Breastfeeding in Public

I’m reposting this from where I originally said it, on a friend’s Facebook status asking for opinions on breastfeeding in public. I don’t do it often anymore now that Mattie is eating so many solids, but back when he only went 1.5 hours between feedings I did it a lot – I didn’t have a choice, if I wanted to go to the grocery store, the book store, etc. WE always tried to find more secluded areas, less for other people’s comfort than the fact that I was shy and Mattie was distractable!

For my part, I’m oddly conflicted about this in my personal life. I’ve always been a fairly modest person, ever since I started ‘developing’ early and was being stared at by 7th grade boys.

It makes me uncomfortable to feel like I’m being stared at or the center of attention, so when I breastfeed in public I try to find a quiet, out of the way spot…that’s not for other people though. I don’t give a flying f*k what they think, frankly. I’m offended when I see them eating meat, but I’m not going to walk up and tell them I think they should be ashamed of themselves. It’s none of my business. And I’m even more offended when I see someone giving their two year old a McDonald’s burger – on many levels – but still, none of my business.

The hypersexualization of breasts is what creates this discomfort, and I don’t know that it will ever go away. Breasts are nice to look at, and men (and some women) become uncomfortable when there is what they see as a sex object being mouthed by an infant. I understand this discomfort, and awkwardness. There is something that seems incestuous about it, if you’ve only ever known breasts as a sexual part of the body and not as a source of nourishment and comfort. It makes people uncomfortable to look at a breast, think that maybe it’s sexy, and then think about milk flowing from it into an infant’s mouth.

The problem is twofold, though – we live in a simultaneously puritanical and overexposed society. If the average woman is half naked, shame on her! If the sexpot in Maxim is half naked, we can display it in a store window. In some ways, it seems as if only attractive women are allowed to expose themselves in public…the rest of us need to cover up breasts, bellies, thighs, flabby arms, crooked toes…in essence, the message is “cover the f*k up, unless I think you’re hot!” And mostly, women with babies latched on aren’t all that hot, so no one wants to see it.

An increase in nursing in public could help this, as exposure would both normalize it (so that people seeing it wouldn’t be shocked) and help teach society at large that strictly speaking, breasts are for food first and your viewing pleasure second.

Sorry for the novel/rant!

PS: as for covering up, it’s been suggested to me many times, but I think people underestimate the will of a baby. Mattie has never tolerated one of those nursing covers (and god, I tried…) – he yanks, grabs, and tugs it until we’re all twisted up and I end up exposing more breast than if I’d just fed him without the damn cover. I think this is the experience with most mamas. Plus, as someone earlier mentioned, it’s important to have a connection with your child, and that’s difficult if he’s under a tent.

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