Home > Parenting > Breastfeeding: What’s the Big Deal?

Breastfeeding: What’s the Big Deal?

Yesterday, The Kojo Nnamdi show had a segment on The Politics of Breastfeeding in Public. Here’s WTOP’s coverage of the story and the subsequent nurse-in. As stated on the show, breastfeeding seems to become a news item every five years or so (Remember the nurse-in at Regan National in 2006?). While not as horrifying as Stewie Griffin being fed by his dad, breastfeeding in public remains an uncomfortable subject for most – even for grown men. The issue is not over legality, as most states allow feeding in public by law, but rather what we as a culture are comfortable with.

In some cultures breastfeeding is hardly an issue. When I visited relatives in Korea as a middle schooler, my aunt, her infant daughter, my sister and I took a trip in a taxi. My aunt’s daughter began to cry so my aunt whips out her breast and feeds her daughter. It’s hard to put into words how this traumatized my pubescent years, but let’s just say I may not have been as excited to see a nipple like an average 8th grader. On one visit to Thailand, I was praying for some villagers. As I made my way around the room, I reached this one infant being held in his mother’s arms. As I went to lay a hand and pray for him, the first thought that went through my mind was, “Awww, he is too cute.” The next thought was, “Oh. What’s that in his mouth?” As if he were reading my thoughts, the baby promptly unlatched and TADA! a lactating nipple. Finally, my wife was reading a parenting magazine a while back and she related an article on how breastfeeding is viewed in Mongolia. In one memorable passage, a Mongolian woman settled discord among her kids by waving her boobs and this would get all the kid’s attention. Talk about milkshake bringing the boys to the yard.

Since it’s not a big deal in some cultures, I’m not sure why it’s such an issue here in the US. I’m not an expert, so my opinion doesn’t mean much. Plus, I’m a guy so that limits my knowledge on female issues to what my wife asks me to go out and buy when she is experiencing said female issue. But I can relate my experiences as a dad, so here goes.

  • Breastfeeding can be insanely difficult and painful – for the fellas, imagine the worst chaffing you’ve ever had. Now imagine that chaffing was on your nipples. And something is constantly gnawing at it. My wife was intent on breastfeeding for at least a year, but she nearly gave up on numerous occasions due to the pain and issues with latching.
  • America’s obsessed with breasts – but we’re afraid of nipples. In fact, they are often the difference between modest and obscene;  PG-13 and R; SFW and NSFW. Heck, the only nipples we seem comfortable with are the shirtless dudes on Abercrombie or Hollister shopping bags. And yet, we’re completely ok with depictions of violence.
  • Breastfeeding is awesome for dads! No warming up formula means you get to sleep a little bit more. Plus, you won’t ever scald baby’s mouth since breast milk is always at the right temperature. Just make sure you make up for it in other ways, like doing the dishes or something.
  • Breastfeeding is cheap – I didn’t say free, as it is taxing on the mom, but as far as money goes, it doesn’t cost anything.
  • Try different positions – my wife tried the Boppy, a nursing stool, among other things, but found that laying on her side was the best for her.
  • For the moms who would like to feed in public but are concerned about modesty, nursing covers are available. My wife liked her Bebe au Lait, which was about $40. Be warned though: my daughter used to get sweaty when she would feed under that thing in the summer months. My wife also found nursing bras and tops to be invaluable.
  • Mastitis is no joke! And no, that’s not a sophomoric word I just made up. My wife had a fever and felt ill.
  • Teething and biting are definitely a concern – here’s a simple tip: if the baby bites you, pinch his or her nose. Since they can’t breathe, they’ll release. It’ll still hurt like heck but at least they’ll let go.

Now there are definitely arguments for and against breastfeeding and on how it seems mothers who feed in public want it both ways (freedom to feed in public, but privacy in that they probably wouldn’t want people to stare). I won’t get into that here because once again, I’m not an expert and I’m a guy, but I will say this: the controversy started because people where uncomfortable seeing a woman breastfeeding at mall, but heck, there are tons of things at the mall that make this Pop uncomfortable. The play area, which I affectionately call the petri dish, all the advertising that will make my daughter ask me to buy things, $3 Jibbitz, Libby Lu (thank goodness those closed down), and Victoria’s Secret (my daughter once ran into a VS, grabbed a bra and said she wanted it. I nearly had a heart attack).

But at the end of the day, aren’t we a country that values choice and individual rights? So if a mother chooses to feed in public and she’s permitted to do so by law, that choice should be respected. And if some creep decides they want to stare the whole time, that’s their right too. All I know is, Baby #2 is almost full-term and I’m glad I won’t need to purchase or warm up formula.

What do you think? Are you comfortable with mothers breastfeeding in public?

  1. June 8, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for the post! Wish more dads would talk about this kind of thing. Helps us mom’s out and normalizes breastfeeding. Like you said, other countries don’t have the issues with public nursing like we do here.

    • Pop
      June 9, 2010 at 8:21 am

      A lot of older and wiser men told me that since breastfeeding can be taxing, the least I could do is get educated on it and I’m glad I did.

  2. Veronica
    June 8, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I really don’t care as long as they’re being discreet. I’ve never seen a mother breastfeeding in public without a blanket to cover the area and that’s totally cool with me. I support their decision to breast feed. I know mothers that choose not to usually have a good reason, but I personally believe that breast feeding is best.

    • Pop
      June 9, 2010 at 8:22 am

      I’m seeing more and more moms in the DC area who don’t use a blanket or nursing cover. I once saw a mom breastfeeding at the grocery store, holding her baby with one hand and perusing items with the other.

      • Veronica
        June 9, 2010 at 5:21 pm

        That is actually kind of hilarious to me. I have to give that woman props for her boldness!

    • June 10, 2010 at 10:00 pm

      I agree! Discretion is key. I appreciate that it is a normal and healthy act, but for a puritanical society like ours, it doesn’t seem appropriate to be breastfeeding without a blanket or cover. The grocery store story is too much. Clean-up in Aisle 5!

  3. June 8, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    It’s good to see a dad commenting on breastfeeding. Only in the US is it seen as such a “problem”. I breastfed both of my kids for 13 to 14 months each and was lucky enough to do this in California, where the law is here to protect our natural rights to feed our own babies. For all moms out there, breastfeeding does NOT have to be painful. Either you or the baby is doing something wrong and there is support available.

    http://perfectingmotherhood.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/10-things-people-dont-tell-you-about-breastfeeding/

    • Pop
      June 9, 2010 at 8:36 am

      Thanks for the link! But I’m going to have to disagree slightly with the notion that “Either you or the baby is doing something wrong.” My wife and I attended LLL meetings, visited with lactation consultants, and read various resources prior to the birth of our child, and we considered ourselves reasonably well-informed and we heard that notion all the time. So when our daughter was being fed, my wife did all she could, but it still hurt. Day 3 was arguably the most depressing & stressful day in our home as our daughter was hungry, my wife couldn’t stand to feed, and I couldn’t do anything. All of this was compounded by the fact that my wife kept thinking that she or the baby was doing something wrong. We had our local LLL leader and a nurse from our birthing center stop by and try to help, but they said my wife and daughter were doing all the right things, but sometimes, despite their best efforts, breastfeeding can be painful for some women.

      So for my wife, she likes to temper the expectations of new mommies-to-be and let them know that even if you get a good latch, it can be painful, but eventually, both the mommy and baby will get the hang of it. For some of the mothers we’ve met who struggled initially, we found this to positively affect their psyche and most of them stuck with it.

      • July 20, 2010 at 11:17 pm

        Thank you for saying this. It’s true; sometimes it just hurts. It won’t hurt forever, but it can start out rough.
        In my experience, it was worse than my natural labor. I cried almost every feeding for days, maybe even weeks, and the latch was right.

        Your wife is heroic for sticking with it and getting through “one more” and “one more” feeding. Hopefully #2 is a natural and isn’t giving Mommy any trauma in this department.

        • Pop
          July 21, 2010 at 10:08 am

          D2 is doing very well. It was painful initially but this time, the uterine contractions were far more painful. She’s a trooper.

  4. June 8, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    I think your last statement sums it up. If they want to do it, let them. If people want to stare, let them. It’s the most natural thing in the world. I, personally, wasn’t comfortable in public even with a blankie covering. Plus, my baby got to hot, but that was just me.

    I think it’s wonderful that you get the word out and feel free, and somewhat knowledgable enough, to discuss it. Go Dad!

    • Pop
      June 9, 2010 at 8:37 am

      Thanks, Angelia! Yeah, when my daughter came out from under the Bebe au Lait, she looked like she just got out of a sauna.

  5. June 9, 2010 at 1:21 am

    “Perfecting” is right; it shouldn’t hurt. Except that mastitis is verrrrry painful. I cried through those feedings and happily avoided the infection thereafter.

    As far as I’m concerned, breastfeeding is one of the most natural and satisfying things on the planet.

    • June 9, 2010 at 1:40 pm

      I hear you about mastitis, it IS very painful. Things didn’t get that bad for me, but I did get clogged ducts pretty often, as I was a heavy producer. That’s when the saying “love hurts” comes to life. Honestly, you or your baby won’t remember the negative aspects of breastfeeding a few years after you’re done with it. As our babies grow up, they find WAY BETTER ways to hurt us physically! Forget about cracked nipples and think about broken teeth… I’m actually working on a post about that, so keep your eyes out for it!

      http://perfectingmotherhood.wordpress.com/

      • Pop
        June 9, 2010 at 1:44 pm

        So true “Perfecting”…or at least that’s what I’m told. :-P My wife actually misses breastfeeding – so good thing Baby #2 is on his/her way.

        And OUCH! I’ll be looking out for that post!

  6. June 9, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Okay, so I see I shouldn’t agree so fast; maybe it does hurt for some women (I’m not even educated on this; my own experience is my only reference) and I know it’s not helpful to think you’re doing something wrong. (I didn’t say that…)

    I don’t remember it hurting; I remember needing to get ready for it (o my, I guess I’m too shy for details) And I remember it being uncomfortable to be soooo full with no opp to feed baby! I’m pretty sure I did breastfeed in public, but also very sure I was modest about it.

    And I maintain, there is one other thing I can think of that has been more satisfying, but you must understand the comment about this being natural and satisfying comes from a woman who still loves to feed people. It’s one of the great joys of my life.

    Also, my mama had eleven babies and nursed us all– even when it wasn’t really in vogue. Her children were born from 1953 to 1970.

    I know, probably tmi. :) Pop, did you read my entry for my mom on Mother’s day? I just gotta ask, I love her so much…

    • Pop
      June 10, 2010 at 8:50 am

      Likewise Beth, I’m not very educated on the matter – I just wanted to share my experiences with the hope that it might help some mother–and fathers–out there.

  7. Dionne Baldwin
    June 10, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    To each her own but I breastfed my daughter and I was fortunate to have minimal problems on my end. She stopped on her own as soon as she got teeth in (grateful!) but due to the culture we live in, while I breastfed in public I was modest about it and covered up. A close friend of mine had a daughter the same age and she is the opposite of me. She whipped it out, fed her daughter and never once covered that huge sucker up while she fed her little girl.

    I could not say I would try to convince any mother to breastfeed or not to breastfeed but I do think it has alot of benefits. I’m glad I did even if it was for a short while.

    For the record I will not be using my boobs to get my kids attention although I am sure I would be successful at getting it and shocking them beyond belief!

    • Pop
      June 10, 2010 at 1:48 pm

      Your comment made me laugh Dionne! It would be shocking for all who saw it, I’m sure.

  8. February 22, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    $author Thank you for such a wondeful blog.

  1. June 12, 2010 at 7:49 am
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