Breasts and Buts

Breasts.

What do you immidiately picture when I say that word? Okay, I know what you picture, but what is the context?

Do you see the latest cover of a Victoria Secret magazine? Maybe a scene from the most recent movie you’ve watched? Perhaps you picture the scantily-clad girl you just passed on the street or you imagine a passage from 50 Shades of Grey.

How do these images make you feel? Do they feel normal? Natural? Sexual?

Do you picture a mother breastfeeding her baby? Did that pop into your mind at all?

International Breastfeeding Logo

Now try this:

Imagine you’re sitting at a restaurant, enjoying a nice meal. Everyone is maintaining the utmost civility. And then, across the restaurant, a mother lifts up her shirt and brings her baby to her chest.

How do those breasts make you feel?

Natural? Normal?

What about uncomfortable Squeamish?

I know. If you’re reading this right now, you fully believe that you support breastfeeding. In fact, you’ll even go so far as to say that you support breastfeeding in public. If a woman believes that breastfeeding is best for both her and her baby*, she should not be forced to stay at home or encouraged to bring a bottle whenever she goes into public.

I know you believe this.

But what does “in public” mean to you?

Recently, in the city I grew up in, a vendor at the local farmer’s market was asked to cover up while breastfeeding her baby. The city had received complaints from certain market-goers who were uncomfortable with her uncovered breasts. In response, the woman organized a nurse-in, and thirty women came to the market to nurse, uncovered, to raise awareness of breastfeeding rights. The city issued an apology, but of course, everyone is talking about it.

Yesterday, the local radio show hosted a call-in about the issue of breastfeeding in public. Everyone who called began by saying that they supported breastfeeding in public. Because in this day and age, everyone believes they do.

But, along with that strong moral stance that breastfeeding should be accepted in public, a but is often included. Women should be free to breastfeed in public. But women should be considerate of others. But it makes me uncomfortable. But they should cover up. But they should go somewhere discreet, like a public washroom. But I don’t want to see it.

Everyone believes in a baby’s right to breastmilk… but.

A few weeks ago, I received a request from a pregnant friend of mine. She asked if I would be willing to have her watch me nurse Gavin. She realized that she had a lot of apprehension about nursing her own baby and thought it might stem from the fact that she has never really seen a woman breastfeed her baby before. In her world – in our world – breastfeeding isn’t normal because it isn’t seen. … Because people “believe in breastfeeding” but they don’t want to see it.

So, I ask you again: What do you picture when I say the word breasts? Is it a woman breastfeeding her baby? Or do you picture the other million ways society normalizes breasts?

When I was a brand new Mom, I believed in breastfeeding my baby, but I was also conscious of how the world saw me. I would go out in public, even to family functions, and spend the majority of my time closed up in a room, alone, feeding Cameron. Everyone else would be visiting and enjoying themselves, and I would be staring at a wall for dozens of minutes, waiting for my baby to be satisfied. I hated it. And because of that, I dreaded going out and I dreaded nursing. I didn’t want anyone around me to be uncomfortable with me feeding my baby, so I hid myself away, even in public.

I’ve since learned that hiding yourself away is not breastfeeding in public, even if you are doing it outside of your own home.

Furthermore, there is a popular opinion that women don’t need to be hidden away in order to breastfeed their babies, but they should “cover up”. Many reasons are given for this preference. Modesty. Consideration. Squeamishness. I’ve even heard that women who do not cover up are “exhibitionists” and part of a “bare-all, look-at-me generation”, as if we mothers are feeding our children to fulfill some twisted, selfish fantasy.

I get it. We’re not used to seeing breasts as anything but sexual. In our society, sex is normal. So when a woman’s breast is exposed so her baby can receive the nutrition and the comfort that he so desperately needs, others get uncomfortable. In response, babies are told to eat with a blanket over their faces. Mothers are encouraged to break eye contact with their newborns. In so doing, breastfeeding is hidden from the public’s eye. And by hiding this beautiful, natural act we make it even less normal.**

Canada protects the rights of breastfeeding mothers trough the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But more specifically, Nova Scotia has chosen to define a woman’s breastfeeding rights further.

