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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Of All Things Breast

I had a conversation recently with a woman about breast-feeding her child. Let me begin by saying I'm pro breast-feeding. I was breast-fed. My sister was breast-fed. My sister's kids were breast-fed. Most of my relatives, as far as I know, breast-fed their kids, as did most of my friends. I myself do not have children, but if I'd gone that route, yes: I would have breast-fed. Would I have removed my top at the Four Season's restaurant to give my son a nightcap, or breast-fed my daughter until she was seven years old? Uh, no.

So this conversation, which started out simply enough (I asked how long she thought she would nurse her child) evolved into a lecture series on the benefits of breast-feeding children. Addressing me as though I'd just arrived from the Klingon Empire, the woman informed me about the benefits of breast-feeding to both mother and child, how the longer one breast-feeds the more balanced and stable and socially healthy a child becomes, that "Americans" (as far as I knew all of us present were Americans) have prudish concerns about breast-feeding in public, and that breast-feeding is a very natural thing with documented health benefits. She wrapped up with the shot every mommy, in the end, takes at every non-mommy: that as a woman without children I couldn't possibly understand how important breast-feeding is to the mother, the baby, our culture, society as a whole, and the universe as we know it.

I did not, in turn, inform my conversational partner that I worked in the women's health field for 30 years, and that while I am in fact a non-mother I do know how to read, to think, and to form opinions based on life -- albeit observational -- experience on this topic. I could be wrong, but I'm fairly sure I don't need to become pregnant, push out a child, and consequently lactate to understand the benefits of breast-feeding. I get it. Breast-feeding is a good thing. One of the many points of this chit-chat that bugged me was the implication that women who do not breast-feed for as long as both mother and child are into it have somehow failed in their maternal duties. Most of the people I know who breast-fed had to stop because they ultimately had to go back to work, or because in some cases breast-feeding just didn't work for them for longer than a year, a few months, and in one case that I can think of, a few days. Does that suggest that those children who don't return home from Burger King and request some liquid refreshment from the nipple are going to be socially backward? Or that mothers who adopt are going to have twisted kids because they weren't able to breast-feed them?

As for nursing in public: yes indeed, breast-feeding is a very natural thing. So is urinating, defecating, and breaking wind. Are we to assume that because all of these behaviors are "natural" that it should be perfectly acceptable to engage in all and any whenever we feel like it? At the dinner table? On a talk show? At the top of the Space Needle? The next time I pee on the floor of the supermarket I guess I'll calmly explain, "Come on! It's a natural thing! What's the problem?"

I realize I may be in the minority on this subject, but it seems to me that the beautiful bond of breast-feeding is something of a private moment. I have no issue with a woman breast-feeding in public, although I do prefer that the moment is handled a bit discreetly. I'm not interested in sipping at a glass of wine while my couch neighbor's breast comes tumbling out of a cocktail dress at feeding time. Breast-feeding mothers can rail away that people who aren't into watching this procedure are prudes or unevolved or anti-nursing. The fact is though that many of us backward Americans understand breasts serve several purposes in our society. One is to feed a child. Another is of a more intimate and, dare I say it?...sexual nature. Most of the women I've encountered over the years who elect to breast-feed in public have done so with discretion, maybe being evolved enough to realize that not everybody is comfortable with a topless mother and a suckling baby. Even the Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health, which extolls the benefits of breast-feeding, suggests mothers "slip into a woman's lounge or dressing room to breast-feed." There are plenty of "beautiful and natural" moments we humans enjoy, not the least of which is sex with a person we love. Does it mean, then, that when two of my guests fall to the rug in a beautiful and natural sexual act that I'm unevolved if I don't want to watch?

Breast-feeding has been going on since the first mammal crawled out of the slime. I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way the act of giving nourishment to one's child became a social revolution, spearheaded by modern mothers who insist they have the right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and if others don't like it, tough. To all those moms who talk about it and brag about and insist that others must accept and embrace this very natural thing in any setting...well girls, if you ask me, you're just showing off.


Cow Suckling said...

"Somewhere along the way", certain societies evolved to the point where not wearing a burka is an offense punishable by stoning. Perhaps these societies recognized that mouths and hair serve several purposes in human society. Perhaps you should look, or walk, away from lawful activities that make you uncomfortable, and continue to seek guidance and solace in "suggestions" from government agencies.

Kathleen Yasas said...

Burkas and stoning are now related to my request that women don't breast feed at will at parties, in the grocery line, at their desk, in the street, and in every other possible location. At some point I think certain private moments should remain private. Yeah. Okay. So sue me for my opinion.

Jennifer Nutt said...

I don't agree with your comparison of breast feeding and urinating or sexual intercourse. I would call it what it is...which is eating. And we certainly all eat in public. The woman breast feeding at a cocktail party is just feeding her child as everyone else at the party is feeding themselves. Part of the problem may also be that in America women only get 12 weeks maturity leave unlike the 6-12 months many other countries have. This is forcing working women who want to breast feed to do some awkward things like breast feed at their desks. I think its sad that a woman on a park bench feeding her child with a bottle makes people say "aww...cute baby!"...but a woman feeding her child with a breast causes offense. Personally I find something like Toddlers and Tiaras (I think that is what the show is called) a much more obscene action with children then breast feeding. That being said....if I have a child.... I won't breast feed it on your sofa as you are certainly entitled to your opinion. :)

Anonymous said...

This is all a part of the "in your face" attitude that is so prevalent these days. I picked up on your theme of decorum and manners - which means, if I'm doing something that makes someone else needlessly uncomfortable, I can easily modify my behavior so as not to cause someone else to feel squirmy. I breastfed all four of my children, and most of the time no one knew exactly what I was doing unless they were either extremely nosy or had nursed their own child in a similar manner. We don't have to push our ideas and preferences on to one another, and in fact if most of us were a little more considerate of the rest of the human race, we'd all be a whole lot better off.

Jennifer Nutt said...

Of course their will always be people who feel the need to be "in your face" however I feel this is a small percentage of breast feeding mothers. And no one can argue that the world should be a more considerate place....but being considerate is extrmemly subjective. Should a gay couple not hold hands in the park because it may make someone needlessly uncomfortable? Perhaps it is narcissistic to assume if someone is doing something you do not like, that it is because they are doing it for your benefit to "show off" or shove their opinions down your throat. I guess what confuses me the most is in this culture with all we have in our media....with all that has become socially acceptable within the last few generations.....that it is breast feeding that makes people squirm. Again entitled to your opinion....and I have no children....however I am really confused how breast feeding conjures up so much controversy. Breasts on TV and movies is OK......but not if there is a baby attached to it.

Kathleen Yasas said...

Dear Jen: Breastfeeding doesn't make me squirm, nor does a gay (or straight) couple holding hands in public. However, couples of any kind making out with full tongue in public does make me uncomfortable, as does a mother with full breast exposure feeding her baby in public. Both actions are fine in private. Life isn't black and white. Life is made up of grays, and in my humble opinion making out in front of other people -- and topless breastfeeding -- fall into the black or white category. It's not that tough to toss a diaper or baby blanket over the shoulder to breastfeed, just as it's equally appropriate to shut the door behind you before the make-out session ensues. And personally, breasts on TV and movies aren't okay either. I'm a Dick Van Dyke fan, where Laura and Rob slept in single beds.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum