Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Problem with Defining "Discreet"

Discretionary Language

In the state where I live, Georgia, the law which protects a mother's right to nurse her baby in public was changed several years ago. (By the way, I think it is sad that we have to have a law to protect our right to do this, that is like having a law that protects my baby's right to sleep in public.) The law here used to have the word "discreet" in it; that is, as long as a mother is "discreet," then she has the right to nurse her baby.

Thank goodness the word "discreet" was removed from the law. Why? So mothers can run around topless all day to nurse, so they can jump up on a chair and yell, "Hey, I am BREASTFEEDING!" as they pull their shirts up over their heads? Of course not, these are examples of those mythological breastfeeding mothers that don't really exist. So, why remove "discreet" from the wording of the laws?

Here are some reasons:
  • Because "discreet" means something different for different people. Some people may insist that to be discreet, a woman must go into a bathroom to nurse, for instance.
  • Because a new mother learning to breastfeed may inadvertently show more skin than she was intending as she learns how to get her baby settled to nurse at the breast. Think of how terrible it would be to have these mothers accused of indecent exposure, these new mothers who are already struggling to learn to breastfeed? These women need our support, not our misplaced harassment!
  • Because some babies get distracted or are sociable while eating (as are most humans, no?) and might pull away from the breast momentarily, causing what was a "discreet" mother to be not-so-discreet temporarily.
  • Because the very word itself could cause people to think that breastfeeding must be somehow wrong, if "discretion" is to be observed while doing it.
  • Because most babies don't like having their heads covered with a blanket, particularly if it is hot.
  • Because a mother shouldn't be required to buy a new wardrobe of specific clothes designed for discreet nursing in order to be allowed to feed her baby when they go to the store.
  • Because no other humans have limits placed on the way that they must eat when in public.
  • Because a mother caught up in worrying about being perfectly "discreet" may actually be more distracting to the general public as her baby gets more frustrated and upset because she can't just feed him normally. A nursing baby sounds much better than a screaming one in public! 
  • Because other people can use their own discretion as to where they choose to look. They can also use their discretion to move to another position in the building if their proximity to a nursing mother makes them uncomfortable.
Can anyone add to the list?

Limits on nursing in public are problematic, as shown in the examples above. I'm not sure how many states still use the word "discreet" in their laws. However, I have read numerous comments from people essentially saying, "I don't care what the law says, a woman should have to be discreet and either cover up or leave." Public opinion is slow to change on this one.

The Legal Right to NIP Past Infancy
Speaking of limits on breastfeeding in public, I would like to point out (again - I point this out any time I have the chance!) how backward the law is in Tennessee regarding nursing in public. The law actually puts a limit on the age of the baby and says that a woman is legally authorized to nurse a baby 12 months or younger in public. This really gets my goat for two reasons: one, we live quite close to Tennessee and visit there at least a few times each year, and two, my first daughter didn't eat any solid foods until she was 13-14 months old (and even then, she was just getting started and didn't get much of her sustenance from solid foods). So basically, laws like this one are saying that my child could not eat in public when she was just a bit over the age of one (at least, she wasn't guaranteed this right - you better believe that I nursed her there anyway, because thank goodness knowledge of the law's wording is not widespread!). I hope that many in the state of Tennessee will contact their representatives about getting this law amended to remove the age limitations.

Discretionary Marketing
Of final note on the topic of "discreet" breastfeeding, I have to mention the nursing covers that are now on the market. Most women find that they can cover most of their bodies with their shirt and the baby, and some women wear an undershirt that can be pulled down so they don't have to expose any belly flesh (helpful in colder months especially); however, some are more comfortable using a nursing cover. I personally do not like them, but if they allow some women to feel more comfortable nursing their children in public, then it is much better than mothers feeling like they have to take bottles when in public. But to the companies who make these covers... why not use some tact and decency when naming these covers? One is called a "Hooter Hider." Where to begin with all that is wrong with that name? First off, it uses a term for the breasts that has a definite sexual connotation. Breastfeeding is not sexual, so why link the sexual function of breasts to the act of nursing an infant?  Then it contains the word "hide." This implies that breastfeeding should be hidden. They might as well be named "I'm doing something sexual under here, don't look" covers. There is another cover called the "Udder Cover."  So, this one is at least getting it right in that udders are for lactation and not sex, but we don't refer to human women as having "udders." There are many, many animals that lactate and nurse their young, but culturally we tend to think cows = milk.  I don't think that comparing women to cows is exactly kind, nor do I think it is a good marketing strategy.  I think that companies whose intentions seem to be to help mothers breastfeed should think about the image they give: breastfeeding is not sexual, it is not something we have to hide, and it is not uncivilized.

So, fellow nursing moms, use a cover or not, but please don't feel like you must go nurse in the bathroom or your car, pump and bring bottles along, or quit breastfeeding so you can reappear in public. Remember, the more people who see us nursing in public, the sooner breastfeeding will be seen as normal.

We are proud to host a guest post today from Erin. Erin is a 31 year old stay-at-home mother of two girls, ages 5 and 2. She just started homeschooling this fall and can be found blogging about parenting, Catholicism, raising backyard chickens, and more at Growing with My Girls.


We live in Georgia too. I'm so glad they removed the term "discreet" from the law. I know more than a few people here who consider it less than discreet to be in public with an infant at all.

I live in Atlanta. I was recently confronted by a woman in a mall when I was nursing my toddler on a bench. Not only did she insult me in a very angry manner, but she "reported" me to the mall security. I was then harassed by a mall cop for choosing to nurse on the bench rather than in the "family area," which I'm guessing was the family bathroom. Ugh!!! So sad. I was showing significantly less breast than many of the women dressed scantily in that mall, yet I was "making people uncomfortable in a family mall." Uh huh, yeah right.

Love this article! This seems to be an uphill battle that I face alone in the community in which I find myself. We are in a circle of people who claim to be pro-breasfeeders, but they do everything for their own comfort and convenience, and not for that of the baby. I have been criticized because I don't use a cover and I nurse wherever I need to. But I learned with my first that a cover draws more attention because it frustrates my babies, and I think I've done a whole lot less exposing of myself since I quit trying to cover up!

an 'issue' with 'discreet' that I have found... I used a blanket for awhile with my first born... I thought it was the 'proper' thing to do (don't worry, I know better this time & am not making nursing a pain in the a** when it doesn't have to be). With my first born I would use the nursing blanket as the 'cover the carseat from the cold, wind & rain' blanket too. Now here I am with child #2 & in trying to juggle a toddler, infant, diaper bag, etc I drop that blanket all the time. Given we are in rainy season right now & I have nearly dropped it on nasty, wet parklots a few times, I've come to realize how screwed I could be if I depended on it to nurse. I would either have to keep extra nursing blankets on me, or when I drop the blanket in the water, well, sorry kid, mama sucks, so you don't get to eat...

Boy am I glad I know better this time & understand that the little tiny bit of skin that shows when I'm nursing is less than what shows with many of my 'nice' tops that I would wear out in public all the time (that was before becoming a mom & needing more functional tops anyways)

I have refused to purchase or use a "hooter hider" or an "udder cover" for the very reason that I don't like the names. If I find a nursing cover whose name doesn't offend me, then I might actually consider using it. Until then, though, I'm perfectly comfortable NIP without a cover (a cover would just make things a little easier so I wouldn't have to be so careful about keeping my shirt "just so").

The name "hooter hider" always bugged me, but I never gave it much thought. You are so right in your explanation!

When my daughter was an infant, nursing discreetly (without a cover) was easy. Once she hit toddlerhood, she started insisting that my shirt be as high as she could reach. We still NIP, but it is much harder to be discreet. I now hold my shirt with the hand that went under her head so she can't fight it as easily.

I couldn't agree more! I especially like your renaming as "I'm doing something sexual under here, don't look" covers! Classic!
I will be sharing this :)

Thank you, this is a great post.

I would like to add to the already horrifying age-limit TN is putting on NIP, for those of us with very big babies, this could even mean harassment if you are following that ridiculous law! My 5 month old is the size of a 10 month old, I'm sure he'll look like he's "too old" for nursing in some people's eyes very soon.

Great article. I personally am a cover user, but will go without when I need to (like last night, when I couldn't find the cover). I nursed right at the table in our restaurant, and nobody even batted an eye about it.
It makes me sad that people can't get past the sexualization of breasts, and refuse to think of them first and foremost as a food source.

The law in Missouri says "discreet". I looked up the law before we vacationed there this summer. Made me really angry. Of course I wasn't going to mention that part of the law if anyone had confronted me about it. :-)

And what is up with Tennessee's law??? I think I'd rather they not have a law about it at all...

I have both Hooter Hiders and Udder Covers and while I initially cringed at the names, I found them quite useful to NIP. That said, Hooter Hiders tried to change their name to Bebe Au Lait but apparently a lot of folks contacted the company in opposition to the name change. I personally thought whipping out (and talking about) my Hooter Hider was hilarious.

thank you! we need more articles and people speaking out about this!
i NIP but am always waiting for that person to say something to me. it's hard to always be on guard.

and, i'm glad someone else is bothered by the names of those nursing covers - i thought it was just me!

I love this part:
"Because other people can use their own discretion as to where they choose to look. They can also use their discretion to move to another position in the building if their proximity to a nursing mother makes them uncomfortable."
I've nursed three kids in public and never had a negative comment. I always have loved the responses of asking someone else to eat their lunch in the restroom or simply offering them a blanket to put over their heads.

Unharrassed here as well, thankfully!

I was a nervous new mother who nursed in a Fred Meyers dressing room on my first outing with my 2 week old. But slowly through the months, I have gotton more and more comfortable nursing "discreetly" without a cover even. With my squirmy toddler, we usually use one, though, just to save myself flashing people accidentally when she pops off quickly to look at something. And she's usually fine with a blanket. I am now starting to get inquisitive looks from people when I am nursing a walking-talking person, but still no rude comments.

I think my favorite thing about NIP was when kids would realize what I was doing and ask questions.
Kid: Are feeding that baby?
Me: yep
(then they'd see her twin)
Kid: You gonna feed the other one too?
Me: Actually, she already ate.
Kid: Can you feed them at the same time?
Me: yep. 2 babies. 2 breasts. Works great.

Without breast feeding our species would not have gotten very far. It is as basic to our nature as taking a breath. At some point we did start to give our children milk from cows, goats, etc. but we as a species would not have even gotten to that point if not for breast feeding. If you ask me, those against it whether it be in public or not are the "unnatural" ones. It saddens me that we work so hard to move further and further away from our humanity.

I am not a parent and I am not a woman - but still I see nothing wrong with mothers breast feeding their kids in public. When I do see it, it simply reminds me of the tight circle of humanity that is our lives.

I'm so glad I'm not the only person turned off by the names of nursing covers! I'm blessed to live in rural China where nursing in public, not hiding anything, is the norm so I don't really have to worry about any of these issues. But I'm glad I ran across this blog anyway!

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