Because I am sure that there are new nursing mothers in this day and age who are just as clueless as I was back in the l940’s, I offer the following for whatever insights it may present.

Before La Leche League came into being, I was a nursing mother. And if that doesn’t sufficiently date me, consider the fact that the babies I was nursing at that time now have nursed their own babies. La Leche League, in the meantime, has grown from two groups to over thousands of groups internationally, and the swing back to breastfeeding is heartening to behold.

Studies have shown that the percentage of nursing mothers among college graduates is higher than among women with less education. It is the well-informed woman who is most aware of the physical and psychological advantages of breastfeeding. It is the smart woman who is in the vanguard of the movement back to breastfeeding.

But the nursing mother is not content to be smart; she wants to look smart! In the “olden days” when I decided to nurse my first baby I thought I was, as the same time, consigning myself to a monotonous succession of button-front or zipper-front dresses. I owned only one such dress, plus a couple of blouses that buttoned, so you can see how much I was prepared to suffer style-wise for the sake of my child. When I ordered the one variety of nursing bra that was offered in the Sears catalog, my nursing wardrobe was complete.

After Wendy was born a little experience with nursing convinced me that the full slip was the first thing that had to go. (We wore dresses — and slips! — in those days.) From then on it was a half-slip and nursing bra. This, of course, excluded from my wardrobe semi-sheer blouses and dresses which were quite popular at that time — even if they did button down the front. It was all quite tragic!

Had I known some experienced nursing mothers they could have told me a thing or two and the outlook, fashion-wise, wouldn’t have been so bleak. However, I wondered if there was another breastfed baby in all of Chicago–there certainly wasn’t one in my neighborhood–and I had to make my own discoveries.

I found I could nurse without being unduly exposed if I draped a baby blanket or a clean diaper over my shoulder and the baby’s face. (Those were the days of cloth diapers, the kind you washed everyday. Much cheaper, I must say.) This worked fine until the baby was old enough to grab at the blanket.

The first real breakthrough came one day when I ran out of clean blouses and tried wearing a sweater. From then on I was a sweater girl! No more buttons to contend with. No more ironing a couple of blouses a day. (Again, this was before wash-n-wear). At feeding time I simply lifted the sweater from the bottom, let down the trap-door on my bra, and we were all set.

This arrangement had an additional plus feature: while nursing the baby I was nicely covered up and people coming upon us didn’t suspect I was nursing at all. The next time I wore a blouse I lifted that from the bottom and made a mental note to buy some for the summer that didn’t need to be tucked in.

This opened up a whole new field–almost any two-piece garment would do for nursing. Whether the top had no buttons, front buttons, or back buttons, it made no difference. As long as it was loose enough to lift up from the bottom I could wear anything from a knit suit to shorts and a topper. And I could nurse almost anyplace without anyone being the wiser.

The United States had at the time the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world in which bottle feeding was customary. This worked to the advantage of the nursing mother who wanted to nurse discreetly. She was able to do so because no one expected that she was nursing her baby while she was holding him.

About this time I learned that I needn’t wear a nursing bra at all. My variety was a rather bulky affair with a plastic-lined front which was unnecessary as I seldom leaked. (For women do leak it would not allow sufficient room for air circulation.) A regular bra worked very nicely if I simply unhooked it in the back and lifted it along with the sweater at nursing time. This, too, had the extra advantage of providing more skin-to-skin contact which is so soothing and psychologically good for the baby.

I had breast-fed five babies by the time I met the wonderful girls of La Leche League and thought I knew just about everything about nursing that there was to know. I could wear everything in my closet except one-piece dresses without a front opening and was quite satisfied to make that small sacrifice. However, when you get thousands of women pooling their nursing experiences you are bound to get some fresh ideas and these include some ways to convert even the one-piece dress for breastfeeding.

One solution is to open up the dart that goes from the waist-line to the bust-line, face the opening with matching material or bias binding, and close it with snaps or velcro. Another ingenious soul placed pockets strategically over each breast which were held in place on one side and the bottom with velcro fasteners. There is no way much of her can be exposed while baby satisfies his hunger. An off-the-rack style which lends itself to easy nursing is the peasant dress with an elasticized neckline which can be readily lowered at nursing time.

Many nursing mothers sing the praises of the poncho as a “cover up” in the spring and fall, or a terry cloth poncho to provide privacy for the nursing couple at the beach. In attempting to bring this article up to date I noted that a website online offers “hooter hiders” for sale. Way back then I don’t think there were any such things as hooters!

The important thing is that the young mother realize that she need not withdraw from society because she has a nursing baby. Many women in our culture are not comfortable with the frank, open nursing that is the norm in other (more healthy?) societies. It is good to know that she can be with other people and still nurse discreetly–to have, as it were, the best of both worlds.

Over the years I have known many, many nursing mothers. Inevitably they speak of the close, warm relationship they have with their babies and the satisfaction and pleasure they derive from the breastfeeding experience. They mention the convenience of having pre-warmed milk always “on tap,” especially when traveling or in the middle of the night. They speak of nursing babies on camping trips, at the seashore, at movies and lectures, wedding and funerals, and the baby is usually good because he can be nursed as soon as he is hungry.

In fact, one mother, Gloria Watson, R.N., a nursing nurse, was so adept at inconspicuous breastfeeding that she penned a “complaint” that appeared in a LLL newsletter:

When my six-week-old son, Bruce, recently met his Uncle Charlie he was busy filling his tummy. Poor unsuspecting Uncle Charlie! Thinking Bruce peacefully sleeping he tiptoed over and gently lifted the blanket that was gracefully draped over the baby’s face. He quickly dropped it and retreated, red-faced.

Several days later the coffee man stopped and interrupted a meal by an “Oh, let’s see the baby!” so I had to make a quick juggle of clothing. Then Uncle Earl carbon-copied Uncle Charlie two weeks later and peeked at nursing Bruce much to his surprise and embarrassment. That same night Grandpa scolded me for “hogging the baby” and nearly cut short Bruce’s bedtime snack by trying to take him out of my arms.

Last week the insurance man was saved in the nick of time from revealing our secret by my quick side-stepping and informing him, “He’s eating.” And at Bruce’s baptism party poor Uncle Earl (he still hasn’t learned) peeked at the nursing baby of Bruce’s godmother, much to his embarrassment.

Please, won’t some mother help me to nurse so that people CAN tell I’m nursing without either exposing myself or wearing a sign stating “Mealtime?”

Of course, Mrs. Watson was really glad that nursing was so convenient and could be so discreet, and definitely planned to nurse her future babies. She and many other mothers are living proof that no mother need fear that if she breastfeeds she must either retire to the back room or sit around half-nude.

Nor should any fashion conscious woman decide against breastfeeding because she doesn’t want to be limited to one type of apparel day in and day out and thinks she will have to relegate her lovely wardrobe to the back of her closet. The nursing mother can be smart, feel smart, and LOOK SMART.


It came to pass, as he said these things, a certain woman out of the multitude lifted up her voice, and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you!” Luke 11:27