Breastfeeding, Swimsuits and Modesty

This past week we (well some of us) celebrated World Breastfeeding Week.  I have been brewing up this post in my mind for quite some time now and I decided today would be an appropriate time to post it.  You see, we moved this summer, and in all that craziness I didn’t have the chance to take my children to the swimming pool until just a few weeks ago.  That’s right.  The former lifeguard/swimming instructor/camp pool director did not get her own kids in the pool until the end of July!  Shame… yes.  I know.

I was really excited though.  I had made sure to unpack our swimming suits and lovingly place them in a special swimming tote just for this occasion.  This was our youngest son’s first time at the pool, and it was going to be loads of great family fun!  And we did have fun.  But my excitement was tempered by that gnawing feeling that we sometimes call being self conscious.  As I looked around the pool there were two basic types of swimsuits.  The first was the teency weency yellow polka-dot bikini type.  You know the “How much skin can I actually show without being totally naked” approach.  And then there was the super modest swimsuit wearers, mostly older ladies with totally unflattering (it’s not their fault the clothing industry can’t seem to put cute and modest in the same sentence) suits that had necklines up to their… well necklines.

And then there was me.  I had what would probably fall in the cute and not modest category.  I had my entire midriff covered and also a skirt that went a little less than mid-thigh (not great but I tried).  But what was actually making me uncomfortable was the cut.  My swimsuit has a v-neck that is certainly more than my regular shirts show.  A momentary sense of panic rushed through my head.  It went something like this: “WHAT AM I WEARING?!?!  When I went shopping for a swimsuit why didn’t I get one of those matronly ones that was REALLY actually modest and not this one that is obviously just cute and not at all appropriate?!  What must people be thinking!”  I felt like hiding in a corner or going home… or at least somewhere people couldn’t see me.  And then, as I was racking my brain honestly trying to remember what I was thinking when I purchased this swimsuit – it hit me.  I was thinking of my baby.

I was acknowledging that if I was ever going to swim in public ever again I needed to find a swimsuit that was accessible for my child to nurse.  A high neckline swimming suit is not conducive to nurturing your child with your breast.  It just isn’t.  My choice was, either do not go swimming any time in the foreseeable future (which would be a travesty for me and my children) or buy a swimsuit that actually allows me to breastfeed if my child needs to do so on the way to the pool or from the pool or *gasp* at the pool.

Then I realized, a lot of clothing is like this.  Dresses?  I don’t wear them often, and when I do they are usually “low-cut” or strapless or something of the like.  I wore a strapless dress to church one Sunday with a cardigan over it.  During Bible study the pastor denounced wearing low-cut dresses to church (I don’t know if it was directed at me or not but I felt like crawling under a rock and dying).  It hurt to hear that!  Why do I wear strapless or low-cut dresses?  Because, honestly, they are the only kind of dress that is reasonably capable of being moved out of the way for me to nurture my child when he needs it.  Yes, there are “nursing dresses” on the market.  But I have yet to find one that has a high cut and goes past my knees.  I feel much more comfortable showing a little more around the shoulders than I do of my thighs.  And if we want to get biblical about it, does the Bible ever denounce the nudity of breasts?  Or is it the thighs?  It seems if I am ever going to wear a dress again I have to pick one, so I’ll go with the biblical definition of modesty thank-you-very-much.

I do not dress “sexy”.  I do not dress to show off.  I cover as much skin as I reasonably can while still making sure my children have adequate access to the life-giving nourishment they need most.  If that means wearing a swimsuit that cuts a little low or pulling my shirt up so I can nurse in public, I’m going to do that.  I do practical things to be as discreet as possible.  I almost always wear a tank under my shirts so that my belly isn’t showing and I can pull my top shirt over the breast.  This way, very little of anything shows while I nurse.  If I am wearing a swimsuit or dress that doesn’t allow for that I will use a nursing cover to give extra coverage, or try to go somewhere private and comfortable.

I am not one to stand up for my “rights”.  I much prefer to live out of love for my neighbor.  I do try.  I try not to offend.  But offense is taken anyway.  I practice ecological breastfeeding.  You can read my post about that here.  Basically it means, when my baby needs me, I give him myself.  I don’t give him a bottle or a binky or a substitute and I don’t let him cry it out.  I give him what he actually needs – me.  I believe this is the very best thing I can do for my baby; that is why I do it!

