This weekend's Globe Magazine ran a first person account of nursing in public with a nursing cover:
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.”
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I feel much the same way as Karin Cadwell - that nursing covers can both encourage and discourage nursing in public. If the long term solution is the normalization of nursing in public, nursing without covers seems the right way to go. On the other hand, many women are uncomfortable nursing in public and don't want to be the trailblazers in their communities. For them, nursing covers are liberating.
The issue is very similar to nursing rooms (see a past post, Nursing Mothers' Rooms: Convenience or Quarantine?).