Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oooohhh! Them's Fightin' Words!

An Anonymous Coward writes:
As long as we are agreeing on things as a culture, can we make breastfeeding in public places illegal as well? 
Oh hai! You must be new around here.

Please allow me to educate you on the reasons why breastfeeding is (and should be, and should remain) legal in public.

1)  Breasts are for feeding, their function is not to be a sexual object.

I know it's hard to believe, in our modern culture, but the female breast actually has a higher purpose.  It is not a mere object to be oogled and drooled upon by those who are attracted to the female body.  My children are mammals, and are meant to feed from my breasts, just as baby cows are meant to feed at their mother cow's teats.  It's part of what separates animals from reptiles and birds and other non-lactating species.  Unless you are willing to chew up and partially digest worms and then regurgitate them into your offspring's mouth, or take this sort of risk with your baby, you're pretty much stuck with the boobies.

But western culture has so fetishized the female breast that it has become taboo to show it doing what it was created (or evolved, if you prefer) to do in the first place.  Oh, irony...

Explain to me why this:

is ok (to show on television to millions of viewers, no less), but this:

(private moment between a mother and her child which can easily be ignored by passers by if they don't like it) is offensive?

So, basically, what I'm saying is that if you don't support nursing in public, you're a pervert.  Get your mind out of the gutter and your head out of the 19th century, for God's sake.

2)  Breastfeeding is a public health issue.

"Breast is best!"  Right?  We hear all the time about how important it is to breastfeed children, and yet our culture is totally UNsupportive of the breastfeeding mother.  "Nurse your child - but don't let anyone see you doing it!" is basically what the culture dictates.  So, nursing mothers are supposed to, what, hide in their homes for the first 6 months of their childrens' lives?  That may be possible with the first baby, but once you have a second or a third child, things just need to get done, and Mama's the one who has to do them, whether the baby is going to need feeding between now and the end of the grocery store run or not.  (And don't EVEN get me started on how un-pro-breastfeeding this business of having a 6 week maternity leave is.  Our society makes it virtually impossible for women to successfully breastfeed.  Most women are just getting the hang of it at 6 weeks.)

Most anti-breastfeeding-in-public people don't truly understand how often a breastfed baby must eat.  They eat every 3 - 4 hours, folks, day AND night.  Around the clock.  And sometimes they need to eat more often, especially if they're in an unfamiliar environment.  In addition to the obvious nutrition, they experience closeness and comfort at the breast that allows them to feel safe and secure (in other words, not to cry) in new situations.

Breastfed babies are healthier.  They have fewer transmitted diseases (colds and flu) and fewer ear infections.  Not only do they contribute to the public health by not spreading disease, they actually contribute to the greater good by keeping health costs lower.  If my breastfed kid goes to the doctor twice a year for illness, while your worm or formula fed kid goes 4 times a year, who is the greater burden on the system?  It is in everyone's best interests if as many mothers nurse as possible, and one of the main barriers to breastfeeding is the fear of nursing in public - brought on by pinheads like our Anonymous Coward - who dare to give the hairy eyeball to women who are doing what God/nature intended with their mammary glands in public, rather than locking themselves in the house until the child is weaned (for the record, if I never left the house with a nursing child, I would've been locked in this house since August of 2005, and I would most certainly be postal by now).

3)  Breastfeeding in public (as opposed to a restroom or a hot car) is a hygiene issue.

So, let's say that I've run out of food entirely, and in spite of the fact that I don't want to offend your delicate eyes with my unsightly mammaries in public, I am forced to leave my house with my children to find food, and I run the risk that my child might need to eat while we are gone.  

A lot of anti-public breastfeeding advocates suggest that women breastfeed in a public restroom if they need to feed their babies while in public.  I'm sorry, but until YOU are willing to eat YOUR lunch in a filthy public restroom, I will not force my child to eat her lunch there, either.  I also refuse to take my child to a hot, stuffy car to nurse her, when the two of us would be much more comfortable discreetly nursing on a chair or a bench inside the store (or mall, or doctor's office, or whatever).  Why should I suffocate because you're a Puritan who can't avert his eyes from something private?  

I can just hear the Anonymous Coward saying, "Just give him a bottle!"   Easier said than done, kemosabe.  Yes, many women are able to pump breast milk.  I am not.  Many children will allow their parents/caregivers to give them a bottle.  Mine will not.  They want their milk straight from the source.  So, you either get to hear my hungry kid wail all the way through the grocery store (which I'm not going to do, by the way, I'm just outlining the options, here), or you get to man up and avert your eyes so I can feed her and create some peace and harmony for all of us.  Since I'm not going to take an opinion poll every time my kid gets hungry, you're just going to have to cope.

