Monday, August 30, 2010

Why Children Should Witness Breastfeeding in Public

A child's life is made up of moments. Children learn by observing and interacting with their world, and every moment adds up to form the basis for the values, beliefs, habits, and memories which will carry them into adulthood. This seems obvious, but what does it have to do with breastfeeding?

Well, what happens if children never witnesses breastfeeding? What if they spend their entire childhood seeing only bottle feeding, both in the media and among the people they interact with? What if a young girl or boy grows up surrounded by sexualized images of breasts but never, or only rarely, witnesses the normal, natural act of breastfeeding a baby? There are some fortunate children who witness their mother breastfeeding a younger sibling, but one look at the breastfeeding rates in the US today will tell you that they are likely not seeing the nursing relationship last for very long.

I am fortunate. My own experience with nursing in public has been wonderful, despite having never seen a woman breastfeed up close and in person until pregnant and attending an LLL meeting. My husband is supportive, I don't work outside the home, and I have never been directly criticized or asked to cover up. My son is almost 18 months and still nurses quite frequently - some days more than when he was an infant! I nurse him in public anywhere and everywhere he wants to. I've noticed that as he's growing older and finding his independence, he needs to come back to me when overwhelmed with his environment, to calm and center himself by nursing. This means that some days he tends to nurse in public more than he does at home. I can’t imagine what life would be like if I was uncomfortable with nursing in public. We have nursed at a wedding, a funeral, a graduation, birthday parties, on airplanes, trains, buses, subways, parks, playgrounds, museums, cafes, restaurants, even on amusement park rides. Everywhere I go, he goes, and so nursing goes.

Recently, we traveled to Scandinavia. In the three weeks we spent in Sweden and Denmark, I observed three women nursing babies, uncovered, at the table at restaurants, and many others nursing at parks and playgrounds. In my entire life living in the US, I can recall seeing only one woman nursing at a restaurant, and very few in other public places aside from breastfeeding gatherings and LLL meetings. The cultural contrast between Scandinavia and the US was incredible to take in, particularly in how I observed children reacting to the sight of breastfeeding. In Scandinavia, I never once saw a child or a child’s parents react with alarm, disgust, shame, or even slight concern when they witnessed myself or other women breastfeeding in public. On a train in Denmark, a group of 15+ teenage boys boarded while I was nursing my son. One sat right next to me and offered a kind smile. Another boy noticed and looked for a second but didn't behave awkwardly at all. The rest likely glanced my way at some point (they were only a few feet away from me), but none acted like it was a big deal - probably because in Denmark, as well as in Sweden, breastfeeding rates are much better than in the US, and the sexualization of breasts is much less profound.

In contrast, here in the Northeast US, I have had several experiences with nursing around groups of pre-teen and teenage boys. What has happened every time was this: one boy noticed, and immediately a storm of whispers, giggles, double-takes, stares and/or shyly averted eyes commenced. "Her boob is out! Pass it on!" While somewhat amusing, it's terribly sad. The reason these boys are so giddy and awkward around the sight of my nursing breast is likely because women's breasts are viewed as almost strictly sexual in the United States. Nipples are powerful enough to trigger massive media uproar and federal investigation when exposed in a “family setting.” Yet we flaunt breasts during primetime television broadcasts. Breasts sell products and ideas, and are widely fetishized. I take no issue with breasts being sexual, but they also need to be seen as nurturing. I believe the view of breasts as solely sexual is one of the primary reasons that so many people seem to think breastfeeding should be done in private, and are against nursing in public, especially uncovered. Breasts are too powerful and too sexualized for many people - that view can trigger a sort of cognitive dissonance when witnessing a sex object being used by a child for nurturance and sustenance. When breasts are seen only in a sexual way, it's no surprise that it could be confusing and disturbing to see a baby's (or worse: a young child's) head in the way of an observer's mental sexual objectification. It's time that our society re-conceptualizes breasts as both sexual and nurturing, and stops shaming women for using their breasts in either manner.

I believe that nursing in public is one of the best things a breastfeeding mother can do for society as a whole - not just to give her own child a healthy start, but to give other people's children the opportunity to see mothering and nurturance at the breast as normal, healthy, and enjoyable. Nursing in public helps re-normalize breastfeeding as the biologically optimal means of feeding a baby, and of comforting and nurturing a toddler or young child who no longer needs breastmilk for nutrition. It is appalling to hear news stories or personal anecdotes about breastfeeding mothers being asked to cover up when they nurse around children not their own. The only real reason people ask a woman to hide breastfeeding when she's around children is if the person doing the asking views breasts as sexual or the act of breastfeeding as too intimate for public view. Yet, breastfeeding is not at all sexual. Why do some people see breastfeeding in that light? Perhaps because they haven't seen enoughbreastfeeding to internalize how normal and natural it is. To convey to children that they should not be witnessing breastfeeding makes it a taboo, a secret, something dirty or shameful that must be done in private – like using the bathroom or engaging in sexual activity, both of which are sometimes ignorantly equated with breastfeeding. Children who receive that message enough may grow up to be adults who don't want to breastfeed, who have to overcome psychological hang-ups in order to breastfeed, who shame or scold women who do breastfeed, or who discourage friends and family members from breastfeeding. Those attitudes harm children and women and society as a whole.

