Breastfeeding and Modesty

(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.

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Me with our daughter, at one day old.

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!
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12 thoughts on “Breastfeeding and Modesty

  1. We received your Christmas card and gum leaf yesterday. The girls love that they have a “part” of Australia! Thank you so much!

    I had a huge wake up call when I was nursing my second child. RLB and I were in the process of growing a business and were out on business trips quite frequently. I found myself pumping in a bathroom stall and was overcome with how sad it was. This all can wait. I need to be home with my infant, nurturing and feeding her, not expressing her food in a room full of toilets.

    I know that doesn’t have much to do with the topic of your post. I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other about women breastfeeding in public. I don’t see it often. I appreciated it when a nursing mother would come to my home that she let me know before hand so I could make arrangements for her and baby’s comfort while not having my son feel awkward. Those who would just whip out their breast without consideration weren’t asked to return. Breastfeeding a baby should remain about nurturing and bonding between mother and child and should not be a political statement. If it becomes one in my home, I have no qualms about matching it with my own political statement that the men in my home will be respected and not made to feel uncomfortable.

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  2. I used to be super pro breastfeeding in public, anyway uncovered or not. I was a trained Childbirth educator (cbe) before having my own kids. Of course I’ve changed a lot! My mother in law and sister in law all nursed openly and long term, so I just assumed my husband was down. Turns out he wants his wife covered while feeding his children. Go figure! After two babies nursing through to age 2, in really good at nursing discreetly. Here are my tips:
    1) use a carrier like Ergobaby. I can nurse when I’m out in public and nobody knows! The carrier holds them in front and has a hood that covers perfectly. Most people assume baby is sleeping. I can nurse in my carrier starting around 4-5months and beyond. This has saved many a shopping trip.
    2.) I use a scarf, flowy, breathable material that covers me without covering up the baby. This technique takes time to master.
    3.) I use a swaddle blanket as a scarf when I’m in a pinch. This is the best and most valuable item in my diaper bag.
    4) I’ve learned that there is no shame in asking for a quiet place to nurse. Most Christians should be more than happy to accommodate.
    Nursing my babies has been a real humbling experience.

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  3. @SD,
    I’m glad the card got to you safely!

    I’ve never met one of these women who use breastfeeding to make a political statement!
    When I visit someone’s house, I will usually go to the lounge room to breastfeed, or at the very least, move to the outer corner of the room everyone else is in. I find this is a good way to be considerate, while still not being completely out of the conversation.

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  4. @wordsofgold,
    Thank you for your tips!
    I’ve always looked at women who can feed in the Ergo in awe, like they are some kind of breastfeeding ninja! Lol. I pointed out one lady to my husband at the shops earlier this year,
    “Look at that woman, honey!”
    “What?”
    “She’s breastfeeding her baby! IN the Ergo!”
    “Oh. Cool.”
    Haha, I have yet to master it, but it sounds like a useful skill!

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  5. “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.”

    A stumbling block in my country (USA) is that breasts are seen only as sex objects. Its so low class and unnatural that I feel it a duty and act of compassion to expose my fellow citizens to breast feeding so they can learn something about proper infant care and family values. Have cleavage exposed in a dress, blouse or bikini? Bring it on! But god forbid some skin get shown when breast feeding. Its so backward. I’ve been to countries where its the opposite and the men are much healthier in mind and spirit.

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  6. @Cultured Lady

    Welcome to the blog!
    It certainly is a shame that in some cultures breasts are seen as only sexual objects (and only outside the marriage bed, at that!).
    I’m all about breastfeeding in public to raise awareness, but I also think it’s important to do so with discretion and consideration.

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  7. SS,
    My comment was:
    Breastfeeding a baby should remain about nurturing and bonding between mother and child and should not be a political statement.
    You then replied:
    I’ve never met one of these women who use breastfeeding to make a political statement!
    But shortly after said:
    I’m all about breastfeeding in public to raise awareness

    Could you clarify the difference you see in raising awareness and political statements? Whose awareness do you like to see raised by seeing public breastfeeding?

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  8. @SD,
    Perhaps we have different understandings of the word, but I understand “political statement” to be related to matter of public policy. Raising awareness can relate to many things, at many levels.

    We are in the middle of a cultural change at the moment, from a time when formula feeding was seen as superior to breast milk by many. It is now turning around, and people are realising again that breast milk is the best thing for babies.
    I think it is helpful, as part of this re-education, for women to breastfeed where they can be seen (not that skin is exposed, if possible, but that it is clear they are breastfeeding). This is part of people coming to terms with breastfeeding being the norm again.

    Of course, there have been many times during the course of breastfeeding my babies that I have found it necessary to go to a dark/quiet room to feed them, as they would get quite easily distracted. The need to give the baby a good, uninterrupted feed trumps the benefit of any “awareness raising”.

    “It is not a breastfeeding mother’s duty to teach men, This is feminist and not biblical.”

    I disagree. Paul only prohibits women teaching men, with authority, in the context of the church.
    (I know you will disagree with that, but that’s as far as I’d like it to go here, given how far off topic it is.)

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  9. We do not assert our independence and freedom over each other.

    This was what you wrote in the OP. I’ve made a mistake in discerning what your topic is. And now I’m confused what your position even is.

    Her position is most definitely feminist and her moniker and complaint of the men of our country is appalling.

    And yes, we are at an impasse on what behaviors are rebellion and what are acceptable as per biblical instruction. Take care, SS.

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  10. @SD
    “We do not assert our independence and freedom over each other.

    This was what you wrote in the OP. I’ve made a mistake in discerning what your topic is. And now I’m confused what your position even is. “

    I’m not sure what you mean – do you think I contradict myself?

    As I see it there are two topics being discussed now:
    – For women who do breastfeed, why it is important to show discretion, and how to do so in a way that is practical. (This was my original topic)
    – For the general public, that breasts are more than just sexual body parts, they also provide nutrition to babies. (This was the topic CL raised)

    It seemed to me that CL was saying that for “fellow citizens” to be reeducated about the nutritional function of breasts, BFing mums need to expose themselves all over the place.
    My comment back to her was simply to say that I don’t think those two positions (that I just summarised above) are mutually exclusive. We can believe that breasts have an important nutrition function (in addition to a sexual function), and ALSO believe that breastfeeding should be done discretely.

    “Her position is most definitely feminist and her moniker and complaint of the men of our country is appalling. “

    I try not to nitpick with commenters over every single point of theirs on which I may not agree. I don’t find that approach stimulates good discussion.
    Regarding her moniker, wouldn’t you say definitions of “cultured” are very subjective? Perhaps it’s just that I’m not patriotic, but if someone made that same remark about Australia, it wouldn’t bother me at all.

    (By the way, it was very gracious of you to put your own comment into moderation – I appreciate it. If you actually didn’t want me to publish it, let me know and I will delete ASAP.)

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  11. Pingback: Sexiness, Modesty and Daughters | seriously serving the saviour

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