Whole Parenting Family

normalizing nursing for my family, friends, and strangers who gawk


Photo credit: Emily Rumsey Photography

If you had told me when I had my first that I would eventually nurse in public without a cover, I would have blushed. Deeply. I hated nursing SuperBoy in public. I rarely went in public with him when he was hungry, and given that I didn’t feed on demand, but rather tried to put him on a schedule, I could predict this hangry time pretty well. When I did have to nurse him in public, I’d drape a cover over him, me, us, and with lots of kicking limbs and wails from both of us, attempt to do it thoroughly.

Then burp him.

Then commence on the other side, all whilst wearing disposal nursing pads that I went through like new moms do articles online about how to nurse in public.

But at home?

No cover. My brother & dad had a shock to their systems. My brother would make eye contact only while using his palm flattened out, thumb down, palm facing me to block the site {and sight} of my actual nursing parts. My dad would hurry through the kitchen and ask my mom Errrr is she going to always do that in here? Even my older female relatives would gently talk about how when they nursed, they would go upstairs or in a different room from their own father or brothers or uncle, because, well, it was proper.

My response was that my baby didn’t like to nurse with a cover and I had to feed him around the clock so unless they expected me to disappear for hours of the day for at least 12 months, they would be exposed to this. I was frustrated but adamant. This had to be normal. I couldn’t keep nursing if I was expected to cover up and hide doing it.

Enter my second child.

nursing babes

Photo credit: Emily Rumsey Photography

A significant factor that changed my comfort level nursing was my amazing sister Molly and her very open nursing with her first. She battled a NICU beginning and had to wait almost two weeks before she could even hold her daughter. She pumped constantly and dealt with rounds of mastitis, and difficulty latching, and would nurse//bottle feed breastmilk//pump until after months, her sweet girl got it. She wasn’t uncomfortable nursing anywhere, anyhow, after fighting to be able to nurse in the first place.

Aside from being more comfortable mentally, I also was too busy chasing down my 22 month old boy to have my infant girl on a schedule. I wore her in the sling all the time. She nursed whenever. She was a champion cosleeper. She was very dainty and I was determined to give her all the breastmilk calories she could devour. And devour she did.

She nursed all kinds of places, no cover.


Parking lots.



While I was at the mic for my brother’s wedding pre-party here in Minnesota, in front of 150 people. Pretty sure her little four month old legs were kicking out of the sling while doing it. Pretty sure some older folks were a little shocked.

Board meetings.


While serving dinner guests who weren’t parents themselves. Some of whom were male.

I wasn’t aiming to make people uncomfortable, and I usually nursed in the sling so you couldn’t really tell I was nursing. All my shirts were nursing friendly enough though I rarely layered. Top breast would show, true. And sometimes maybe when she was latching on, someone paying very close attention might see my nipple. I was aiming to feed my petite daughter her food when she was hungry. I was aiming to maximize her time eating so as to maximize her growth.

And being fixated on that meant my discomfort and self-tenting in public faded away. Whether or not someone had an opinion about my public nursing didn’t matter. I was doing it for my daughter, not for me. And the more I did it, the more relaxed and comfortable and easy it became. She wasn’t born knowing how to nurse in the sling. It was a learning curve for both of us. But practice made it easy and natural.

Enter my third child.


My family was totally immune to my nursing by now, and it helped that my sister was big on it too with her girls. Even my oldest sister’s sig other {they’re child-free by choice} was nonplussed.

I knew I’d be traveling to two conferences when he was only 2 and 3 months old. I know I’d be nursing him in the sling and that might make some of the attendees uncomfortable. Again, not my aim, but also at this point, not my concern. I planned to relax and enjoy my mini-vacations with the babe and nursing him whenever and wherever was part of that relaxation.

He’s 11 months old and still nurses frequently. He’s more easily distracted now so I might have to take him elsewhere to get him to focus and nurse and slow-down. Yet in a  way, this third time around, I am kinda evangelizing to my other nursing mom friends by showing them how I do it without making a fuss, uncovered. Just in case they are feeling interested in it, but nervous to try. I love nursing on demand and wearing my big almost 24 pound baby. He’s a riot in the sling nursing and it’s a whole other dimension to our relationship and a very playful one.


Moms should feel supported and empowered to feed their babies how they feel is best. Bottle/breast combo, bottle solo, breast solo, breast covered, breast uncovered, n’importe quoi. I posted recently on my Facebook page about having someone ask me to cover  and my response {which was to politely decline}.

The feedback was awesome. From sisters who bottle to sisters who cover to sisters who don’t even have babies. If we support each other, it’s easy street, ladies. Of course there was the one man whose comment I deleted because it remarked on the universal desire to see more breasts in public. COME ON THIS ISN’T SEXUAL.

Haley just wrote a great article about two things you need to nurse comfortably in public–so go read her tips!

Some ladies feel there is a modesty issue here. I do not. I agree that some moms might be as overt as possible and nurse basically topless which could make any number of people uncomfortable. But I still strongly believe that she must be coming from a place we (those who don’t nurse uncovered that way) aren’t and we need to be loving and charitable.

Whether it’s overcoming sexual abuse to own her breasts as her way to feed her child, whether it’s to push back at the establishment, whether it’s because she’s really trying to nurse uncovered and keeps having wardrobe malfunctions, does not matter. The fundamental right to feed your baby remains. We aren’t on her journey so leave the park if it’s bothering you that much.



  1. Lauren B on April 26, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    Yesss. I liked being covered for the first few months. My kiddo and I were still figuring things out, and I had an awesome cover that allowed for lots of eye contact and a line of sight to make sure she was latching properly. After 3 months, I had my nursing wardrobe down and she was a champ at eating, so we ditched the covered life. At 9 months, she started getting crazy distracted, so we went back to the cover if I couldn’t find a quiet place. But yes, I felt really encouraged when I saw other moms nursing in public. That way I didn’t feel like we had to go sit in a hot car or a bathroom (gross!!). In my own home- never ever a cover. Nothing my husband hadn’t seen before!

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 27, 2015 at 10:53 am

      Bathroom!!! Never.I’m so glad you’ve figured out what works for you!

  2. Amelia @ One Catholic Mama on April 27, 2015 at 8:17 am

    When my oldest was born 13 years ago, most moms who nursed in public did so without a cover. However, they generally sat down and pulled their shirt up from the bottom, so they were still pretty covered. The baby covered their stomach and their shirt covered the top of the breast.

    Lots of moms would wear a tank top or cami or even belly band underneath their shirt, so their stomach was still covered.

    That is how I nursed all 3 of my first kids in public.

    It wans’t a perfect solution however, because you basically couldn’t wear a dress (except for special nursing dressess) and it was harder to nurse in the sling that way and you had to wear “looser” tops…things which were more fitted, were harder to pull up.

    It really wasn’t until a few years ago that I started seeing moms nurse in public by pulling their breast up over the top of the shirt. I don’t know if it was because lower cut shirts became more in style, but I can see how that is easier, because you can wear dresses, you don’t have to pull your shirt up and possibly expose your stomach or worry about tucking or untucking shirts.

    However, except for at LLL meetings, most moms who do that DO cover. And I can see why, because it leaves the top of the breast exposed.

    So, when I had my 4th child, I started nursing like that and using a cover, and I found it to be much more comfortable as it opened up a whole new level of wardrobe possibilities. I can wear dresses again!!

    Then I started to feel a bit conspicuous with the nursing cover, so instead what I do know (and I still nurse my 2.5 year old in public) is I use a scarf (or the tail of a ring sling) and just drape it over the top of my breast. My child’s head isn’t covered so she doesn’t mind and I feel more comfortable that way. I have really large breasts, so I feel like if I don’t cover the top, it’s very, conspicuous, or at least I feel like it is.

    I never cover at home though, so nursing is all very out there for my older kids.

    And I could care less if other moms cover or not. I feel like for myself, that I’ve come up with a great solution of just using a scarf and draping it over the top of my breast, as that feels more comfortable to me, it’s not hot and baby isn’t covered and I can wear whatever I want. It took me 4 kids and 10 years of nursing ot reach that point, so I’m impressed you figured out after only 2 kids!

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 27, 2015 at 10:52 am

      What an awesome journey! And you found exactly what works for you and yours. LOVE!

  3. Ashley on April 27, 2015 at 10:24 am

    I’ve always nurses without a cover (similar to your sister, I got used to nursing my preemie in the NICU basically topless in front of everyone) and neve had trouble. I will say, now that I’m still nursing my toddler (22 months) we get more looks, especially since he loves playing with my shirt during and something exposing more skin than would otherwise show. It’s amazing to me that people feel it’s appropriate to comment on someone else’s choice when it would be easy to just look or move away if it made them uncomfortable. I’m always shocked at how fast we are to get involved when there’s something negative to say but never to step in to help when a momma needs a hand with wrangling a shopping cart.

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 27, 2015 at 10:51 am

      So glad you got to nurse your babe!

  4. Laura @ Mothering Spirit on April 27, 2015 at 11:06 am

    Nailed it! Love the honesty & evolution of your journey. I envy that your little man will still nurse with others around! Once all of mine have hit that 9-ish month mark, they get so curious about the world that I cannot even get them to latch on without retreating into a quiet space. I try to see this as a gift to slow down and spend some quiet time with just baby. But I do miss the ease of nursing whenever, wherever. I never used a cover either. I always felt like it drew more attention when I tried it with my first, and he hated it. So I just let my body do what it was created to do. 🙂

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 27, 2015 at 11:26 am

      Yes, at 11 months my stinker is less inclined to really nurse in the action now too! Except at morning mass when he’s exhausted 😉

  5. Melissa on April 27, 2015 at 11:51 am

    I love this. I chimed in on your Facebook post, but I will say it again. I wish more mothers would be open with their feeding method. I was inspired by mothers nursing uncovered. It helped me to do it after seeing so many people do it. You never know who is watching. You could be really helping someone.

    • Julie Baldwin on April 27, 2015 at 12:07 pm


    • Natural Mama Nell on April 27, 2015 at 12:35 pm

      I’m SO HAPPY to hear this!!

  6. Julie Baldwin on April 27, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    When I first had Grace, I was mortified nursing in public. My husband was actually the one who encouraged me to do so, and to not be embarrassed because it was normal and necessary. It took a lot of practice, but now I’m nursing in front of our babysitter with Laura and – as a very private person (who obviously needs to leave the house more) – this is a huge pat on the back for me!

  7. Bernadette on April 27, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Glad to see you advocating nursing even without a cover! I don’t know why, but I’d never heard of covers until I was pregnant with my first, and then they seemed to be everywhere. Yet, I’d grown up with everyone nursing around me, except for those with adopted children. For some reason I felt really resentful of the concept. I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with it if a mom is more comfortable doing it that way, but I always appreciate hearing from other Catholics who think it’s fine not to use one (assuming one isn’t totally stripping to nurse).

    On the other hand … we had a male roommate when my first was born, and I’m sure in the beginning he saw more than he wanted to sometimes! And yet, I think he really developed an appreciation for nursing, as he had never been exposed to it before, and is now very pro-breastfeeding.

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 27, 2015 at 9:35 pm

      Haha strip nursing = not a good usual! I love that your roommate is a convert 😉 I think de-sexualizing it and making it normal encourages a healthy respect for a woman’s body, much as pregnancy and childbirth do. Just an extension of the greatness of the gift of motherhood!

  8. Michele on April 27, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    This is great, Nell! My experience has been similar. Those second borns have a way of forcing you to be more laid back!

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 27, 2015 at 9:34 pm


  9. Anne on April 27, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    This is such an encouraging article. I love how you encourage charity, especially, in the quest to normalize nursing. I’m with ya. I give my male family members a little heck when they start squirming at the sight of me nursing, lol.

  10. Anne on April 27, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Sorry if this is a repeat….my first comment was eaten, I think! But I was able to subscribe…I dunno, lol!

    I just wanted to say that this was a great article, and as I nurse my 3rd kid, I’m 100% with you. I love how you wrote about charity as it relates to breastfeeding, but I do like to give my father and brothers a little heck when I see them squirm at my nursing, haha. 😉

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 27, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      Hahah it’s so funny to see the difference three kids in–my brother is a dad himself by now and my own dad is totally nonchalant about it!

  11. Nicola on April 27, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    My daughter was the same way when it came to nursing, covers were not an option! I’d do the nursing tank under a shirt trick when I was out and had very little exposure and didn’t seem to bother anyone but I was never comfortable enough to nurse around family. I hope I’m more confident next baby because I hated sequestering myself and felt very left out and lonely at times.

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 27, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      The sequestering is enough to make us go crazy!!!

  12. Shannon on April 27, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    I was also a NICU mom, and yeah, by the time I got home I had to remind myself that my father-in-law might feel awkward about it.

    Personally I find nursing covers awkward and fiddly and I think they draw more attention than the discreet shirt up/camisole down combo I prefer, but that’s 100% personal preference!

    It’s really important to me personally to model normalized, shame-free nursing, to the point that sometimes when my distractable 7mo needs to go to a quiet place to nurse so he can get down to business I worry that someone might think I’m leaving because I don’t feel like I can nurse there. Which is silly, obviously, but still!

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 27, 2015 at 10:30 pm

      NICU moms have it so hard.