Women have the right to breast-feed a child in public areas, including restaurants, retail stores and shopping centres, theatres and so forth. Women shall not be prevented from nursing a child in a public area, nor asked to move to another area that is more “discreet”. (source)

Believing in a woman’s right to breastfeed means just that. No buts attached. A woman and her baby can breastfeed in public. Period. She should not be told to go somewhere more discreet. She should not be told to cover up. And furthermore, she should not be made to feel those things either. If you say “I believe in a woman’s right to breastfeed in public but…” then you do not support breastfeeding. Not really.

No woman should feel nervous about breastfeeding her baby because she has never witnessed breastfeeding before. Instead, women should go into the delivery room feeling as though they are surrounded by a society that encourages and teaches healthy breastfeeding through community examples. We shouldn’t be alarmed that sometimes you have to hold your breast just right to encourage the baby to latch or that milk might spray everywhere. We should not be surprised if some babies eat loudly. We should know this because we have seen it before. Imagine how confident we, as mothers, would be if society was comfortable with breastfeeding. Imagine how many more babies would be breastfed if breastfeeding were normalized.

Breastfeeding needs to be normalized, not hidden away. If this makes you uncomfortable, it is time to get comfortable. Do not expect a baby who needs to breastfeed cater to your comfort.

Breasts.

Now what do you picture? How do you feel?

I hope you feel normal. I hope you see motherhood.

Breastfeeding

 

Whenever I write something like this (controversial?), I always feel the need to include caveats so no one gets offended.

*I advocate for a normalizing of breastfeeding in our society. This does not mean that I judge those who do not breastfeed, for whatever reason. In fact, this post has nothing to do with formula feeding vs breastfeeding.

**I often do cover-up while nursing in public. I often assess the environment and chose to breastfeed in a way that makes me and my baby the most comfortable. Sometimes that is completely uncovered. Sometimes it is covered. Sometimes it is even in a quiet room. The point is, breastfeeding should be seen more in public and women shouldn’t feel chastised for nursing however makes them feel most comfortable.

Are we all on the same page now? Awesome.

Suggested Further Reading

My sister just wrote a blog post about this issue as well as her experience with breastfeeding:  The Rookie Wife | Breastfeeding

This is a  great post about normalizing breastfeeding by making it visible. There is so much good about this entire blog, but I particularly like this post: Nurshable | Monkey See, Monkey Do

Here’s a little bit of breastfeeding humour, and a brief glance into what breastfeeding is really like: Babymooning | 12 Signs You Are the Mother of a Breastfeeding Newborn

For some breastfeeding support, check out The Alpha Parent | Timeline of a Breastfed Baby

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About Laura ORourke

Laura is a working Mom of two (but soon to be three) living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She juggles work, blogging, and life at home with her husband Dan and two sons Cameron (age 4) and Gavin (age 2). When she has time, she can be found reading, writing, snapping photos, or awkwardly running. Laura has been recognized as one of Canada's Top 10 Mom Bloggers by multiple publications, including Reader's Digest. Keep up with the fun by following @LauraORourke on Twitter or liking Mommy Miracles on Facebook. Like what you see? Have something to add? Be sure to leave a comment!

Comments

  1. Brave! You’ve written a beautiful piece, Laura, and you’ve outlined so many issues that I had both times with my daughters. The first time? Medical stuff prevented me from breastfeeding successfully. I tried, oh, I tried, but I still felt I had to hide… no matter WHAT I was doing. (And what I was doing was nursing and supplementing, because I HAD to…)

    This time? I was moderately more successful, but still, with the uncooperative mammaries. While I was trying to coax them into working, I still felt uncomfortable in public, or even in my own home when I had visitors. (How nutty is that???) I don’t know why, and I was frustrated by it. Here in the States, we don’t have quite the same protections, but we definitely have the same hang-ups. I’m so tired of it being perfectly acceptable to see partial nipple in a bathing suit, a bra, or a dress, but not to see partial nipple hanging out of a baby’s mouth. Silly.

    • That is my biggest frustration. I wouldn’t be so adamant on normalizing breastfeeding in public if it wasn’t for how normal it is to see breasts in a sexual context. I understand that this makes it harder for people to accept breasts in a non-sexualized way, but it still isn’t right. In my opinion, the sexual side of breasts should be hidden away, destined only for a loving relationship, whereas the mothering side of breasts should be what is normal in public.

      I am sorry you have had such trouble breastfeeding. I dealt with pain at certain points during my breastfeeding journey, but never an inability to produce milk or to feed my baby. I am so grateful for that.
      Laura recently posted..Little Too BigMy Profile

  2. A very courageous entry. I’ll admit, I”m one of those in favor of breastfeeding but in support of discretion and, preferably, covering up. It probably has to do with my generation.

    That said, I’d never dream in a million years of telling a woman to cover up, or that she couldn’t breastfeed in public. *My* sensitivities have nothing to do with her child’s need to eat!

    • The majority of the time, I cover up. I usually take into account the people around me. In church? I’ll breastfeed, but I’ll definitely cover up. In a coffee shop that declares itself as “breastfeeding friendly”? I’ll leave the cover packed up, and discreetly nurse my baby uncovered. But I get the desire to cover up and to have other women cover up. Especially when you consider other cultures that place a higher importance on modesty.

      Still, when I come to blog writing – and opinion creating – my belief of how things should be (no matter how idealistic it is) is that women should feel comfortable nursing uncovered if they and/or their babies wish and breastfeeding should be so normalized in society that it isn’t weird if a mother nurses uncovered, in public.

      I don’t think I would feel so strongly with this if women’s breasts weren’t always on display to sell things. Women use their bodies to sell both products and themselves. If breasts are normalized this way, the natural way to feed a baby should also be normalized.
      Laura recently posted..Little Too BigMy Profile

  3. This is excellent. And true. Our society still sees the breast as ONLY a sexual body part, not as something designed to nourish our babies. During the 5 years I was nursing I never was told to cover up and I nursed everywhere….weddings, in church, in the mall, in the car, on a bench, at the beach, wherever it was needed. Breastfeeding is THE best kept secret….unfortunately. It’s too bad women and men allow “society” to determine their negative opinions on breastfeeding.
    Angie recently posted..Summer is here!My Profile

    • I am so glad to hear that no one told you to cover up! I think most people refrain from asking women to do so (although after having this discussion, I have heard a few stories where women were asked to cover up or move to a more private location. Talk about getting my blood boiling!) The problem is, I think that even if people don’t ask the woman to cover up, they still spread negativity about it so that women don’t feel comfortable doing it in public.

      Breastfeeding is the best kept secret. I hope it doesn’t remain a secret.
      Laura recently posted..Little Too BigMy Profile

  4. People getting so riled up about breasts causes so many issues, from this one through to women feeling inadequate because theirs aren’t “right” enough. Let’s take breasts off the pedestal. Honestly, I think women should be allowed to go topless just like men are. If a man can take off his shirt, a woman should be able to, too. Why the discrimination? They are hunks of flesh. Get. Over. It.

    (All that being said: I covered up when BF’ing in public, because I was afraid of people staring. So, yeah.)

    • I agree with you. I believe Cosmo did a study (real scientific, right?!) that said that women and men get the same pleasure from nipple stimulation. So essentially, the chests of women and men are essentially the same except that women’s breasts are also made for feeding babies. Sure, that’s a simplistic way to break it all down, but it does take breasts off a pedestal.
      Laura recently posted..Little Too BigMy Profile

  5. I LOVE this post!! I have recently started to read information to educate myself on breastfeeding for I plan to breastfeed.
    When I first started to read your post, I immediately imagine myself in the near future breastfeeding my newborn.

    I feel it is so important for us women to fully support breastfeeding, wherever it may be.

    A few weeks ago a co-worker who is also pregnant asked me if I plan to breastfeed- and when I answered ‘yes, it is important to me’ She was shocked and went on to tell me how she is disgusted by breastfeeding and would never consider it.
    I was hurt and completely taken back by her remark. It opened my eyes that many people, even other women, do not see breastfeeding as a natural thing to do.

    To say in the least, I will not be discussing any further pregnancy or parent relayed topics with her!