One of the easiest ways to reach children is on an individual level, by simply being visible to them and engaging them, answering their questions if so presented. A young girl who saw me nursing my son when he was an infant looked on in pure astonishment and asked me “what are you doing to him?!” as though I was hurting my baby. I simply smiled and told her I was breastfeeding him, that this was how he ate. It seemed as though she had never before seen a woman nursing a baby prior to observing me. I hope that her interaction with me provided her with a positive memory, and hopefully a question or five to ask her parents. Imagine if she saw another woman nursing in public the next week and every week after that. Eventually, it would cease to be a source of astonishment for that little girl and would become just a simple fact of mothering.

To change our culture’s perception of nursing in public and improve social support of breastfeeding as a whole, we need to start with children. We need to make nursing in public so boring, so quotidian, that it garners no more of a glance or second thought than seeing someone drinking a coffee or hugging a friend in public. We need to allow and encourage children of all ages to regularly and repeatedly witness the beautiful and natural act of breastfeeding, so they will grow up thinking nothing much of it, simply expecting it to be a part of their own parenting lives.

“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” – Albert Einstein
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We are proud to host a guest post today from Rachel. Rachel is a crunchy mom hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of NYC. She writes at Free Childhood!, a personal blog about her parenting journey and strong beliefs about the need for children to be honored, supported, and respected in their freedom and autonomy. She is a fierce advocate for attachment parenting, breastfeeding, homebirth, intactivism, and unschooling and has a low tolerance for misspellings.

64 comments:

I completely agree! "Around children" is one of the places people most often complain about breastfeeding, but I think it's actually very good for kids to see it. Since they haven't learned yet to see breasts in a sexual light, they are completely innocent and curious about it.

My mom has breastfed my younger siblings from when I was 15 till the present (I'm 24 now), and it was completely natural for me. It never occurred to me that I would do anything different. And I certainly don't have any hangups about it! Neither does my husband, who saw his younger siblings breastfed.

I find it very important on a social level to continue to breastfeed my 1-year-old daughter in public, even though she's almost half my height and looks much older. And if I have her sling, I might use it as a drape, but that's it. I have never had a "nursing cover."

Just two days ago my sister and I had our children (12 months and 5 months) at a fair and had to find a place to sit and eat a snack in the shade. We ended up starting a trend and soon there were several families sitting in the shade of a barn along with another breastfeeding mother (who used a cover, whatever makes her comfortable) and lots of children. My sister and I were both breastfeeding and my daughter was too hot to be covered up. It was a delightful and comfortable event and we had no negative responses. In fact we ended up discussing breastfeeding friendly baby carriers with the other nursing mother. I hope this can become more common in our society!

Oh how I wish I could remember and quote verbatim this blog! Good words to live by. Thanks for the inspiration!
Amber

If the "what about the children" people took their objection through to its logical conclusion, they SHOULD be calling CPS on all of us when we breastfeed because, what about MY child? Shouldn't she also be shielded from the GIANT BREAST just millimeters from her eyes?

What a beautiful picture!!! Seriously Gorgeous!

Awesome post! I guess I'm lucky there. I'm #8 of 10 kids, and with the youngest it was my job to burp at the morning feeding. Needless to say, I saw mom breastfeeding a lot as an 8 year old. Now my sister in-law gets so much crap from my siblings for breastfeeding without a cover, it just makes me sick. If I have kids, rest assured they will be intact, sling-riding, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, crunchy babies!

I am no longer nursing (my children are 7&5). Neither one of them has seen many nursing mothers. I want to make sure that neither of them see breasts as a purely sexual thing... I often go topless (and even nude) in my home (mostly because I hate clothing). My children don't act any differently with me being topless than they do with their father being topless. I think if more children were exposed to breasts on a daily basis, then we wouldn't be viewing breasts as such sexual things.

My husband and I had a conversation about this the other day. His younger brother was born when my husband was 6 yrs old, and his mom breastfed. Growing up he saw breastfeeding as a norm, and so never questioned that we'd breastfeed our children (and has been incredibly supportive of me all along the way). He even caught himself as we talked, making a comment about how breastfeeding up to a year was great, though older than that was weird... and then realized, as he said that, that he only thought that because he's not used to seeing it, and that's why it seems like an odd concept.

