the time I finally weaned them!)and for a while I actually thought I'd gotten rid of some of my excess, um, tissue for good. But, in my case at least, George and Martha soon reclaimed their own.

    I couldn't agree more with Azu'car's arguments about the whole NIP thing.

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  9. I nurse in RS, openly and without chagrin. Please, we're all women there, deal with it. My baby makes loud smacking sounds, too. The women around me usually smile at the sounds, and one time, my baby let out an enormous belch. Everybody laughed.

    I don't like to nurse in Sacrament meeting, though. I feel very exposed, I know it makes other people uncomfortable, and not everybody is going to appreciate or smile at a baby's belch when they are meditating during the Sacrament. I take my noisy 5 year old out of the room when he becomes distracting—I do the same with my baby. And I like our mother's lounge. It's quiet and cozy, with big soft rocking chairs. We do much better nursing in there than we would in the hard pews in Sacrament meeting. I might feel differently if it was stinky and hot in there.

    Really, though, Sacrament meeting is the only time when I feel uncomfortable about nursing in public. Everywhere else, I feel like they can deal with it. And, since I have the distinct advantage of having small breasts, I flash very little, unless somebody is directly staring at me.

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  10. Ladies,
    Remember how blessed you are to be able to nurse. Whether you choose to bare it or not, it doesn't really matter. For those of us who never got the chance (even after 4 kids) and really wanted to, we look on you with envy – whether you are covered or not.

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  11. Nursing in church is not appropriate. The church has told us this in the nicest way possible –by providing a mothers' lounge. Its not that nursing is dirty or shameful, there are a whole host of activities not appropriate for a worship setting –brushing one's hair, eating, paying bills, crocheting, texting, trimming nails, etc.
    The church shows mothers great respect and consideration by providing a mothers' lounge. If the rest of the world were that considerate, maybe we wouldn't have a "NIP controversy". Besides, many a friendship is forged in the mothers' lounge, and what new mom doesn't need that?

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  12. Texasgal,
    I'm glad your ward has provided you with a Mother's Lounge. Since my ward has not provided such a place, does that mean nursing is allowed in my ward?

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  13. Yes, it does. That's exactly what I'm saying. If the church, the museum, the library, or Mcdonalds doesn't want people nursing in public, they should provide a designated space. If there is no designated space, its every mom's call. If there is a nursing space, I think it is reasonable to expect people to use it.

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  14. There are many reasons why someone might be unable to use the mothers lounge. I have never breastfed my baby in Sacrament meeting or Relief Society, but I in no way feel it is inappropriate.
    There is a friend of mine who has 4 young children and a nursing baby. Her husband is on the high counsel. She sits alone with her children in Sacrament meeting. I've noticed her (discreetly) breastfeeding her baby while listening to the service on Sunday. It would be difficult for her to leave, and all of her neighbors have a number of children to watch, so I feel she is choosing the better part. I've never heard anyone complain about her feeding and mothering her baby.
    The mother's lounge in my building is ALWAYS full. I don't believe one should have to put their baby off for hours when they can sit in Relief Society and feed their baby.
    If I left my meetings every time my baby made a noise or belched, I would never be able to take part in any meeting-ever, and this would be a shame since I go to church to be spiritually fed. I assume other women go to listen and feel the spirit as well. It is difficult to do this if you are waiting in line for the mother's lounge.

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  15. Yes, there are times when people bypass the mothers'lounge in favor of some other arrangement. And yes, there are times when my kids pee in the bushes even when restrooms are available. I'm sure both practices are quite harmless.

    However, using the proper facility for its intended purpose is a little hallmark of decorum, and sometimes decorum is a good thing.

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  16. I guess I should have been more bold in my former statement. You see, I completely disagree with you. I don't see how breastfeeding is comparable to nail clipping and bill paying. I don't see that breastfeeding is something that needs to be hidden behind a door. I guess it all boils down to how you perceive breastfeeding and I don't agree that discreetly feeding your baby outside of closed doors shows a lack of decorum. That is where I stand.

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  17. I feel like there is room for both, here. I've nary seen a stray nipple in sacrament meeting, but also can understand if someone would not want to nurse in the pew next to the Elders Quorum President.

    I've felt both ways at different times in my life. I believe "decorum" and respect for others can be ascribed in either situation, as long as decorum is sought for. And even in a situation like this, the Spirit will tell you if you're offending.

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  18. Justine, yes decorum on both sides would look something like this: "I'll pretend I'm not nursing and you pretend not to notice." It can work.

    Martha, you do not "completely disagree" with me. I have said that nursing in church is "harmless" and that nursing isn't shameful or dirty. So you agree with me there. And we agree that nursing in public is sometimes necessary and just fine. We part ways somewhere after that, where I believe in being considerate to people who may be uncomfortable around breastfeeding (men, older generation, teenage boys etc) while in a worship setting and if there is a lounge available.

    And yes, as you say, "it all boils down to how you perceive breastfeeding". But there is also the element of how other people perceive breastfeeding. Yeah, maybe they should get over it, but is church the time and place to cure them of this attitude? The fact that there is usually a lounge provided suggests that maybe its not.

    I am sorry that you are frustrated with your overcrowded mothers' lounge. As I said before, its every mom's call as to what to do when there isn't space provided. Goodness knows we've all had to improvise at times. I maintain that its a bit indecorous and extraneous to the purpose of the meeting, you disagree I'm sure. Again, an opportunity to see that not everyone "perceives breastfeeding" the same.

