Confident nursing in public

It saddens me that this column might attract controversy.

The topic of nursing in public is, so unnecessarily, littered with landmines — from the over-sexualization of the breast in our culture to the lack of support and correct information for new mothers — and everyone has an opinion.

When I had my son, I fortunately lived in a supportive micro-community of fellow moms. We met almost daily at the food court to swap stories and advice, and we fed our babies whenever and wherever we needed to.

I nursed in malls, grocery stores, in front of male family and friends, out walking, on airplanes, restaurants, you name it. But I never sequestered myself in a bathroom stall or so-called family room.

Before going any further, let me make one issue 100 percent clear. If you have a problem with seeing a mother breastfeed in public, it is your problem, not hers.

Both federal and provincial human rights legislation protect a woman’s right to feed her baby anywhere. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding to six months and beyond with the addition of appropriate foods.

Why is a fashion columnist writing about this? Because style and our society’s concept of female beauty are intrinsically linked, and sometimes this connection has the power to harm women.

Look no further than the centuries-old Chinese practice of foot binding.

Fortunately, the acceptance of nursing in public has grown in the past several decades as we recognize the immeasurable benefits of breastfeeding for baby, mother, and our environment.

Still, every once in a while, a story will surface about some mother asked to leave a restaurant or cover up, and the debate gets kicked into high gear again.

Such publicity can put a lot of hesitance and fear in the minds of new mothers already distraught from lack of sleep and new responsibilities.

Confidence in publicly feeding your baby comes with two key ingredients: attitude and whatever physical nursing fashion or gear makes you feel most comfortable.

The attitude part is covered by the statutes mentioned above. Never doubt you are doing the right thing and that you are legally protected to feed your baby wherever and whenever necessary.

As for the fashion part, I can thank members of Kelowna’s Breastfeeding Cafe for sharing their tips and experiences.

Special nursing clothing is designed to help women keep themselves covered while feeding baby. They typically feature double layers with concealed openings so the breast is masked while the nipple is accessed.

Some also double duty as maternity tops for pre- and post-birth wear.

Breastfeeding Cafe members recommend the online brands Momzelle, a Montreal-based company that supports the Cafe, as well as Undercover Mama and Boob Design

Though not available in our local shops, Gap and Old Navy also carry nursing wear through their websites.

My personal experience with nursing fashion was fantastic. I lived in these clothes for almost two years and they allowed me to confidently breastfeed even when I was sandwiched between two strange men on a 14-hour trans-Pacific flight.

It wasn’t unusual for people to assume my son was asleep in my arms while he was actually eating. Using a sling, he could even suckle while I was hands-free.

It took a bit of practice to learn how to inconspicuously unsnap my nursing bra and position my son, but after that it was a breeze. No worry about packing bottles when heading out and about.

For those who don’t want to buy special nursing tops, some Breastfeeding Cafe moms find they can achieve the same affect by simply layering a tank under another top.

They recommend A-line tops with loose hemlines over an adjustable-strap camisole. The cami can easily be pulled down while the top pulled up keeps the chest area covered.

One creative mom uses an infinity scarf to keep her top area cloaked.

Or, of course, women can feel free to nurse without worrying about covering up. I know this statement will rile some people up, but honestly, you see more skin on any public beach these days.

Get over it.

I highly recommend moms-to-be and new moms connect with the Kelowna Breastfeeding Cafe to meet a group of supportive and informed women to share their mothering journey with.


Comments are pre-moderated to ensure they meet our guidelines. Approval times will vary. Keep it civil, and stay on topic. If you see an inappropriate comment, please use the ‘flag’ feature. Comments are the opinions of the comment writer, not of Castanet. Comments remain open for one day after a story is published and are closed on weekends. Visit Castanet’s Forums to start or join a discussion about this story.

More Fashion File articles

About the Author

Marla is best known for her 19-year career in the local charitable sector as a fund development and marketing manager with the Okanagan Regional Library, United Way, UBC Okanagan, and Kelowna Community Resources. 

In 2014, Marla and her husband decided to take a break from the work world, and, four years, later they are still enjoying Okanagan summers, winters in Mexico, and extensive travel. 

Marla has had a life-long passion for fashion, designing her own graduation dress and formal gown for the 1990 Miss Interior competition before age 20.

In 2014, she was named one of nine Style Ambassadors for a year-long marketing campaign at Orchard Park Mall. Her motto is “Life is short...you might as well go through it looking good."

If you have a style question or topic you’d like Marla to cover in this column, contact her at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories