So, just in time for the recent Support With Integrity pledge about judgment-free breastfeeding, here's a post about nursing covers.
I recently came across this post on nursing covers, by Birth Without Fear blogger Rixxa. In a nutshell, Rixxa is Not In Favor of nursing covers (Fair enough. I'm not in favor of giving birth unassisted to a blue baby in a bathtub and then telling everybody that this is a great example of how to deliver a child, but that's beside the point). It would appear from this post from PhD in Parenting and other writers that she is in good company*. Who would want to envelop themselves in a "giant floral apron like a granny apron gone wrong," as someone on one of my favorite online forums put it?
Well... I would, as a matter of fact. I mean, I'm beyond caring whether other mothers use a nursing cover, and I also get majorly pissed off at people (generally to be found in the comments sections of online news articles, for some reason) who say that mothers should use nursing covers in public or that it's indecent not to use one. But for me, I have to say that my Bebe au Lait has proven to be one of the best purchases I've made.
Not that I would have believed you on the day when my husband dragged me to a corner of the baby store and said "Look!!! See these? I'm going to get you one!" "Whatever," I thought contemptuously; what's wrong with just using a blanket like I was already doing? When I actually tried the Bebe au Lait nursing cover, I discovered that this was much, much better than a blanket. The defining feature of most nursing covers is the stiffened half-hoop threaded through the upper edge, which causes the thing to stand off your chest, giving the baby fresh air and you a way to check what's going on down there. Also, if I was honest, the blanket kept sliding off my shoulders. The Bebe au Lait stayed on, thanks to the strap that kept it round my neck. Yes, I could probably have run one up on a sewing machine for a fraction of the cost... but let's face it, that was never going to happen, was it?
As the commentators linked to above have correctly pointed out, it is indeed perfectly possible to nurse "discreetly" without a cover; this post here, for example, has a whole list of ideas: wearing nursing friendly clothes (tops loose enough to put baby underneath, basically, plus trousers or a skirt), practicing in front of a mirror, leaning back when you nurse to make those awkward popping-off-the-breast moments less obvious, holding baby in positions which--hopefully--make baby less likely to pop off in the first place, or somehow figuring out how to nurse a baby in a sling.
I'm sure all these ideas are great. But the problem is, I just can't be bothered with doing all this. The thing about nursing covers is: once you have chucked the thing over your front, you can basically be as indiscreet as you like underneath: you can wear what you like (even tight-fitting tops or zip-up-the-back dresses are possible; just loosen the zip a little bit and slide the dress down a few inches), you can (should you wish) pull your breast out of the top of your clothing instead of scooting baby under the bottom edge of your shirt, you can hold baby how you like or just let her hang out on your lap, and you can let baby get on with latching on and off as she pleases, rather than feeling like you have to "keep her on the breast" and that it's a problem if she decides to take a break. Leaving you free to relax and enjoy whatever you're doing. Stopping the baby from rubbernecking everything that's going on is, of course, another reason why some mothers like to use covers--I've been known to get mine out in the sitting room at home for precisely this reason.
Some of the arguments why nursing covers are "bad" do seem rather lacking in logic. You often see people pointing out that "a nursing cover will draw attention to what you are doing more than if you just slipped the kid under your shirt!" Probably true, but then most mothers who use covers aren't doing so because they are trying to disguise the fact that they are breastfeeding, as if it were some kind of grim secret. They just don't want strangers to glimpse their breasts, which is not the same thing at all. Also, isn't it a bit odd to say that "if you nurse without a cover, nobody will twig what you're doing anyway!" but then go on to insist that "It's important for women to nurse without covers, because doing so will help to normalize breastfeeding!" How does it normalize breastfeeding if indeed nobody can actually tell that that's what you're doing? I certainly don't mean that that is a reason why women should use covers; I'm just saying the argument doesn't make a lot of sense. Oh, and it seems a bit odd that while many breastfeeding advocates dislike nursing covers, they are all for learning how to nurse a baby in a sling. Hate to tell ya this, but you are still covering up, so philosphically it's not clear what the difference is, and judging by the eleventy billion threads on The Babywearer in which posters share tips on how to winch, tweak and adjust your sling to get this trick to work, it sounds like an awful lot of work compared with just flinging a cover over yourself and getting back to your cappuccino.
To be honest, though, I'm convinced that quite a lot of the reason why some breastfeeding advocates turn their nose up at nursing covers is the God-awful names that certain manufacturers insist on giving to these items. Hooter Hider? Udder Cover? Seriously, somebody needs to fire their Product Branding department. Better names, please, nursing cover manufacturers.
*Although to be fair, it appears from Annie's comments in this post that her views have changed somewhat over time.