Methods of parenting are not all the same nor do they end with the same results.  What we do as parents matters.  And we do a disservice to nursing mothers and babies everywhere when we try to pretend that all methods of parenting are equal.  If a piece of plastic is the same as my breast, then why not just go back to being “modest” and putting the comfort of strangers above giving my baby access to nursing?  On the other hand… if it does make a difference, mothers should be putting the health of their children above the comfort of others.  Not all mothers can nurse, but for those who can, we should be supporting them in continuing to doing so.

Did you know that an increase in breastfeeding could actually prevent up to 10% of all childhood deaths under the age of five?  (Source) Breastfeeding is healthy; it is good for you and your baby.  I usually do not advertise this, but my three and a half year old daughter is still nursing.  This would not have been possible if I had restricted her nursing in any way during the first six months of her life.  It would have not been possible if I had made her wait hours between nursings during her first two years of life because the locale was inconvenient or we were in mixed company.  I nurse my children when they need it where they need it.  It’s important to me, and the science backs me up when I say that it’s important to my babies too.

We need to support and encourage mothers to breastfeed in all situations and in all places.  We need to make them feel comfortable and secure, because an anxious mother will not get her baby to nurse no matter how hungry he is!  Just trust me on that one.  Please, for the sake of us mothers and our children, understand we are not trying to offend or show off and there is no reason to be uncomfortable.  If you are uncomfortable don’t feel bad, just understand and be empathetic while you are working through your own feelings.  The activity of nursing a baby really is easy to ignore if you don’t want to see it or think about it.  Just look the other way and continue on with whatever it was you were doing before.

We need to rethink modesty.  I am not a single teenager trying to get guys to notice me.  I am a happily married mother of two children who wants to give them access to the comfort and nourishment that God designed for them to have.  I hold my children.  A lot.  They are constantly tugging at my shirts and even the snuggest necklines stretch out after a while.  Despite my best efforts, there is a little bit more skin showing now then there was four years ago.  For a very long time I was confused about that and totally uncomfortable.  That has  not been fair to my children, because I hate to admit it, but I have not always been there for them when they needed me.  Sometimes I have let my self consciousness get the better of me and, instead of giving them what they really needed, I capitulated to my own fears and doubts.

No longer.  My episode of panic at the pool was not necessary.  I am wearing the clothes that are best for my children and I am parenting them the most natural, God given way I know how.  I’ll keep doing it, and I will work really hard at being as comfortable with my choices as possible.  Not because I am some activist who needs to stand on her rights and wave her freedom in your face whether you like it or not.  But because I love my kids.  I don’t just love them when it’s convenient for me, or when other people think I should; I don’t offer them toys or plastic substitutes for my love.  I strive to love them all the time, without conditions, just as God loves us.  And breastfeeding is how I love and serve my young children.  I hope other moms who read this are encouraged to go out and love their children (and wear the clothes that go with it) in the confidence and comfort that I wish I had when I started on this journey three and a half years ago.

1147765_10151715438061877_154581840_oBreastfeeding is not sexual – it’s nourishing.
Breastfeeding is not weird – it’s natural.
Breastfeeding is not icky – it’s healthy.
Breastfeeding is not immodest – it’s feminine.

Breastfeeding is GOOD!  Good for babies, good for moms and good for society.  Spread the word.

Comments

  1. Being encouraging & supportive creates the ideal breastfeeding situation & so with you – there is no shame (i used to breastfeed my boy while shopping even 😉 )

  2. I struggle with finding comfortable things to wear while still being able to breastfeed as well. Trying to dress for church is the worst for me. Most dresses aren’t breastfeeding friendly and my shirts and pants seem too casual. I hadn’t thought about my swimsuit. I’m still in my maternity suit, but once I get back down to my regular weight I’ll have to buy a new suit.

  3. You may want to consider this site for a modest bathing suit. The woman who runs this company is our age and is a huge supporter of women dressing modestly especially with swimwear. Some of the designs look like they might meet both your requirements.

    http://www.reyswimwear.com/

  4. I hear you on this one for sure. I have been struggling with nursing in church and other places for a long time. You are so right that it is very hard to find Sunday clothing that is practical and appropriate for church…and between a wiggly baby, a clingy toddler, nursing pads, different bras and keeping your dress/top in place, there is always that constant paranoia of an imminent wardrobe malfunction!

  5. I have also been suffering with this, It seems as if I am addressing the issue. I know the struggle is real but we all have to go through it and somehow every mom has too, My husband is very encouraging and also helps me out whenever he can. He has tried so many possible ways but when a Child needs his mom He needs his mom. So we are also going through the struggle. Hope the time will pass and we will be not worrying about a wardrobe malfunction anymore.

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