Of course, now that my kids are older, we can make it through a trip to the store/gymnastics class/a museum/etc. without nursing.  But if Claire falls and gets hurt, or is overstimulated, or is tired, nursing will calm her right down, immediately.  I am not going to deny my child what she needs because some adult in the vicinity may or may not have a problem with public breastfeeding. 

Another thing the anti-breastfeeding crowd always says is, "COVER UP!"  Um....  No.  First of all, if it's 100 degrees outside, I'm not going to stick my baby under a flannel blanket just so YOU will be comfortable.  The comfort of my child comes first, and since I'm the one doing the nursing, I'm going to decide whether or not to cover up.  Second, after about 3 weeks old, the baby is going to pull any cover off that you try to put on, and you'll probably end up seeing more nipple as I'm wrestling to keep her covered than you would if I just hiked up my shirt and went for it.  Besides, when you cover with a blanket or nursing cover, you might as well have a big neon sign over your head that says, "HI, I'M BREASTFEEDING OVER HERE!"  I'll bet that I've nursed my kids 100 times without anyone noticing what I was doing (especially when they fit in my sling.  I really miss the sling).

4)  Breastfeeding is not dirty.

Whenever these debates come up, people say, "Urinating is natural, too, but we don't just let people do it whenever and wherever they happen to be."  I'm sorry, but if you can't tell the difference between breastfeeding and urinating, you're too stupid to read my blog, please go away.

5)  If you don't like it, don't look.

Just as no one tied me up and forced me to watch Britney slut it up on the VMAs, no one is tying you up and forcing you to watch me nurse my kid.  If you don't like it, don't look.  It couldn't be any more simple.

We are all subjected to things which may not suit our individual tastes on a daily basis.  Some of the things I have to look at that offend me include:

But hey, we live in a free society (at least, for now) and if you want to pierce yourself, tattoo yourself, stretch yourself, or be evil, there isn't much I can do except look away and make different choices for myself.

6)  "But it makes me uncomfortable!"

This is actually the one response from the anti-BF crowd that I have some sympathy for.  Of course it makes you uncomfortable, that's because not enough women are doing it.  It's not commonplace, and so it feels weird to you when you realize that a woman in your vicinity is breastfeeding.  You're not sure whether or not you should look at her.  You don't know whether or not to acknowledge what she's doing if (God forbid) you have to talk to her.  You are uncomfortable because you're being faced with a new or novel stimulus, and you're not sure what to do with yourself, so you'd prefer that no one breastfeed in public, ever, so that you don't have to figure out what the appropriate response is.

You're probably also the type of guy who avoids all doors because you're not sure if you're still supposed to hold them open for women or not, and you don't want to offend anyone by opening the door (perhaps suggesting that she is not capable of managing the door herself) or by not opening the door (mannerless clod!).

It reminds me of one time at the mall, I was nursing MG and I was new to it, and I was all ready for a big showdown as soon as the opportunity presented itself.  A very old man approached me, making direct eye contact.  "Here it comes," I thought smugly, "I'm going to give him a piece of my mind when he tells me I shouldn't be...." and that thought was totally derailed when he smiled sweetly and said, "Bless you, little mother, bless you."  It was the sweetest moment.

As sweet as it was, though, you don't have to go around blessing mothers.  You can simply smile and nod.  We lactators prefer if you do not stare, but most of us will happily answer questions if you have them (questions like, "How old is your baby?" or "Is this your first?" not "Are you going to be doing that long, it's really gross..." and "Can't you afford formula?").  You don't have to pretend that we don't exist.  You can talk to us like regular people - after all, our brains don't shut down when we nurse our kids.  You really ought not stare at a woman's breasts, whether she is currently engaged in nursing a child or not, just FYI.  

I see other women nursing in public so rarely, that I often say, "Good for you!" or give a little thumbs up when I see a Mom nursing in a public area.  

If you happen to be in a position of some authority, say as a flight attendant, or a manager in a restaurant, and someone complains to you about a mother who is nursing in your area of authority, please do not confront the nursing mother.  She is not the one with the problem - it is the person who is complaining.  If the person who is complaining can't avert his eyes, then kindly and quietly (so as not to humiliate the nursing mother, who is probably already on edge, having dealt with pinheads since her child was born...) offer to move the offended party to an area where he will no longer be subjected to the sight of the nursing pair.  It's quite simple.  And for God's sake, do not offer the nursing mother some filthy, germ-covered, hasn't-been-washed-in-10-years blanket to cover up with.  If I wanted to cover up, I would've brought a blanket, thank you very much.

I have to say that in 3+ years of nursing, I have only been given a hard time for it ONCE, so the problem isn't as big (at least, not where I am) as it seems.  I think the anti-breastfeeders take advantage of the anonymity of the internet to vent their Puritanical spleens about breastfeeding.  They're too cowardly to say anything in a face to face situation.

Bottom line:  I have a basic human right to nurse my child.  My child has a basic human right to eat.  Our rights are protected by law in almost every state and in almost every country.  If you don't like to watch me breastfeed my child in public, the answer is simple, DON'T WATCH.