    For example, I never felt that time spent in the nursing lounge was wasted or that I was "missing out". But that's just me. A person who struggles to tear themselves away from the meeting might be delighted to find that the sound is piped into the mothers'lounge.

    And now to throw in a bit of humor, in one of my wards the MEN COMPLAINED that there was no FATHERS' LOUNGE as they felt they spent as much or more time with the babies and would like some rocking chairs, etc. CRACK UP. Our bishop was a wonderful old curmudgeon, and he just laughed at the idea. But gee, maybe it has merit.

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  19. I think it is unfortunate that so many mothers in our ward just go home during Relief Society rather than sit in the mother's lounge and listen to the High Priest's lesson being piped in from the chapel. I remember being so frustrated that after spending an entire week cooped up with a newborn I would go to church just to spend it alone stuck in a diaper-smelling closet, especially when I need the sisterhood and encouragement from Relief Society so greatly. Now that I am pregnant with my third I have every intention of staying to nurse. Both my baby and I need to be fed during that time.

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  20. Ugh. This topic makes me squirm. Can I just say that?

    I think the issue cuts both ways. I think people who get completely up in arms about breastfeeding could probably calm down a bit. The sexualized society we live in has distorted our understanding and view of our bodies. I get that. I love nursing. LOVE it. I love the wonder of it all, the bonding, the convenience. (Sigh. Babyhungriness hits again.)

    But it seems to me that even though it's a wonderful, natural process, to not be sensitive to those who may be uncomfy (for whatever reason — do we really know what's in their hearts, lives, history, biology, whatever?) feels wrong to me. Especially in our church community, I wish I felt a little more patience and forbearance even if we disagree with someone's opinion or feeling (or choices). Again, this cuts both ways.

    It sort of hurts my heart that we don't all take a step back a bit. It's just seems so divisive.

    I rarely hear someone actually say that you can seek the Spirit to guide you, so I really like Justine's comment. It seems like often, people just let their strong feelings either way guide them. I think the Spirit is a better guide, especially on something that always elicits such strong emotions.

    My true honest feeling is that I think often, too big of a deal is made about covering up, or, with a squirmy child (I had those), quietly slipping into another room. Really, if we can do something to reduce keep distraction or the risk of someone's potential discomfort, why not? Is it really that much to ask, in most situations? It feels to me that sometimes women will nurse in public more to make a statement than out of true necessity. I don't think that does a service to efforts to underscore the beauty of breastfeeding, actually. So my thought is don't throw it in people's face. It won't help them understand or change, imo. Even I, a lover of breastfeeding, grow weary of the stridency that I sense from some pro-bfing women.

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  21. Girls,
    I will never, ever forget when did not have children and my husband and I were sitting in the "give a talk" position at church. A young mom short of stature but HUGH on breast tissue lifted her shirt and flung out with all her might the heavily impacted breast to attempt the latching of a screaming baby. The process was long and distracting. We looked at each other and almost ran out of the chapel so as not to see such an uncomfortable site to us.

    Years later, 5 kids who all nursed and now my daughters nursing, we have all forgotten that breast have any other job than what my husband lovingly calls "meals on wheels!" Oft times my daughters forget that the youngest sibling of male gender is in their presence while they whip out their "meals on wheels". However, brother has never known different with 4 sisters.
    My daughters have the dual pumps and have a regular pump schedule for a bottle to take in public for their own convenience.

    Now I am the type that wishes I could be a proxy nurser for my grand kids! I mean I can do everything else why can't I do that. I would love to burn up some calories!!!
    Do you think I'm sick?

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  22. I miss the easy calorie burn, too. I also miss the quiet and peaceful closeness and cuddling.

    Well, let's be honest, here. I miss quiet and peace in general at my house.

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  23. My view on nursing has changed with each child. I have four beautiful kids, ages 7,5,3 and 1. Nursing a one year old with a seven year old boy is a delicate situation.

    I think there is a balance between the Nursing Nazi's and the prudes. I am in there somewhere. I don't go commando in public, because there are a lot of kids in public, and I think that is something to consider. It isn't all the prude adults that don't like seeing open nursing, it may be the parents of small kids that don't need an early education.

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  24. pjb,
    I remember the first time a friend nursed in front of me (that I noticed–I think in my pre-marriage days I was oblivious to children, nursing, babies and etc.). She whipped up her shirt and started nursing sans blanket in front of my husband and I. When we left awhile later, my husband stumbled down the steps, gasping, "Ky,I saw her breast!" He was quite traumatized at the time, though I can guarantee he wouldn't think a thing about it now.

    I also agree, however, that I have had to be a bit more careful nursing baby #5, since my 3 sons, ages 9, 7 and 4, found the process a bit too interesting. I wanted them to understand what I was doing and why (unlike the children I nursed in front of a few years ago–they kept asking their mom: "What is she doing under that blanket? What's going on in there?" The embarrassed mom had clearly not explained nursing in the slightest and was obviously not going to explain anything then and there–a few tense moments for all of us), but I didn't see any reason to make a dramatic point of nudity.

    Really, I see myself in the middle ground. I don't go around flashing for the mere sake of proving a point, but I don't cut myself off from all social interaction in order to nurse a baby. And I also take into consideration the baby's demeanor and age. Let's face it, it is one thing to nurse an entranced two-month old, and it is a whole different story to nurse a nine-month old who wants to stop and look around at every new sound and sight (much more flashing potential, there).

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  25. LeiGul and Kylie, I like the middle ground approach you present. I don't see this as an all-or-nothing thing either way, either. Don't know if my comment reflected that.

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