Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Finally! A breastfeeding rant!

I've been thinking an awful lot lately about . . . boobs.

I never thought I would become particularly passionate about breastfeeding. I knew I'd want to do it; it's convenient, free, and proven to be the healthiest option for babies. After struggling so long to conceive, though, and after ending up with a c-section at 42 weeks, never having gone into labor, I felt desperate for my body to do something right. I cried when Nate lost more than ten percent of his body weight in the hospital and it looked like we might have to supplement. I rejoiced when he nursed five ounces in the pediatrician's office the next morning and didn't need formula.**

Nearly thirteen months later, he's still nursing. I'm still happy about it. And I'm increasingly annoyed at a society that thinks it's fine and dandy to have breasts on display for men's enjoyment, but that nursing is somehow gross or shameful and should be hidden away from public view.

A few weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I was scrolling through my facebook news feed when a status update caught my eye. It was from someone who is a friend of a friend, not someone I'm at all close to. "OMG!! I am sitting in church and the woman next to me is breastfeeding her baby -- and I might add with NO blanket to cover them -- ugh!!"

Immediately, I felt my blood pressure rise. Let's leave aside the fact that I have a strong feeling God is a lot more offended by facebooking in church than by nursing in church. Posted from church or from Starbucks, I was just completely offended by her comment.

The way she'd phrased it, "and might I add with NO blanket," made it perfectly clear that she would have been disgusted even if the mother had been nursing under cover. Her friends' follow-up comments did the same: One girl, for example, said that the noise babies make when breastfeeding was really what creeped her out. Am I missing something here? Does a baby sucking on a breast actually sound different from a baby sucking on a bottle? Because I have a feeling no one would have any qualms about a baby taking a bottle during church, sucking sound or not.

I left what I think was an appropriately rant-y but not over-the-top comment, noting a mother's right to nourish her child and asking whether she'd be equally offended by a woman showing excessive cleavage in public. I may also have said something about Mary nursing Jesus.

Here's the kicker, though. I had read her status and left my comment on facebook's main page, which I now realize only shows a cropped version of members' profile pictures. When I later clicked on her profile page to read follow-up comments, I saw her full profile photo--with full cleavage. As in, my husband was embarrassed to look at her photo-type cleavage.

And that's what really gets me. I would be shocked if the nursing mother who so offended my acquaintance in church was showing anywhere near as much skin as my acquaintance was displaying on her facebook page. Yet I'd be willing to wager that far more people will accept the public cleavage over the public nursing.

I don't think I'm crazy to believe that this confusion stems, in large part, from our hyper-sexualized culture. Boobs can be sexy, sure. But it seems to me that their sexiness should be reserved to the bedroom, and their functionality should take precedence wherever a baby needs to eat. As a society, we've got it backward in thinking their sexiness should be on display, while their functionality should keep mothers confined to the nursery.

Seriously, Mary did nurse Jesus. But you know what she didn't do? She didn't wear a low-cut top on facebook.

** I certainly don't want any of this to sound like I have anything against mothers who feed their babies formula. Formula-fed kids turn out just fine--David and I are two examples of that fact! I have friends who have had to formula feed due to breast infections or contra-indicated medications, or who simply couldn't deal with the hassle of incessant pumping upon returning to work. I think we should support all mothers as they do their very best for their kids. I just don't want nursing mothers to feel ashamed about feeding their babies wherever their babies need to eat.


Jessica said...

I breastfed in church and wherever else I pleased. I don't really care if anyone ever trashed me anonymously on Facebook, but I DO care if people tell breastfeeding mothers what they're doing is gross. I'm sure most mothers wouldn't let it change their mind at all, but the last thing sleep-deprived, head-barely-above-water moms need is criticism.

Ashley said...

Breastfeeding in infinitely more inconvenient when I'm going somewhere. I either have to bring a bottle of pumped milk or figure out where I can feed him. I am not yet confident enough to breastfeed in public, so this means lots of time sitting in the back of a parked car. Trying to feed him without slamming his head into his car seat can be difficult, let me tell you what.

