Baring Breasts for Baby

I listened to an interview by Jian Ghomeshi from CBC Radio’s Q.  It was from Monday’s program, and he spoke with a woman named Emma Kwasnica, who is currently fighting Facebook for the right to post breastfeeding pictures on her profile.  This kind of debate is right up my alley, considering that I have fairly strong opinions about both Facebook and breastfeeding!  I was fascinated to hear what they had to say.

I fully agree with Kwasnica that North American society presents women with a double standard.  We are told that breastfeeding is the absolute best thing for our babies, yet society doesn’t want to see it!  When pictures of breastfeeding are deleted for containing so-called “nudity,” women feel embarrassed and shamed by having the natural act of nursing be labeled as such.  As a result, fewer women are inclined to continue breastfeeding for the full two years that are recommended by the World Health Organization because they are made to feel uncomfortable, or at least not actively encouraged by our society to stick with it.

I breastfed my first son for twelve months.  I fed him everywhere – on park benches, in the library, at coffee shops.  I never used a cover; it was far too difficult to manipulate on my own and kept falling off, and I couldn’t see the baby if he became unlatched.  I became quick at getting him on and pulling down my shirt so there was rarely more than an inch of bare skin showing.  Not once did I receive a single complaint.  People would sometimes do a double-take, glancing over in surprise, but they usually ended up smiling at me and looking away awkwardly.

I’m currently breastfeeding my second son.  He is only three months, which means I still have to hold my breast as he nurses; this makes it hard to be discreet, so I avoid doing it publicly.  Once he’s bigger, though, I will have no problem with it whatsoever.  I am a huge supporter of breastfeeding and I like feeling that every time I nurse in public, I’m contributing toward its normalization in North America.  I intend to nurse him for at least a year.

Formula was never an option.  It has always creeped me out, the idea of mixing a strange powder with water to nourish my infant.  Even if it were the most expensive, all-natural, lactose-free, organic, made-in-Canada who-knows-what that I could possibly buy, it could never replace my milk!  I do, however, understand that some mothers have their reasons for choosing to use formula, and they’re entitled to those reasons.  Feeling comfortable with one’s choices is the most important thing.

Obscene?

Regardless, the over-sexualization of breasts in North America is sickening.  Breasts are used to advertise everything, from beer and clothes to perfume and food.  Kids see them in magazines, on billboards, on TV commercials, on the internet, at the grocery store; what’s the big deal about a nursing mother?  Not enough girls and women see breastfeeding going on, and that’s why it’s not as common as it should be.  Women need to be less discreet about nursing in public, and the media needs to get comfortable with showing it more!  Breastfeeding reduces the likelihood of SIDS, helps a mother to lose pregnancy weight, acts as natural birth control, decreases the likelihood of breast cancer and endometrial cancer, provides antibodies to the baby that reduce instances and length of illness, improves digestion and gas problems, and does not cause allergic reactions, just to name a few of its countless benefits.

An impressive 87% of Canadian moms initiate breastfeeding, but less than half make it to 6 months, and only 16% to a year.  This, to me, screams a desperate need for stronger breastfeeding support networks: doctors and nurses who actively enable it, lactation consultants who are widely available, free clinics for questions and demonstrations.  If the government invested more in breastfeeding, the long-term burden on the health care system would be significantly less because the general population would be healthier as a whole.

So, bring on the booby milk, as my son calls it!  After all, breastmilk is the easiest way to give the absolute best to your child.  To quote one person’s comment about the interview on Q, “I have yet to witness anyone breastfeeding in an obscene manner!”  I applaud Kwasnica for more than just her battle against Facebook: for drawing attention to our society’s responsibility to nourish our children to the best of our ability.

Please tell me what you think!  What are your experiences with breastfeeding?  Do you agree or disagree with me?!  All ideas welcome!

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14 thoughts on “Baring Breasts for Baby

  1. Katherine I totally agree! I haven’t breastfed myself yet but I most certainly will not be ashamed when my turn comes. In fact I am sure I will be proud. I wanted to rant on the issue but you have said everything that was on my mind so beautifully. Women should be proud of their breasts for all their wonders! haha lets move away from using them as objects to sell things… No wonder our society is so messed up sexually! but that is a whole other rant…

    By the way the baby is amazing and I can’t wait to meet him! I hope you and your lovely family are doing well! xoxoxo
    all my love,
    Jasmine

    1. Thanks, Jasmine! I’m sure you’ll do a fabulous job at nursing when your time comes! Hope to see you soon.

  2. I’ve breastfed my daughter for 25 months and counting. My sons for 12 mths and 23 mths respectively, and I couldn’t agree more with your post. The hardest for me to be honest wasn’t strangers, but openly feeding in front of my Dad and teenage son (on the odd occasion). But when i was okay with it, so were they. Nursing can be the most natural aspect of mothering, if it works for you. Unsexualizing breasts and supporting women to be comfortable needs to continue to improve in our society – Facebook or otherwise.
    Feeding my oldest to 12 mths, 15 years ago was frowned upon and misunderstood, but the same could be said about the 24 mth mark today. Even though (as you mention) two years and beyond is sanctioned by the WHO and the medical profession as a whole!
    That we are still trying to come to terms with modesty and breast feeding all these years later is rather sad. Mind you, we haven’t figured out how to stop the fashion industry from setting unhealthy examples for women’s bodies either. http://www.covergirlculture.com
    BTW, “mommy milk” is the term used at our house! All hail the breast (feeding).

