(Forgive me in advance if I start writing about parenting stuff a bit more on the blog. Pregnancy gives me baby brain – and by that I mean, I have babies on the brain all the time!)
My good friends will know, without hesitation, that I don’t do “balance”. I’m a very black and white person. I like the rules to be clearly defined – it comforts me.
So before I had kids, I confidently declared that the concept of “modesty while breastfeeding” was simple – you shouldn’t reveal anything you wouldn’t normally reveal.
Then I had my first.
And I had to compromise. I had to find balance. Let me explain.
I still agree with my basic principle – that I shouldn’t reveal more skin that I normally would, just because I happen to be breastfeeding.
But the fact is, this is not always possible.
I had a lot of problems breastfeeding my daughter. Getting and maintaining a good attachment was a struggle for many months, so wearing a cover or a wrap over the top was impractical. (Not to mention, it was summer). That would have simply added another element of difficulty.
The priority became getting her to actually feed properly. Modesty could not be the main goal.
However, (here’s where the balance comes in) I still don’t think modesty can be completely cast aside just because a woman is breastfeeding. As I’ve written before on modesty, for a Christian woman, part of loving our brothers in Christ means we don’t want to put a stumbling block in their way. (This doesn’t mean we are responsible for their sin, but it does mean we are responsible for our own.)
A woman who is breastfeeding still needs to care about how much she is revealing and whether this will be a stumbling block to her brother in Christ.
As an aside here, I want to address some particular man-shaming comments I have read around the internet among pro-breastfeeding women (of which I am one, by the way!).
When conversation turns to modesty/decency around breastfeeding, it doesn’t take long for someone to throw out the old, “If you get turned on by the sight of a baby feeding, then you must be a pervert.” As though having a baby attached somehow strips a breast of its sexual appeal. I do wonder though, how close does the baby have to be to the breast, for this magic to work? If the baby is 1cm away, and about to attach, is the breast still magically not sexual? What about 5cm away? 15cm?
Here’s my husband’s take on that – breasts are still sexual and attractive, whether there is a baby attached or not. The baby certainly doesn’t factor into the attraction, but it doesn’t detract from it either.
He will look at me breastfeeding our children and see it as both a beautiful moment of maternal/child bonding AND deeply attractive.
I have no doubt that there are men out there who look at a woman breastfeeding and only see a picture of maternal bliss. But I don’t think that’s the majority of men.
And I think we should stop shaming men by accusing them of being perverts for being turned on by breasts.
Breasts have both a biological nourishment function AND a sexual function. Both of these were created by God, and both are good things.
So when I have breastfed babies in the past (and when I will resume doing so in the future – which I am really looking forward to, by the way), I do so weighing together the need to feed my baby, and the need to maintain a level of decency and kindness to my brothers in Christ.
Part of this for me, is also relying on the decency and kindness of my brothers in Christ. I expect that the Christian men around me will take responsibility for their own thoughts. I expect that they will look away if they notice me breastfeeding, or at least just look at my eyes. (Because the reality is, if you stare at me long enough while I am breastfeeding, you will see something).
As part of the body of Christ, we all look out for and care for one another. We do not assert our independence and freedom over each other.
Practical Tips for Breastfeeding Women
- If possible, get comfortable with breastfeeding at home first. It’s not easy and natural for everyone – it is often a learned skill. And you will probably feel more flustered if you feel like people are watching you. Flustered Mummy = flustered baby = difficult to breastfeed.
- Try to feed your baby before it gets to the screaming and red in the face stage. Babies send many hunger signals before they get to screaming, and it is kinder to them to pay attention to the first signals. Plus, screaming baby means more people will be looking at you.
- Wear shirts the you can easily pull up over your breasts – I find loose-fitting (well, just not really tight-fitting) t-shirts perfect. You want something that has enough fabric that you can pull it up above one breast, and keep the other covered. And I like it if the shirt will stay down over most of my back too.
- For keeping your tummy covered, there are many options for nursing singlets out there. But I never liked those ones with the inbuilt bra and the ones without a bra, well, that’s not an option.
I am, however, totally in love with Undercover Mama nursing singlets. They are essentially singlets without the straps, and instead they have little hooks that clip straight onto your nursing bra. I tend not to wear them in the summer months, as even one extra layer is too hot. But they are great for the rest of the year!
- During breastfeeding, if you don’t use a cover (and possibly even if you do?), the time when you are most likely to “reveal something” is when you are attaching the baby. I found it worked best to get the baby in position on my arm, use my other arm to unhook that side of the bra whilst the shirt is still down. Then use the arm under the baby to bring its head in closer, while simultaneously lifting the shirt with your other hand. Help the baby attach, and then just rearrange your shirt to where it’s comfortable. Like I said earlier, if someone is really staring at you during this process, then they will probably see something. But once you get the hang of it, you don’t actually reveal that much. And once you are breastfeeding, people really can’t see anything. No cover necessary!