Breastfeeding is beautiful; not sexy.
There are many challenges with breastfeeding: excruciating pain (refer to previous article), latch issues, consumption ambiguity, pump problems… There are too many challenges to list off, because it is different for everyone, however, one challenge that most women can relate to is public perception of this natural phenomenon.
We are taught that breasts are for pleasure. Breasts are not meant to be exposed in the daylight nursing a baby. They are obviously part of our biological makeup to be seen embraced in beautiful lace bras, bountiful, round and symmetrical in dimly lit environments (or whatever your sexual preference is).They meet the needs for sexual arousal, certainly not the needs of hungry, growing babies. When this perfect perception of breasts is challenged people become outraged… For some reason engorged, lopsided or chapped breasts comforted in milk stained nursing bras are offensive. Because, of course, the main reason we choose to nurse in public is to pick-up men, right?
If you have not yet caught on, I am a bit salty about the matter. If the first two months of my breastfeeding journey were not hard enough, being afraid of the public perception of breasts really helped ease me into this new role. I would often sit in the truck to nurse her, because of my fear that someone would confront me for exposing myself in public. I was afraid to be made to feel like I was perverted, or that I was the problem. I was afraid of people staring, laughing or judging. I was afraid men* would gawk and women would gossip or yell at me. Due to the long perceived notion that my breasts were meant to attract men and to offend other women and News stories of women being shamed for nursing in public, I almost let them win. Years of working in the restaurant industry helped instill this way of thinking. I was brainwashed into believing that breasts can make or break a dinner experience: women will not tip while men will tip more depending on how much skin is exposed. Ugh. It pains me to even say this out loud, I am disgusted that I totally bought (or sold) into this over sexualized concept. I truly hope the world will change by the time my daughter is grown and paying her way through university, probably following in my footsteps, bartending. If we want change we need to be part of the change. Cliché, I know, but it’s true.
Although I am completely supported by my fiancé and entire family, most women are not as lucky. Not only do I have an amazing support system on the homefront, my community has a very progressive attitude towards breastfeeding women. There are processes in place to accept certain businesses as “Breastfeeding Friendly Zones” where companies will hang posters after meeting certain criteria such as having a comfortable area, and knowledgeable staff, letting their customers know of their acceptance. Even businesses that do not overtly accept breastfeeding, entirely support it. I feel extremely fortunate to have never been confronted about nursing, but even then, I should not have to feel “fortunate”. Everyone should feel comfortable to nurse their child whenever they show signs of hunger. Thankfully, I live in a supportive community where seeing a woman nursing her child is not uncommon.
Unfortunately, many women have to struggle to be accepted, they hide in bathrooms, they resort to formula feeding in public,or, my absolute favorite: are not allowed because their partners do not want them exposing their breasts to other men. I’m sorry, WHAT? You grew this baby in YOUR womb for 9 months, nurtured your body to nurture the baby, chose to alter your whole body and life to welcome the love you both made, but he has a say in how you’re going to feed your baby, with your body? He is allowed to tell you, you are not allowed to use YOUR breasts for their nutritional purpose because they are, essentially, his? That’s a no from me. It’s YOUR body. No matter what you choose, it is your body! If YOU choose to keep your breasts to yourself, if you want to only nurse at home, if you want to wave them around like you just don’t care, that’s your choice. Unless you are being harmful, no one can tell you what you can and cannot do when it comes to nourishing your child or your body. The choice is ultimately up to you.
We can be part of the change by confronting those who confront nursing mothers. We can be part of the change by nursing without fear. We can be part of the change by not reacting to seeing a nursing mother but accepting it as if a child were having a bottle. We can be part of the change by having conversations with our children about breasts being purposeful rather than sexual. We can be part of the change by teaching our children. We can be part of the change.
*Please note this is a blanketed expression and I know men are not innately perverted unable to contain their arousal and wandering eyes, I know for a fact that men are sweet, supportive and are not consumed by sexual fantasies.