On Saturday, Mike's (single, 29-year-old) friend told us how uncomfortable and awkward he found breastfeeding. He was totally freaked out by it. Whhhhy, people?!

Soutenus said...

I am 51, the mother of two and new grandmother of a beautiful 3 month old baby boy. My daughter runs into this and my blood boils. She even uses a new-fangled breast feeding kind of apron thingy to hide any possible naked skin. She and baby sweat and are uncomfortable for the sake of what?????
You said it all -- but much better than I could have. Thank you.

I, absolutely, think this is a result of our over-sexualized culture. Breasts are seen as toys or ornaments first and foremost. Why don't more people see how completely crazy that is?

Ashley -- I think that Mike's (single, 29-year-old) friend who told you how uncomfortable and awkward he found breastfeeding was really confessing that he sees women as sex objects. He should be ashamed. But society probably won't agree.

claire said...

Excellent post! I bottle fed my son (he's adopted), so I think I'm pretty objective on this issue, and I do feel that breastfeeding is the ideal and that if a baby needs to eat, he or she deserves to eat regardless of the setting, and it's pretty sad when people have a problem with that. Especially people who Facebook in church and wear clothes that show cleavage.

Patti Money said...

As a woman who is absolutely LOUSY at nursing (I breastfed both of my children for six months, but wound up mostly pumping for both of them) and could never nurse in public (logistically-I think I just have weak upper body strength or something, so I need a pillow for each of us), I ADMIRE and totally support women who can and do nurse anywhere, anytime. Unless you are looking right at the nursing mother, it's rare that you actually know what's going on (and see more than a flash of skin).

Soutenus said...

I linked to your post on my FB page and someone left this (wonderful) link!

Lauren said...

Soutenus, what a beautiful link! Thanks for sharing!

Mama Fuss said...

I found you through a link on someone else's blog and I LOVE this post. I struggled w/ breastfeeding in public with my first child until my sister told me "never be ashamed to feed your child" (which I think was some of the best advice she gave me on the subject, even as she was mixing her daughter's bottle of formula) and I have now done so in many a public place. My daughter WOULD NOT EAT with a blanket covering her head, so that wasn't an option in most cases. Depending on the setting, I would cover us enough to get her latched and then I had to take the blanket off to keep her going. (Incidentally, my son has no such aversion and I have a nursing cover, so I use that regularly now, but I would still do what I need to do with or without it.)

I might have quit nursing my baby earlier if I had had to continually isolate myself, as I am an incredibly social person and I need human interaction to be happy. My family have all learned that if they are uncomfortable, they should just turn their heads, because, especially at home, I am just going to do whatever I need to do - no coverings required. :)

Archaeology cat said...

Great post! I know I was nervous about breastfeeding in public at first, and did use a cover at first, but that later became a hassle (try using a cover when the kid keeps pulling it off). Now I feed my children wherever I am. I love having a sling, mei tai, or wrap so I can feed the baby when walking or chasing my son or whatever. It's sad that a woman should feel self-conscious about nourishing her child. :(

Tam said...

wonderful post! I couldn't agree more and I'm sad when I find myself uncomfortable nursing in public not because I am self conscience but because I don't want to deal with the looks from other people.

I am so unexpectedly in love with nursing - probably even more so than my baby is.

Sarah in Ottawa said...

I am MUCH more offended by using a wireless device in church. The heck?

Like Ashley, I am still scouting out 'where I can nurse' when we go out. With Teddy, I expressed milk for 14 months so I didn't have the same worries as with Veronica. And being a buxom girl, it is VERY difficult to nurse discretely.

It is frustrating - I am more worried about the comfort levels of those around me at seeing boobs than my own level at unleashing them. Ah well - it's nearly winter. Maybe I'll gain enough confidence to do it by the spring!