    1. Thanks for commenting! That link looks fascinating; I’m definitely going to check it out in more detail. Good for you for breastfeeding that long. I hear you about feeling uncomfortable in front of family – same for me, since I have two teenage brothers who get supremely embarrassed every time a breast comes out! They’re getting used to it after two babies now. In public, I feel defensive, as if I’m just waiting for someone to challenge my right to nurse! Thank goodness it hasn’t happened yet.

  3. I think you already know I’m with you 100% on this one. It was a big challenge to establish breastfeeding with the twins after a week in the hospital being “allowed” to nurse one of the babies twice in 7 days. However, I couldn’t think of anything more important to my babies and myself and I was willing to sacrifice just about anything to concentrate on establishing breastfeeding (outings, sleep, etc.). I wouldn’t have been able to do it without 100% support from my husband (who got up at every single feeding every night to help change diapers and bring the babies to me for feeding and continued working full time so that he could take 8 month leave when I went back to work), my mom and my midwives. The most frustrating thing in my experience was that all the propaganda saying “breast is best” was so at odds with the hospital rules and recommendations. AND THEN it’s at odds with the predominant social perspective that nursing mothers should feed their babies in filthy bathrooms or just stay home. I nursed the twins until they were 13 months old in the front seat of my car, in the middle of malls, at restaurants, etc. I’m also glad I got lots of pictures because it’s amazing how many people ask “how do you nurse two babies?” Well… I start by having two breasts!! 🙂

    1. I love your final line. So true!!! Women have been nursing twins for how many millennia??? Having support means everything. As you also probably know, breastfeeding is a lot tougher than it looks – initially painful, with so many potential complications. You’re lucky to have your husband’s help, as I was (and am), too. I’m so impressed that you did it with two, but then I wouldn’t expect any less from you 😉

  4. Bravo, Katherine. I recall once feeding you in a park near a busy intersection in Guelph in the 80’s. You were screaming and I was so relieved to find a free park bench, that I didn’t even notice where it happened to be. You can imagine my horror when a car of males honked, whistled, hooted and yelled out lewd remarks as they drove very slowly by. They drew a lot of attention to us. I was furious. From then on, you and I made a point of nursing in public. I think we have progressed since the 80’s, but I find it surprising and frustrating that we even need to discuss this issue. Keep fighting for it, Baby. You’ve been making a stand for public breastfeeding since you were a wee infant.
    . By the way, I loved your Raven cookstove article.

    1. Good for you!!! I’m honoured to have played a role in a public nursing demonstration, both as an infant and now as a mother! Much of my drive to do this has to do with you, of course!

  5. I’m a labor and delivery nurse and we really try to support breastfeeding moms because of the health care benefits. I haven’t quite figured out why people have such an issue with breastfeeding in public. I have heard of women post feeding just leaving their breasts out, which is weird, but that’s one or two people. The act of breastfeeding itself is natural an beneficial.

  6. Katherine, as you know I also have two young sons and have had a very different experience with breastfeeding. I started out nursing both babies and was unable to continue despite my very best efforts. However, I actually feel that breastfeeding is now better supported in the community than formula feeding. There are actually more resources for this and my perception is that people don’t want to see a very young baby receiving formula in a bottle either. People usually assume that the baby is breasfed and are actually surprised when told that he is not. I feel that there is a lot of pressure to breastfeed in our society actually–and many women persevere even when it is not going well. It is very easy to feel like a failure if breastfeeding doesn’t work out. While I totally support breastfeeding and agree that women should be able to do so anywhere they please–perhaps a little less emphasis should be on the “best” way to feed. Not eveyone is the same and what is “best” is what works for you and your child.

    1. Hi Holly, thanks for giving a totally different perspective on the issue. I appreciate and respect what you have to say, and you’re definitely right about the mother needing to do what feels best for her. Forced breastfeeding is bound to be a failure for everyone involved, and formula is a much better option! It’s interesting, though, that you feel people assume the baby is breastfed, because I get the opposite – people not wanting to ask if I’m breastfeeding in case I’m not! As for the issue of support, I think there’s a perception of greater breastfeeding support than what actually exists. The doctor tried to supplement my second with formula when he was jaundiced instead of providing a breast pump (hospital didn’t even have any, so I went out and bought one). I know many women who lament not being able to nurse because of lack of support – even at home, like having someone to watch the other kid. Anyways, thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I’m truly happy you’ve found a great balance for you and your kids! Keep up the good work 🙂

  7. Love this! I breastfed my daughter for over two years. After the difficult start we had, I swore I would keep going as long as she wanted 🙂
    Like you, I was always discreet but never bothered covering up in public. And I only got weird looks when my daughter was a toddler- hello, dont people know that the WHO, American Pediatrics Association, agree that toddler breastfeeding is a-ok?
    If only women were made to feel like breastfeeding was normal and not something to be hidden, maybe more women would do it!

    1. Thanks for the comment, and good for you! More women could benefit from having your approach to nursing!

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