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?