Lately my Facebook newsfeed has seemingly blown up with comments and articles debating breastfeeding in public. In a culture that quite frankly, might as well walk around naked for the little amount that has been left to the imagination in television, movies, advertising and heck, even in day to day fashion, why is breastfeeding in public an issue? Why is walking around flaunting our sexuality okay, but feeding our children is not? Why is it socially acceptable to flash copious amounts of cleavage on television, in a bikini, on billboards, or even in a low cut top, but the second you display a side of your breast while feeding your baby, people are suddenly gasping in shock and clutching their pearls? What sort of convoluted moral thought is that?
Let me make this clear: there is nothing sexual about breastfeeding, contrary to what our overly sexualized culture wants to tell you. We are mammals – which means all females have breasts and nipples specifically designed to feed our children. Breastfeeding has been around since the beginning of time and it is the most natural way to feed your child.
It has only been in the relatively recent history that women have been shamed into thinking that what they’re doing is wrong and must be hidden or covered up. Even during the prim and proper “Victorian” era, women would “unbutton their shirtwaists” and nurse.
When a woman is nursing she is not trying to “flash” her breasts or trying to lure men and turn them into drooling simpletons, unable to control their sexual urges and desires. She is merely doing what her body is designed for.
To suggest that she should cover her baby with a needless blanket, or better yet, “go to the bathroom to nurse”, is asinine. To anyone ignorant enough to issue such an edict, I suggest they take their supper and go sit on a dirty public toilet, while people next to you pass urine and stool. Or, try eating your meal under the “comfort” of a flannel blanket, and see how much you enjoy breathing the hot, stale air surrounding you while trying to eat in darkness.
It is a woman’s legal right to nurse any time, any place, without having to be shamed or told to go elsewhere or cover up. If you don’t like it – look away. There is no law saying you have to watch. But I would urge you to ensure that you are not guilty of having double standards when it comes to breast exposure.
And while we’re at it, let’s talk about the shaming women face when engaging in “extended” breastfeeding. All health organizations agree*, that babies do not need to be, and what’s more, should not be weaned at 4 months, or 6 months, or even a year old. The WHO in fact recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of 2 years. There is nothing wrong with nursing a 2 or 3 year old. In fact, not so long ago, that was the “norm”. And in fact, it is still the norm for much of the world today, where many cultures breastfeed for several years**.
On this note, I recommend you examine some of the samples of historical breastfeeding art – many of the paintings depict much older babies, some well into their toddlerhood, breastfeeding. Given that many of these paintings date back as far as 800 years, it goes to show that through the ages this was considered normal and natural; certainly not “shocking”.
So please, let’s stop with the double standards, the shaming of mothers for doing what is a very natural, biological act – the feeding and nurturing of a child. Let’s break free of the sexualization and ignorance our Western culture has been perpetrating, and instead choose to educate ourselves and support each other.
*Health Canada and WHO recommend breastfeeding until at least two years of age
*American Academy of Pediatrics recommend breastfeeding until at least one year of age
**An interesting article on world weaning averages