Breastfeeding: When Did it Become So Unnatural?

Breastfeeding; the Big Debate

Breastfeeding is a big decision in the life of a woman. To some, it would seem like a no-brainer. “Of course I’m going to breastfeed, it would be a shame not to!” is a phrase that gets thrown around. Pictures of women you see are her and a calm, non-squalling infant staring lovingly into each other’s eyes while the babe suckles the mother’s teat with the utmost abandon. They look like they are in heaven. You read the pamphlets in the doctor’s office that tell you “Breast is best!” and “Bond with your baby!”  You hear about women that go so far as to pump their breasts to produce milk for a baby that they intend to adopt just so they can breastfeed. The pressure from every angle can be enormous.

Then come the veterans. “Breastfeeding is the best thing I’ve ever done. Look how fat and healthy my little baby is!” She says that with a baby swinging from each boob and her phone planted firmly in one hand and a frying pan in the other. Super Mom. Another pats her flat chest and tells you “Yea, I put these things to good use, finally.” Then comes the praise. “Oh, you’re breastfeeding? Wonderful, you’ll love it!” All of these women are telling you all of these wonderful things, and explaining which breast pump is best and sharing with you the comforts and the ins and outs of being a breastfeeding mother. But they’ve all neglected to mention one important fact: That shit is hard. Hard.

They’ve forgotten that the nights are longer and the diapers are dirtier. The woman forgot to tell you that the breastfeeding consultant at the hospital had to shove her tits sideways and put a plastic cap on one of your nipples to get her baby to latch on. No one mentioned the aching breasts and the overfull nursing pads. They certainly neglected to remind you that now that you’re breastfeeding, everyone else hates your guts. That’s right, someone had to say it. You have been shunned in stores, restaurants and on television, and maybe even scolded by your family or friends. And by whom? Not by men alone, but by women that consider themselves to be “openly progressive”.

Breastfeeding used to be normal. Before the days of bottles and lactose intolerance, there was breastfeeding only. Do you think the Modern Cavewoman published articles on how to mix their formula? Hardly. But as people “evolved” and learned to hate their bodies, the emergence of the modern infant formula and the lack of time for working mothers created a taboo for any woman that wanted to bare her breast for her baby. Breastfeeding went from the only thing available to a “powerful statement of motherhood.” It’s not. It’s simply still normal, and that’s the goal that needs to be worked on: Striking a balance between what’s formerly unacceptable and what’s “normal.”

The worst part is this: People don’t respect each other. Using the terms “each other” applies to both the nay-sayers of the breastfeeding world and the mothers who are feeding their children. While some refuse to turn their heads, it can be just as difficult for the unabashed to not whip out their breasts and flaunt them just to make people turn their heads. It’s a delicate balance, and we who are trying to normalize breastfeeding are striving to find it.

I can remember going out to dinner with my parents, husband, and some family friends. We had the biggest table in the smallest restaurant in town. Everyone could see us. My baby began to get fussy and the only thing I could offer her was my breast. I attempted to use a cover, which was incredibly difficult considering she was kicking it off the entire time. Getting her to latch and begin nursing proved even more difficult as I felt the awkward stares and began to tense up, causing my milk to not flow and the baby to rip her mouth from my breast. My mother, as helpful as she was trying to be in hiding me, we created a bigger spectacle of the ordeal by trying to be discreet. I may as well just had a blanket over my head. I tried, she tried, we really did, but my baby was very uncooperative and I’m pretty sure everyone in the restaurant inadvertently saw more than they wanted. For that, I apologize as it was certainly not my intention and I feel just as weird about it as you do.

But the thing is we shouldn’t feel weird. Breastfeeding is completely natural but the circumstances sometimes are just not ideal.

The Unofficial Rules of Breastfeeding in Public

Now that we’ve established that the problem with breastfeeding in public is not the pornographic nature, but the lack of genuine respect for our fellow human, then we can establish a few rules for both sides of dealing with the ordeal.  Let’s start with some basics that we can all relate to.

  1. You don’t have to say anything at all. There is never any situation that can’t be improved if you keep your mouth closed before you vomit your opinion all over someone. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t speak up, nor ask for privacy. If you’re a breastfeeder, you don’t have to ask for nipple shield or a hand to hold your baby up, and if you’re an observer then you don’t have to stare, help, or open your mouth. Non-feeders do you know what this does for feeding moms? It lends us confidence. Yes! It lends us a feeling of normalcy that we need to nurse comfortably and “quietly nourish” a baby instead of nervously fighting with a screaming infant while there is a boob flopping around like a fish out of water.
  1. Learn the body language. Face it, restaurant servers, there isn’t a flag that we carry around telling the world we breastfeed, and if there is, it’s a t-shirt we’re wearing with wet spots on the chest, a white streak on the back, and some mystery yellow stain on the elbow. That’s all. Some of us could use a little bit of fawning, but some of us just want discretion and feigned disinterest. Our attitude (or attitude problem), and the way we carry ourselves will tell you if we need an extra hand. We, in return, will do our best not to alienate you if you do try and help.
  1. Remember why we do it. Really, the whole breastfeeding thing isn’t about mom, and it’s not about you. There is not a woman on this planet who breastfed her baby because she wanted what was best for someone else. Mom’s milk is the best thing for a baby, and any mammal will agree. Since babies never did anything to harm anyone, should it really be that big of a deal to dredge up a head turn? Should it really be that hard to look the other way when you see something like that? You’re looking the other way for other things, aren’t you?

For the Moms:

  1. A little warning never hurt. I’m not saying you have to stage a nurse-in, but telling someone that you’re going to need some space is good for a couple of reasons. How? It will give them a chance to either accommodate you, leave you alone, or try and kick you out. If you find someone accommodating (or willing to leave you alone), great. If you find someone that tells you no or that you have to leave, it gives you a chance to fight back properly, before you have to go through the ordeal of being kicked out for doing the right thing.
  1. Be discreet. A lot of complaining is done about women needing to be covered. Most women already cover their babies and do their best to cover their breasts. The ones that don’t probably can’t. Babies are people and people do what they want – and babies do what they want, which sometimes means kicking off every single blanket you put on them. That’s fine, you can’t see anything with a bald head in the way anyhow, however, don’t call attention to your task by having your partner pretend he’s Justin Timberlake and rip off your nursing bra like you’re Janet. Wear your best boobie shirt and take off.
  1. Remember why you’re doing it. Breastfeeding is difficult, especially in public but it’s worth it. You’re doing this for your baby and no one has the right to frustrate you on purpose. At best, people can be ignored and you can’t stomp out ignorance alone. It’s ok to stand your ground, even if you ARE asked to leave.

And finally, for the non-believers:

  1. Ignore us, we’re not creeping your husband and we’re not shooting milk on you.

No, really. There’s nothing better that you could do than turn your head if you are offended, and keep your mouth shut if you have a negative opinion. Don’t ask us to go to a restaurant restroom to feed our babies. Do you eat in a smelly shit house? I think not. 

That’s pretty much it. If you don’t like what you see, turn your head. It’s not your business what’s going on at the table next to you, is it? Scarface should have taught you that. It’s not your business on the bus, it’s not your business in the library! Mind your own business! We aren’t trying to come on to anyone, we’re trying to relieve the ache in our breasts and get the crying baby to stop. Do we really live in a society so oversexualized that we’ve forgotten what breasts are for?

Think about it.