Modesty and Breastfeeding: An Opportunity for Grace

The one thing that struck me deeply when I began taking my brand new baby Titus out into the world was just how stressed out it made me to have to deal with the expectations of others and their potential offense of the way I chose to do things, particularly with breastfeeding.

I am a very modest person. I'm pretty conservative by some standards, less by others. I generally prefer my knees and shoulders covered, wear camis under low cut shirts, but am also totally comfortable in a pair of skinny jeans, so I'm kind of in the middle ground. The catch is that I am very well-endowded in the breast category, so most often, keeping the girls covered is quite the battle.

Throw in a very big, heavy baby boy that loves to pull on my shirt and unlatches multiple times during a feed, a really plentiful milk supply that leaves my big, flailing boy sputtering milk everywhere during a letdown...and modesty becomes harder than an Ultimate Ninja Warrior course.

I was so overly concerned with not offending anyone with the feeding of my child, that I often became wrapped up in an incredible amount of anxiety over who was seeing me breastfeed. Would they be offended if I nursed in front of them? Will my baby make too loud of suckling noises and bother them? And horror of horrors...what if my cover slips off for a moment and someone

No wonder I came down with mastitis four times in the first two months of Titus's life.

I made a valiant effort to use a nursing cover, but it only worked when he was brand new. After he was about three months old, it just became more trouble than it was worth. Titus was hot. I was sweating. He hated having something over his face. But I tried because using a cover is what all the best modest moms do, right?

I tried cloistering myself in a room to nurse my baby when I was around people I was told might have a problem with it. Once. I ended up spending several hours hiding in my church's nursery during a fellowship dinner with my one-month-old baby who suddenly wanted to cluster feed. By the time he was satisfied enough to join the dinner, there was hardly any food left, and I was beyond hungry. I scraped together what was left of the salad I brought, and hesitantly let a couple people hold Titus, who ended up with a terrible rash on his sensitive face (probably from their perfume or laundry detergent). Not to mention I was so sad and lonely and felt like no one cared. I went home, cried, and told my husband that I would never again put myself in such a position.

I am not trying to complain. I am not a part of the "free the nipple" crowd. I promise I won't scandalize your husband by flopping my engorged, leaking, sagging breast out over my shirt.

But I'm doing my best.


Do you think it is my ultimate goal to expose my breasts in public? Do you think I look forward to the moments when I am going to have let my little baby suckle on them while a crowd of people seemingly waits with baited breath to give me their latest bit of parenting advice? Do you think I enjoy the idea that someone might possibly catch a glimpse of one of my most private of body parts, no matter how hard I work to keep it covered?

Yet this is part of the job I signed up for, and I am doing the best I can.

So is every other breastfeeding mom in the world.

Those of us that value modesty and take great pains in our clothing choices are faced with such a challenge when it comes to pulling out one of the parts we strive so hard to cover so that our little ones can have a snack. Its such a natural part of our mothering journeys but such an unnatural part of the standards that we have engrained in ourselves. So with that in mind, is it too much to ask for just a little grace?

Personally, I don't think so.

We are trying here. We are striving hard to not offend you with the feeding of our children. We would totally understand if you got your panties in a wad because we showed no care or respect when we nursed. But that isn't the case.

The fact that we try to hide in rooms alone and forgotten, miss out on fellowship, go hungry, and be covered in sweat and overheating our babies in an effort to use the cover you value so highly should speak loudly of our concern over the modesty issue in our breastfeeding experience.

But we need your help here.

We are doing our part and more. We are going out of our way and being uncomfortable to make sure that you aren't. But no mom should feel as if her friends and family have abandoned her simply because she needs to nurse her baby.

If you have to insist that she leave the room to nurse, can you at least get her a freaking plate of food? How about sit and talk with her so she doesn't feel completely alone?

If you have to insist she use a cover, can you please set up a fan close by so the poor girl doesn't sweat to death?

Or how about just exercise all that Christian love and grace you preach so loudly and try to understand that this little mama is doing her best? Her goal is not to seduce anyone. Her goal is not to be obnoxious. She's sore, sleep-deprived, and already so nervous. Give her a break.

In May, I attended one of my favorite Bible conferences. I had a lot of anxiety leading up to it, because I knew my three month old was going be a handful and want to nurse a lot. The first night, I attempted to sit in the back and nurse him with my cover, and ended up so overheated that Titus projectile vomited so many times that I worried he would get dehydrated. I tried finding other places to nurse, but nothing worked and I just managed to get so distraught because I was missing every message. Talk about discouraging. Finally, I sat myself down on the floor outside the conference room. Close enough that I could hear the speaker, yet far enough away that no one would be bothered by us.

And I nursed. And I listened. And I was filled up.

But you know what the nicest thing was? The amount of people, mostly guys, that offered to get me a chair or a bottle of water. Several asked every time they walked by if I needed anything. A couple people came and sat with me between services. And I finally felt like all that grace and love we believe in so strongly was finally being shown in a real life situation.

I know that grace is not a license to get away with whatever you want. That's not what I'm getting at. I am simply saying that when someone is working so very hard to be modest in a frightfully awkward situation, the very least you can do for her is not pile your personal expectations and standards on her already stressed out shoulders. Show her the same grace you expect, and more. If you've been in her shoes, you should understand. If you haven't, you should mind your own beeswax.

Thank you, and nurse on, sweet mamas!



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