Astrogirl426 said...

Here, here! I breastfed my kid until he was just 3 months shy of 2 years old (and only weaned him then because I was going to be out of town, he wouldn't take a bottle, and to be honest, he was ready to move off the boob). I never, in all the times I nursed him in public (and let me tell you, I was out and about quite a bit during the first couple years and often fed him while in public) had a single person give me a dirty look or make a comment about it. I was lucky, I think. Not that it would have stopped me - I would have welcomed the chance to vent some of my new mom frustrations on the idiot.

The first time I ever breastfed in public was in a Target. I was nervous, so I sat in the food court area while I nursed, and let me tell you, if anyone had said a thing, I would have probably thrown something at them. Oh, and the kid has never had an ear infection or anything worse than a cold or mild rash, and he's 5. Keep on preachin' the good word, sister!

Sarah M. said...


Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to get you all riled up, I just believe that a women should be covered while breastfeeding...and I am a woman. You do not have to use a flannel blanket or sit in your car, but it would be nice if you used a light cloth or something as it does make some people uncomfortable. Also, I saw in your post that you still allow one of your children to "noodle" if she falls down, is unhappy, etc. This is not a healty coping mechanism for her to learn. Sometimes a child must learn to get up, brush themselves off, cry a little bit, and move on. It's ok for a child to be upset. It's part of growing up. I know that is hard for a mother of a young child to comprehend as she doesn't want to lose her "babies," but down the line what is going to happen down the line? If she doesn't get into that Ivy League college that she applied for are you going to let her breastfeed to soothe her?

I am sure you are a fabulous mother and I am sure your kids love you to death...I just have some opinions just like the next person.

Heather said...

Well, I know *I* always covered up when I was breastfeeding. I wore a shirt, and pants and everything!

As for the light cloth thing - I tried, I really did, but I'm a first time mom and if I couldn't see what I was doing, we both had a really hard time getting the nursing thing going.

Besides, once the kid is latched and feeding, you can't see my breast because her head's in the way.

If the kid is still nursing at age 18, then not getting into an Ivy League school is the least of her problems. Can you give a reason that's not in the realm of fantasy, please?

Worldwide, the average weaning age for human babies is THREE AND A HALF. This parallels the average weaning age, by development, of other species of moms with little cuddly monkeys. How is it unhealthy to allow a child to nurse, for food or comfort, when she is still that age?

Research has shown that kids who get a lot of healthy attention when they are younger grow up to be more confident as older children and as adults. They TRUST that their family is there for them. They have a solid feel for their place in the world. They are more willing to take risks and try new things, because they know in their bones that they have encouraging backup, or an emotional refuge if things don't go so well.

And yeah, I'm speaking as someone who would've loved to have those things.

Nursing as a "coping mechanism" is way more healthy than, say, reaching for the cookies. Being ABLE to nurse for comfort is way, way, way healthier than getting ignored, or even yelled at and threatened, for daring to cry in public.

When you tell Amy that her kid has an unhealthy coping mechanism, you're also saying that Amy has fostered it. Why not just come right out and say she's a bad mother?

If I had a nickel for everytime MY mother told me, "well, that's not healthy", (I dare to let my two-year-old pick her own clothes) I could retire - or at least afford to buy her a few sessions with a therapist.

Lynn said...

Well excellent post.

strwberrryjoy said...

What we all have to remember is that breasts are FEED BAGS not FUN BAGS. The reason men are attracted to breasts is because breasts stir a basic primal desire in them to mate with a healthy female capable of reproducing and nourishing her offspring. (Bio 101, right? DUH!) GREAT POST. I have little business cards with the state law number that says "Women have the right to breastfeed their babies in public....yada yada anywhere they have the right to be." If I see a nursing mother, I ask her if she wants one.

Chrissy said...

I know I'm late to the discussion, but I got a lot of flack for bottle feeding my baby formula, people who didn't know me or our situation would come up to us & tell me I should be breast feeding, pretty rude if you ask me. So its not all one sided. Also my 100% formula fed son, who is 20 months old has had 1 ear infection (at 6 months), 1 cold & 1 tummy bug virus in his life, so just because your baby is formula fed doesn't mean that they are going to be sicker than a breast fed baby.

Anonymous said...

What? Why on earth would you put a light blanket over your child why they are eating? Would you put a light blanket over yourself if the sight of your dining "offened" someone? Of course not!

A mother using her body to comfort a two year old is in no way related to how a mother might comfort a college age child with a disappointment. Breastfeeding creates a physical bond unlike any other I've experienced. A mother's breast literally feels like comfort to a small child it would only be natural for a child to reach out for comfort in a time of stress. Like almost everyone children learn to comfort themsleves in more mature ways as they get older.

Lynn Wood