We are friends with a girl with very limited communication skills, she mostly asks "why?" and "what doing?" but I know that I miss a lot of her communication done in signs. She's 11. I don't think she's ever seen a woman nurse, so white I was nursing my newborn at her house, she hovered around me asking, "What doing?" and "why?" and I wondered if she was able to understand my explanation. Later I nursed the baby again and I saw her joyfully sign to her mother a beautiful improvised breastfeeding sign - two fingers tapped her breast and then two arms formed a cradle for the baby.

I completely agree! I think mothers who NIP are doing a great service to future generations. I never thought about it much when I lived on the West Coast because it was very accepted (at least in the towns I lived in!) Then I moved to the South and there is much more... let's call it "modesty," just to be polite (see how long I've been here! :D ) I was at a play date at a park the other day and I was nursing my 10 month old and a girl of about 6 walked up to me and asked if I was nursing. I smiled and said yes. Her mother realized that the girl wasn't "giving me my space" and came over to apologize (quite profusely!) and drag the girl away. I told her that her daughter wasn't bothering me in the slightest and that it's good for kids to get the idea that breastfeeding is no big deal. Luckily the mother relaxed and allowed her daughter to just hang out for a bit before she got bored and ran off to play. I felt like a teeny tiny bit of progress happened in that moment, and I hope there were similar events happening all over!

I think that nursing needs to be such a regular thing that nobody thinks twice about it. Most nursing moms are far more discreet than the teenagers in their low cut tops.

It's really twisted that our society has no problem with women walking around in tiny bikini tops or women being topless in movies - but a mother nursing her child is treated like a leper.

Great post! I always saw my mom nursing my two little brothers, so it was totally normal for me. I used to nurse my dolls right alongside her. In fact, I remember seeing a baby take a bottle when I was a teenager and thinking it was so strange!
Now that I've got the hang of nursing and feel confident that I'm not fumbling around, I'm happy to nurse my son wherever he needs to eat: at an ice cream shop, at a fair, even meeting with my colleagues :)

I have 5 children, my oldest is 9 1/2 & my youngest 2 1/2. I have nursed all of my kids until I was a few months away from having the next one, that is just because I wasn't comfortable with the idea of tandem nursing, but my 2 year old just decided not to nurse any longer a few months ago. All of my kids call breasts nursers because that is what Mommy does with them, nurses- lol.

My 2 1/2 year-old is so used to seeing me nurse her 5 month old brother, she "nurses" her baby dolls. I think it is important for kids to see it and understand it. I have also found since I have become more confident in nursing in public I have gotten less negative comments or dirty looks.

As the oldest of 8 children with a mom who breastfed her children for years, I can tell you that watching breastfeeding as a child is CRUCIAL towards developing a culture where nursing is the norm...
at family gatherings, sisters and sister-in-laws all nurse babies with uncles, cousins, and nephews (and grandpa/my dad) all around and having fun and interacting...
My oldest son is 18 and his youngest sister (my #6) is 17 months so he has seen me nursing for years now! He recently went up to his goddaughter (my youngest brother's child) and gave her a big kiss, saying "Hi Sally! You love your ummies don't you!" while she was nursing! It did not even occur to him that this might be a "faux pas", a breast being used for its biological purpose is not the same to him as the breast peeking out of a halter top!

Great post. I still remember seeing my mom's friend breastfeed her baby at our house (in my room even!) when she came over one time. I was seven, and it's the only time I remember seeing anyone breastfeed before having a baby and doing it myself! You never know when you might be that one memory for a little girl!

This is interesting. As a single gal with no children, I can only imagine what I might think about this issue someday if/when I do have kids. My initial reaction is that I wouldn't be comfortable with breastfeeding uncovered in public. If there were a setting where I could have a little distance from the crowd, I would probably do it with a cover. But breasts are, in fact, also sexual, and we are taught growing up, rightfully so I believe, that it's not OK for strangers to try to look at our naked breasts. I have seen and even helped a friend who was a new mother breastfeed, and I don't feel "shame" about such a beautiful thing - I agree that it could be a good thing for kids to see more of this in the home. But at the same time, I don't think I would be comfortable completely exposing myself in public. We'll see how I feel when/if that day comes!!!
@HS Adventure Land - Good point!

