Breastfeeding wars are a common theme these days. Women wanting the right to nurse their child in a public place without getting the once-over and average citizens wanting the right to be in public without the possibility of seeing another woman’s bare breast.
Each camp has a justified argument. As a woman who thought I would never, ever want to breastfeed my baby, I understand the discomfort of seeing women nurse in public. Now as a proud breastfeeding mama (even I was surprised by the connection I have felt toward nursing my children), I understand that breastfeeding is perfectly natural thing: feeding a baby.
After having my first child, I admit I crossed over from the uncomfortable camp to the right-to-breastfeed camp, but, after seeing a viral photo of a woman defiantly breastfeeding her son in a restaurant, I felt I should speak out on behalf of both.
Let’s take the example of a woman breastfeeding a child in a restaurant. How does this situation play out from either side?
From the Breastfeeding Mama’s Perspective
There is a wide spectrum of what leads up to a woman breastfeeding in a restaurant. There are those who have zero reservation about openly nursing to those who would have preferred a private room, but couldn’t find one.
There are also those who may have wanted to breastfeed with a cover, but their child had other ideas. At that point it’s either nursing the kid without a cover or subject others to a screaming child.
From the Patron’s Perspective
There is also a wide spectrum from the patron’s perspective. Some are a bit uncomfortable after accidentally fixing their gaze on a breastfeeding mother while others are outraged or disgusted. I would be sympathetic toward the former, but even that bothers some women.
Breastfeeding may be a perfectly natural thing, but our culture has conditioned us to see breasts as a sexual object. Therefore, it is jolting to be in a public place and suddenly see a bare breast. As much as us mothers want nursing to be commonplace and widely accepted, it just isn’t so.
What Breastfeeding Mamas are Fighting
As is usually the case with debates such as this, the problem lies with the extremes. Breastfeeding mothers aren’t fighting the casually uncomfortable, they are fighting the disrespectful.
In the case of a woman breastfeeding in a restaurant, she is fighting the alternative of nursing her baby on a toilet in a bathroom stall – something I have done a number of times – or in the back seat of her car. Would you like to eat on a toilet? I’m guessing not.
Breastfeeding mothers are also fighting the idea that breastmilk and nursing are disgusting. This is downright offensive. Human beings consume cow’s milk on a daily basis without a second thought. How is that considered “normal” while consuming human milk is not?
These mothers are also fighting for the right to calm their babies when they are hungry or in need of comfort. Why should a hungry baby have to wait to be in a private area to eat when the beauty of breastfeeding is that milk is readily available at the perfect temperature?
What Patrons are Fighting
I will argue that the average American is hypersensitive to the discreet breastfeeding mother. Many women try to feed their children casually and without fanfare only to be met with glares, stares, and whispers.
At the same time, I think mothers can take steps to better prepare unsuspecting onlookers. If I’m in someone else’s home and need to nurse my child, I will at the very least offer fair warning to those around me. I remember what it was like when a woman would whip out her breast to feed her baby when I wasn’t expecting it. Just as breastfeeding mothers shouldn’t be judged, neither should modest human beings.
In public, I try to find a low-key location so I’m not “on stage” when feeding my child. That picture from earlier this week was jolting to me because she had her breast fully out, glaring at someone else in the restaurant. How is that okay when breastfeeding mothers are trying to stop others from glaring?
What Breastfeeding Mamas Can Do
I urge women to give modest people a break. Yes, they can be offensive, but many of them are genuinely uncomfortable. Do your best to smile it off. If your child allows for a cover, use it. If you can find a low-key spot, go for it. It will make everything a little bit easier.
I also urge women to keep fighting the jerks that consider breastfeeding disgusting, a reason to discriminate in the workplace, or not permissible after the child “has teeth,” “can ask for it,” or “can walk.” Those people can suck it. Pun intended.
What Patrons Can Do
If you are one of those people who is casually uncomfortable with breastfeeding, give that mom a break. She is feeding her child in public because he or she is hungry or uncomfortable. She is feeding her child because the alternative is a public restroom or in the back of her car. She is finally sitting down and both she and her child are hungry.
Just look away and do your best not to pass judgement over something you are uncomfortable with because it is unfamiliar.
The Bottom Line
This “mommy war” isn’t going to be fixed overnight. I understand that breastfeeding moms are going to extremes because our culture needs to get over its hypersensitivity. I also understand that being removed from breastfeeding results in discomfort with the idea. It is what it is.
Let’s try to understand each other a little bit better and be part of the solution rather than the problem.
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