Whip it Out or Conceal and Cover? A Practical Guide to Public Breastfeeding

Reader Contribution by Lisa Marie Morgan

Maybe it was moments after birth, maybe it was weeks, but you have finally established breastfeeding. You have now decided that for either necessity or leisure, it is time to leave the house and face the world with your precious little one. You’ve got diapers and extra clothes for baby, water and a snack for yourself. And then it hits you, how am I supposed to feed this little one when I am not in the comfort of my own home in my favorite breastfeeding chair with my pillows and my boppy and my breastfriend and my…

Take a deep breath, breastfeeding in various locations need not be stressful. In fact, once you find your comfort zone, you will realize that you can feed anywhere, in any position with and without anyone knowing. So, here are a few tips and approaches to prepare you for your first adventure out with baby. To begin, lets discuss the primary approaches – whip it out, or conceal and cover.

Whip it Out (WIO)

The WIO momma believes that a primary function of the breast is to feed baby and that it should be done whenever and wherever baby expresses hunger. WIO momma will usually lift her shirt up above the breast and get baby started or pull her shirt under the breast. The benefits to this approach is that there are few clothing considerations. For example, a two-piece option, shirt and pants or skirt, will work just as well for feeding as a long dress with a flexible neckline. Another benefit is that no additional equipment or clothing are necessary and when you are having coffee with a friend, there is little to do besides lift and feed. One challenge is that momma will be remonstrating against the status quo system which says breasts should be seen in a bikini or low-cut dress, but never for feeding in public. This popular comic depicts the situation well. But, as a mother, this will not be the first time you must assert yourself and make the best decision for you and baby. The WIO approach provides great training for this.

Conceal and Cover (CC)

Like WIO momma, the CC momma also believes that breasts are perfectly designed to feed her baby and that she can do this anytime baby needs to eat. CC momma, however, wants to protect her breasts from the eyes of others. There are many ways to cover up. The most basic being that when a shirt is lifted to put baby on the breast, momma will either pull the shirt down to where baby’s mouth and nipple meet to cover the breast or use a hand or other piece of clothing to cover the breast. The next level up is draping a receiving or other small blanket over momma’s shoulder and baby’s head. The top level is the official cover, which can be found everywhere from Target to Etsy to the hands of a crafty friend. Covers act like a curtain in which you close up baby from the outside world and with a little ring slipped around mommas neck, they allow momma to look down and watch baby eat. Within the different levels of CC, there are different benefits and challenges. For example, basic CC often draws little attention from others as it usually looks like baby is merely cradled in momma’s arms. While it requires no additional clothing or equipment, type of clothing must be considered as two-piece outfits are a must. A little flash of nipple or breast from time to time is inevitable at this level. Next, blankets are simple enough to carry and to cover up with. As baby gets older, however, baby is likely to want to take the blanket off and blow your cover. In warmer climates or times of the year, a blanket may also be the last thing either party wants draped around themselves. Finally, the official covers are efficient in hiding all that is happening and in ensuring that neither baby nor breast nor nipple will see the light of day. They can, however, be a bit cumbersome with several steps needed to secure them and again in warm weather may not be desirable.Often, covers attract more attention in trying to hide in public than in simply having baby at the breast.

WIO vs. CC

As your public breastfeeding adventure continues, you may find that you are a CC momma in some situations and an WIP momma in others. Or, you may find you are strictly WIO or strictly CC. “Every situation is different for me depending on my mood, baby’s mood, where we are, what the weather is like and who we are around. I’ve done the whip it out in public but I’ve also covered sitting on my own couch and visa versa, “ says Gretchen Tellessen of Troutdale, OR. And Marie Dahlstrom of White Plains, NY says, “Tried to cover up at first, too much of a fight. Whip-it-out, no fight.. Happy baby equals happy mama.” Like Gretchen and Marie, other mommas have already begun this adventure and they continue on with you as you are just beginning.  Here is some of the advice they offer:

Practice at home. Many mommas suggest practicing “public breastfeeding” at home. This may include getting baby to the breast with out your boppy, and breastfriend and, and…and all the other props you use at home. If you plan to feed while wearing baby, certainly rehearse that scenario – go over how to clear all the extra fabric or loosen straps to make momma and baby comfortable. Or, it may involve a mirror, “I always liked the advice of practicing in front of the mirror so you could see exactly what others see,” says Jessica McCauley Aremitage of Housten, TX.

Dress in Layers. Beware, if you are anything like me, the nursing tank may become a permanent part of your wardrobe for years to come. And I am not the only one in this boat. A nursing tank is a simple tank top you wear under what ever else you are wearing, and it unhooks at the breast to provide access for baby while conveniently keeping your fresh, squishy belly covered. Kalla Burke of La Crosse, WI says she uses the two shirt method, “ You can pull the t-shirt up and the tank top down…I turn away from people till I get the baby latched and then nobody can see my nipple.”

Smile and make eye contact. “Any eye contact I made (when breastfeeding)…I smiled. Some people look down, some smiled back.” says Jocelyn Adele Thomas of Gresham, OR.  Just as a dog smells fear, so do those around you when you are feeding.. Whether you are comfortably tucked away in the back of a friend’s living room or front and center at a potluck, those around you will pick-up their comfort cues from you. If you present yourself as confident with what you are doing, others will feel more confident sharing the space with you. Additionally, when you look folks in the eye and smile at them, it gives them no reason to look anywhere else.

Trust yourself. “Everyone else eats in public,why not my sweets?” asks Marie from NY. With that said,if you aren’t a WIO momma, don’t force it. If you feel weird feeding in front of uncle Tom, turn your back to him or go to another room. Calie Chapman of Sandy, OR says that while she,”gave up caring if people saw cleavage,” she still gets nervous and asks if certain people mind if she feeds. In the end, do what is right for you and your baby. Know that your first attempts may be stressful and that like parenting, you may need to try a few different approaches before you find what works.  Jocelyn in OR says, “Its not my deal to make everyone comfortable, so I never tried.” She is right. Your deal is your baby, figure out what makes you and baby comfortable in feeding and do it with your head held high and your breast ready for take off.

What would you add to this guide? What were your experiences the first few times you breastfed in public? Are you a WIO or a CC momma?

Photo courtesy of Leah Pellegrini, feeding baby Lucca at Painted Hills, OR

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