The War on Breastfeeding

Strong title, I know. But if you’re a birth junkie like me, you know that breastfeeding has been all over the media lately, mostly regarding a) what age is “right” to stop nursing and b) nursing in public.

Last week, I was quietly pacing through the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I entered a room filled with paintings of the Virgin and Child. The artists varied, but the paintings were almost identical:

Each painting displayed the mother (Virgin) nursing her son (child). I say son because in all the paintings in which the baby is fully painted, well, it’s made obvious it’s a male child she’s holding. Some paintings are portraits like the one above and others feature other people in the painting. Regardless, her breast is exposed as she nurses the child, no nursing cover, no shame and certainly no one looking at her in disgust.

The obvious conclusion here is that a few hundred years ago, there was nothing sexual or wrong with nursing your child in public without covering up or hiding in a bathroom. Our society has given this display of nourishment a sexual and wrong conotation. Why? Why is feeding your child, as you would a toddler or teenager, disgusting? I don’t need to spout facts about how much more beneficial breastfeeding is for your child. You know that. Whether you chose to do that or not is not for me to judge. However, I do judge those who believe that sitting quietly in a restaurant nursing your child is gross. Dude, I think the sushi you’re eating over there is gross but I’m not going to make a big fuss over it and make you leave. I’ve always believed that if you can see the mama’s nipple, then you are too damn close to her. All the nursing mamas I know are very modest and either cover up or are so quick to get that baby to breast that there is nothing to see.

I had a thought yesterday: is there a difference between the terms “breastfeeding” and “nursing”? The breast is the body part, the part which has been sexualized, while nursing is a much more tame term. Either way, the terms mean the same thing and there is nothing wrong or disgusting about nursing in public.

The other issue, age, has been one that I’ve had to mull over. I do  my best to make this place as unbiased as possible (when appropriate), but to also provide facts and my own personal opinions. A few years ago, I watched an episode of Tyra (I know, I know!!) and she had a British mum on her show who was happily still nursing her eight year old. This was before I’d had a child and discovered my passion in this arena. Needless to say, I was shocked. I thought it was gross and weird. WHY at the age of eight was something like that still necessary??

Today, I really don’t care what the psychologists say about it. I believe in the mother’s and her child’s choice to continue nursing until whatever age is right for them. I no longer think there is anything gross about it, but I’m certain that is a choice I would not be comfortable with. But that’s just me. I think the TIMES cover featuring a mama nursing her 3 year old was a wake up call for this war on breastfeeding. People need to learn and talk about how babies are fed, just as they need to talk about how to change baby’s diaper and how to help baby sleep, etc. I’m hoping that this “war”, if you will, will help desensitize our society so that it is looked at in the same way as it was a few hundred years ago: she’s feeding her baby. So what.

I had one hell of a time nursing my son. We had thrush, I got an abscess, and after 10 weeks I threw in the towel. Next time, I hope to have more patience and confidence in nursing my baby. Will I nurse in public? Yes. Will I cover up? Maybe. I will do what feels right and comfortable for us.

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