If breast is best, why do we never see anyone actually feeding their babies?

nursing
Courtesy of Twitter/News 6, via Yahoo

So a few hours after reading this news item on Yahoo, I find myself not being able to keep quiet about it: once again, breast-feeding moms are finding themselves being asked to stop feeding their babies in a public place. This time, it was at a Chick-fil-A in Tennessee. Honestly, though, the location is pretty much not important. What is important is the fact that it keeps happening.

Disclaimer: I am not a breast-feeding activist. I only gave birth to three daughters and breast-fed them all up until they were about a year old. I adopted one daughter after them and just bottle-fed. I enjoyed nursing my girls, but it was a heck of a lot of work and was literally draining. It was really, really tough to be THE on-call food for the babies. And my girls didn’t nurse for 20 or 30 minutes every four hours, giving me a solid break in between. They would nurse for a shorter time every two to three hours, making it feel as if they constantly needed me, just for sustenance (let alone all the other needs an infant has). It was exhausting and a HUGE invasion of my personal space. It made me kind of crazy. Even so, I breast-fed them. It was healthiest for them, which was important to me, and it was nearly free, whereas formula is super-expensive.

I never went to a La Leche League meeting or consulted a lactation specialist or read a book about breast-feeding or anything. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I just fed my babies. And here’s why I feel the need to weigh in on this news item: it is a pain in the rear to breast-feed a baby in public. My oldest child is 17 and the youngest that I nursed is 11, so it’s been a decade since I’ve been in the situation of needing to feed a fussy child while out and about. No matter how well you plan and feed a baby before leaving the house, etc., there are darn sure going to be times that baby has to eat while you are outside of your house. And here’s the plain truth in our society even now: you almost never see a woman publicly nursing her baby, whether it’s at a store of some type, a restaurant, or a park. But that doesn’t mean they’re settling in to a nice, quiet, private room designated for nursing at any of these places, because VERY FEW public places have rooms for mothers to feed their children. There are more and more family bathrooms available different places, at least, which is definitely helpful, but still not a lot of spots for nursing.

What does this mean, then? There’s nowhere to go to “privately” breast-feed a baby. Restaurants, especially not fast-food restaurants, do not have somewhere to go if a baby gets hungry fast. So you either pack up and leave, with the baby wailing all the way home, before you’ve gotten to eat yourself, or you stay and feed the baby.  But since we still so rarely do see anyone else breast-feeding in public places (whereas you can see plenty of women and men handing babies their bottles out and about), none of us feel comfortable with the notion, even breast-feeding moms themselves, in many cases.

Now that’s plain ridiculous. But here’s why: people who’ve either not been around breast-feeding mothers very much or who have absorbed our upside-down society’s notions that baring a little portion of breast while getting a baby latched on or off is somehow public indecency either outright make comments or ask women to leave or “cover up” or they stare or make weird faces at them because they are uncomfortable.

The problem is not that women are being inconsiderate and not “covering up”. The problem is that in our backwards, inside-out, upside-down society, it’s somehow acceptable for women to wear teeny tank tops and blouses that are so low-cut they show a solid third of a breast, and no one bats an eyelash. No one asks a woman showing a ton of cleavage to leave a public place. But if a woman doing her best to “discreetly” breast-feed her baby happens to show for a split second a good portion of her breast (maybe even her nipple, for heaven’s sake!), then it’s lewd.

And that’s what has my hackles up. Because when I see other people posting about this topic, and still so many people, EVEN WOMEN, EVEN MOTHERS, comment that they think these women should be more careful about “covering up,” I know we have a big problem in our culture. Women stage “milk-ins” to raise awareness whenever these news items pop up. A lot of commenters say these are unnecessary. I’m thinking, however, they’re still very necessary. We need men, women, and children, of all ages, to see mothers breast-feeding their children, enough that they become comfortable with it. Because most people clearly aren’t comfortable with it. And it’s not because it’s dirty or lewd or filthy. It’s because they just don’t see it happen often enough.

If nursing moms still need to stage “milk-ins” or “nurse-ins” to finally get our generally very-non-prudish society comfortable with a really healthy and natural activity, then I support them all the way.

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lifeandlims View All →

I'm a book reviewer, editor, and writer with four daughters and tons of projects always keeping me hopping. I blog at Life and Lims and run the book review site Rated Reads.

8 Comments Leave a comment

  1. What a great article. Many years ago I was managing a restaurant and an employee came to me to inform that that a woman was breastfeeding. I had saw and wondered if there was a policy about it. The employee wanted to know what to do. I told him nothing and to treat her like any other customer. Even if there had been a policy against it there was no way I was going to stop that. I did ask my regional director about it the next day. He said there wasn’t and they made a policy that said it was ok. Lets be honest here. Its not about a woman’s breast. Its about her nipple. The nipple seems to be the one thing that must be covered up at all times while the rest of the breast is open for all to see.

    • Thanks for your input. I agree that showing the nipple is the crux of anything we consider to be “lewd” or “vulgar” in our country. Even so, I’ve just never seen nursing moms showing any unless it’s been for a quick second if a baby decides to look away or … any number of those things that babies do. And that’s just not entirely controllable (’cause babies and kids sure aren’t!). But if we can all become a little more comfortable with the breasts used in their proper context, things would be happier for everyone.

      • You are right we are talking about a split second. I have a 14 year old niece and it scares me as to what she will deal with down the road.People get all bent of out shape about something that is a truly loving bond between a mother and child. Its like somewhere along the line things got all out of whack. Bill Clinton said ” for a generation that fought against the establishment we have become the most materialistic country in human history”. I think he is right. Along with that has come a terrible price of people just not being respectful of each other. I live in Nashville and this is the heart of the Bible Belt. You drive through Interstate 40 you see a Hooters on the right and you go down further you see a Strip Club. Then people get all bent out of shape over the possibility that a loving mothers nipple could be shown for a split second. Go Figure. Keep Fighting The Fight!

      • I can only say that our culture right now is upside-down and backward in far too many ways. (And on the note of that drive through Tennessee, I was always dismayed to see an unpleasantly named strip club right on the border of Alabama and Tennessee. Out in the middle of nowhere, here were some women being exploited.)

      • I know which one you are talking about. The female form is one of the most beautiful things on earth and in so many cases many have turned it into some sleazy thing. My sister back in the late 1970’s ( I know I am old) came and woke me up one morning around 2 a.m. crying because some guy had tried to reach inside her pants. She did like what I told her. The pants she had on were pretty much painted to her backside. ( I have no idea how she ever got into them) I told her that I know he should not have done that but if you dress like that some clown is going to try and touch you. It wasn’t right what he tried but I do think women have to take some responsibility for how they dress.

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