      I HAVE THE SAME IRRATIONAL concern. hahahaha

  13. Kelly Meagher on April 28, 2015 at 10:40 am

    “so leave the park if it’s bothering you that much.” Ha! Love, love, love.
    (And love your new layout on the blog – looks great!)
    Meeting you at The Hundred and seeing your visible comfort level with nursing without a cover transferred that same comfort level to myself. I admired you so much for it!

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 29, 2015 at 8:33 am

      Thanks, lady. I have the utmost respect for you and glad I could be a little evangelizer 🙂

  14. Anne Marie on April 28, 2015 at 11:10 am

    Thanks for the timely reading, as I nurse my newborn! Not being a star packer of baby gear when I leave the house, my natural m.o. is just to lift my shirt and begin, hoping that others will look away if they need to and that older sibs’ antics will be a distracting factor. Speaking of older sibs, they also benefit from watching relaxed and natural mothering that comes with experience. Great post!

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 29, 2015 at 8:33 am

      YES! So beautiful!

  15. Chrisite @ Everything to Someone on April 28, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    I lovelovelovelove this!!!

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 29, 2015 at 8:32 am

      I’m so glad it resonated with you!

  16. Erin on April 30, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    I could relate to so much of this, which seems odd given that I exclusively pump for my 6mo old. We also have to supplement and I will literally save breastmilk bottles to take out with me because I feel judged when I mix formula in public. It is a horrible feeling to be doing what you need to do to take care of your child and not feel comfortable about it.

    • Erin on April 30, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      Oh, and you should see the stares you get pulling out a pump in public. I do use a cover but even then it is pretty obvious that it isn’t a baby under the cover and it certainly isn’t quiet, but gotta do what you gotta do.

      • Natural Mama Nell on April 30, 2015 at 1:22 pm

        Haha love it. That sound. It’s so distinctive

    • Natural Mama Nell on April 30, 2015 at 1:22 pm

      The unsolicited comments my formula feeding & mixed bottle feeding friends get make me so mad!!

  17. Stephanie on May 8, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Funny to come across this today, because just this morning, I was nursing my 18 month old in bed. The 6 year old was sitting next to me no said, “I love watching you nurse because you look so pretty.” It was a really sweet and unexpected comment. I am not out to prove any points by nursing or nursing in public, and sometimes nursing still burns me out/annoys me. But I am so happy that I have been able to give my daughters (all my children for that matter) the example that it’s just a normal thing to do. And I am glad the older one thinks it’s beautiful! God gives us affirmation in so many ways. Thanks for this article!

    • Natural Mama Nell on May 9, 2015 at 10:31 pm

      I love this!!!

  18. Tacy on May 10, 2015 at 10:11 am

    I have always tried to be discreet while nursing. I use a nursing cover with shirt over a nursing bra. I think the issue of modesty is actually really important, even though when you head to the beach you have to throw out all the rules. There are some places that aren’t the beach. And there are ways to be discreet even at the beach!!!! The thing is, for the people who are making an attempt to be modest, those who blatantly disregard all covers or scarfs are technically being rude to these other women. I’m definitely not a long skirts girl or even a prude – never have been. But I’ll continue to cover up. I’ve witnessed enough gawking to know that while we might not find it sexual, it still certainly is- as we have all seen our own husbands gawking at our nursing boobs. That is just my humble opinion, and no I’m not trying to take you for a spin in the Mommy Wars battle version2.0. I just wanted to honestly, openly share my opinion on the matter. :0) Take that for what you will.

    • Natural Mama Nell on May 11, 2015 at 8:50 am

      I appreciate your input. I don’t think feeding a baby is the same as tanning in a lil bikini, though. I’m glad to nurse naturally when my little baby needs to eat and glad my kids see that breasts are not just for sexuality so that the next generation of moms can nurse without being gawked at. I think especially on the first time mom who is trying so hard to feed a screaming new baby and they’re both flustered and the cover is inhibiting and they are faced with a) never leaving home when the baby may have to eat, which as we know is anytime or b) figuring out how to nurse that’s comfortable for their nursing relationship with their baby, be it covered, partially covered, or not covered. I literally have only ever encountered one nursing mom where it felt like she was more a part of the free-the-nipple movement than feed-the-baby one. Feeding your baby and modesty are not mutually exclusive, but I firmly believe that nursing moms get to figure out where their modesty line is, and it shouldn’t be shamed or imposed upon them. Glad to hear your thoughts! We can all agree to disagree on it–it’s not a war; we’re in this together!