Parenting Traps

Public displays of nutrition

How breast-feeding begets breast-feeding.

By Jeanne O’Brien Coffey
April 11, 2010

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After dashing through the Barnes & Noble in Peabody, clutching my screaming 4-month-old, I finally found a spot to sit down. At the opposite end of the store from where my 2-year-old was browsing with my husband, there was an empty chair across from two teenagers texting and next to an elderly woman who glanced up with what I thought was a judging look. My daughter still screaming, I draped a blanket over my breast and Phoebe’s head, hoping to avoid an unfortunate nipple flash, and once she was latched, shifted the blanket so it covered my breast but left her head uncovered.

I had nursed my daughters on planes, in the concourse of the Burlington Mall, and at tables in restaurants – but never in public without my trusty nursing cover. The pink and brown flowered apron, 24 inches long and tied at the neck like a giant bib, covers me and my daughter, maintaining a level of modesty that makes me comfortable while I breast-feed in public. (I didn’t have it handy at the bookstore.) However, I seldom see other women nursing their babies.

“People are still surprised to see someone breast-feeding,” says Karin Cadwell, a nurse, researcher, and educator who counsels mothers at the Center for Breastfeeding, a clinic in East Sandwich.

Cadwell is conflicted about nursing covers – on one hand, she says, anything that encourages nursing is welcome, since breast milk is the best source of nutrition for almost every infant, and not enough of them get enough of it. But those covers may cover too much, she says. Research indicates that the number of other mothers a woman sees breast-feeding correlates more reliably than any other support or instruction as to whether she is likely to breast-feed her own children, Cadwell says.

As Phoebe finished up, I anxiously juggled blanket and baby, glancing around and hoping that no one had noticed. The expression on the woman sitting next to me had changed. Beaming, she turned and said, “You have a beautiful daughter. You know why? Mother’s milk.”

It was just what I needed to hear.

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How much should breast-feeding mothers cover up in public?

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