    • I love that you imagine yourself breastfeeding your baby! I used to do the very same thing. In fact, all of my dreams pre-Cameron involved breastfeeding. I so DESPERATELY wanted that connection with my baby. I pray that you will have NO problems doing it! :)

      I am shocked that your co-worker said that to you. I suppose I surround myself with people who support the idea of breastfeeding (or don’t tell me otherwise). That statement represents two things to me: a lack of proper education on the benefits of breastfeeding and a lack of breastfeeding in public. To her, breastfeeding is unnatural and “disgusting”, which is SO backwards!
      Laura recently posted..Little Too BigMy Profile

  6. I’m right there with you Laura!

    The society and environment I live in is vastly different from yours – as yours is perceived as a ‘Western’ society in these parts, hence the immediate association with ‘Western’ being more liberal. Here, you almost never see mothers breastfeed in public. We are expected to go somewhere discreet and hidden so as not to make others uncomfortable.

    Just the other day, I was out for breakfast with a friend and the baby started fussing about an hour into our date. He was hungry and I ended up rushing home with a crying baby all the way, just so I didn’t have to whip my boob out in public and I didn’t bring a bottle (I hate pumping). And I realized yes, that’s not right but this is the environment I live in. Though 2 weeks before that, I did breastfeed in the same place because 1) it was empty and quiet in the restaurant and 2) I was wearing a nursing top. Also, my friend is a mother of 2 so she was unfazed!

    All this to say, I do support breastfeeding in public, but find it hard to do sometimes. Sigh.
    Alison@Mama Wants This recently posted..FriendsMy Profile

    • It is important to conform to the society we find ourselves in and only push the envelope slightly to try to change things. I do the same thing depending on where I am. At church, it definitely feels uncomfortable for me to nurse during the service. But I have made an effort to do so. You can be sure I am covering up though!

      But man! It must be so difficult to go out anywhere without feeling like you can just feed your baby whenever he wants or need it! I would never leave the house. Talk about anxiety!
      Laura recently posted..Little Too BigMy Profile

  7. I always have a hard time wording how I feel about breastfeeding in public. I don’t want to come across as one of those “but” women who thinks their needs to be a stipulation attached to it. Because I don’t. Mom’s should be able to freely feed their children whenever, wherever and however they want. Covered, uncovered, in the middle of a restaurant or in a room by themselves…whatever suits THEM and their baby. It doesn’t bother me a bit to see a women feeding her child. Not in the slightest. In fact, I worry sometimes because since it doesn’t bother me I’m one of those people who won’t get up and run away when a mother starts to feed. I can sit right there and continue to carry on a conversation. I worry sometimes that I make the mother feel uncomfortable.

    That being said…I think that societies sexualization of breasts is what causes the issues. Like you mentioned at the beginning of this post. I’ve been in restaurants where a young mother was feeding and the ogling and disgusting glances coming her way from teenage boys and men a few tables over is disturbing. The MOTHER isn’t doing anything wrong. Our society is. And it isn’t fair that a mother should feel comfortable doing something that is so natural. I think that’s just where a woman’s comfort level comes in. If SHE is comfortable then that’s what matters. No one should force her to cover up or hide. That’s her choice. If she wants to feed in the middle of Olive Garden without a cover then that’s her right, and no one else should be able to say anything to her about it. More so, we need to reach a point where no one would even THINK to say anything to her about it.
    Courtney Kirkland recently posted..18 Week BumpdateMy Profile

    • YES! That is exactly how I feel. It is the sexualization of breasts that is the problem. Women should do what makes them feel comfortable! We need to reach a point where those oggles and disgusting glances stop when a woman breastfeeds. The negative comments to friends behind the woman’s back about how inappropriate the woman is being DEFINITELY needs to stop.

      I definitely do what makes me feel comfortable. Sometimes I nurse uncovered. Sometimes covered. Sometimes if both the baby and I need some quiet, I leave the room – but only if we need quiet and not because I am hiding away!

      For the record, if a mother is nursing in front of you, you don’t have to run away. She feels comfortable enough to do it and continue on the conversation, then she doesn’t mind you sticking around either! :)
      Laura recently posted..Little Too BigMy Profile

  8. While I have never been able to successfully breastfeed, I wholeheartedly support breastfeeding with no BUTS at all.

  9. Just read about this and was curious what you (and others) thought about it. I’m not sure how I feel myself yet to be honest: http://www.ajc.com/news/ap/kids-family/breastfeeding-baby-doll-creepy-or-groundbreaking/nS2Mg/

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