Great post! Agree.
I am a nursing Mom now to three children.
Not all at the same time LOL!!
My current boobie baby 11 months old has nursed just about every where there is. I also run a local play group and love the fact that the children will come up and talk to me about what I am doing.
The conversations are quite cute and they are glad to hear I am feeding their friend :o)

I am also happy that the other Moms of this group are welcoming of this. Nursing is a natural normal process of life and I am so happy that it is becoming "excepted" again to the general public. It should be. ;o)

Check out my blog at:
http://thereasonformyinsanity.blogspot.com/
Julie

What a beautiful read! I couldn't agree more. I breastfeed my 2 1/2 year old son in public whenever he wants, as long as I want to as well of course, LOL! And I'm proud to be a normalizing factor for breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding in my community.

I'm not certain I ever witnessed breastfeeding. My brother and I are both adopted, so it never happened in our home. I also come from a very modest home, so we were kind of conditioned to be uncomfortable in such a situation. On the other hand, a few years ago, my roomie's cat had a litter in my closet. Mind you, that cat never liked me. But as I watched mama cat nursing her young, looking too exhausted to hold her leg out of the way, there was an understanding of what it is to be mammal... and a mom. I held her leg out of the way for her, she relaxed and fell asleep. 11 months ago, I had my first child. Breastfeeding just seemed so obvious (though not easy at first). And that was from a CAT. Imagine if you couldn't go to the mall on a Saturday without seeing at least one mom nursing her child...

As a male I feel and always have felt breastfeeding is the most natural and beautiful thing a woman can do for her child, however, even women as girls are taught it is not supposed to be done in Public. I used to work at a furniture store as a wharehouse/floorman and mothers would come in every now and then and sit on one of the sofas and begin breast feeding. My younger coworkers would come into the back snickering and making rude comments. I would tell them to grow up or if they couldn’t handle it I would go get the furniture off the floor for them. So I would go out on the floor maybe briefly look over say hello or smile and then just do complete the job. It is our society that makes the breasts a purely sexual thing that should be hidden away and only taken out in private. As I have spent many years of my military career in Germany I have also seen the bare breast become naturalized. Although I do have to admit the first few times I went to a lake or pool and the women were topless I was quite taken back. But after a while I too could just carry on a normal conversation with a topless girl and think nothing of it. It is all how we are raised. My wife and I walked around in the nude in front of our son for many years, once he got into his preteens I had to explain to my wife that in the American society that if he innocently says something about us being nude in front of him that we could be arrested, and he could be taken away. I am 100% American but I do not agree with the way we sexualize the human body. There have been several times where I would just stare at former girlfriend’s or my wife’s body in amazement of the beauty of the feminine form, not looking in a sexual way but just an admirer of the feminine form. I have often wished that I was more artistically inclined and could somehow capture the beauty of the feminine form with my own two hands. I have heard in the past about people actually protesting about the nude statues in museums because children could see them. I think we all just need to grow up and see the natural beauty of the human form, male or female.

The problem with children having limited opportunity to witness normal breastfeeding even occurs within families. Not too long ago, I had made a home visit to help a mother to breastfeed her newborn. Her 4-year-old son was not at home, having gone to stay with his grandmother while the mother recovered from the birth. The next time I saw this nursing couple, the mother brought the baby in for a follow-up visit to my office, with her 4-year-old in tow. He had been back home with her and the baby for over a week. He played around in the office while we talked. However, when I asked her to show me how the latch was going, she hesitated, looking very reluctant. After I gently persisted that I needed to see the latch in order to evaluate the feeding problem, she finally showed me. The older son's reaction blew me away. He came over, his mouth gaped open in surprise, he said EEEEWWWWW!!!! It became clear to me that this mother had not even allowed her son to watch her breastfeed while at home. A sad commentary on our current cultural attitude.

I have breastfed all 6 of my children. My older kids KNOW that nursing your babies is NORMAL. I'm a bit worried, that my youngest son won't know this simple truth, as he won't witness breastfeeding in his home as a young child. Perhaps as his older siblings grow up, marry and become parents, he will have the opportunity to see breastfeeding happening, and learn it's normalcy, since he doesn't have the opportunity to see other mothers feeding their babies often now.

Totally agree & it was such a well written piece. I love breastfeeding my girls everywhere & anywhere they ask for it. I guess one thing I just always want to watch out for is that it's not always a CHOICE to bottle feed (formula or breastmilk) and I don't like the idea of bottle feeding moms to feel alienated. We all do our best! :)

Great post!! It's only recently that I realized that most little girls feed their dolls with bottles and push them around in strollers. I know I did and I never thought twice about it. It's these experiences that shape decisions we make in the future (whether we are consciously aware of it or not.)

I'm so thankful that as I prepare my body for pregnancy and being in the industry I'm exposed to breastfeeding, babywearing etc. to know what is right for me and my future baby instead of those decisions being made based on what I've been exposed to culturally.

I will proudly be breastfeeding my baby in public :)

before I had my son I didn't think I would breastfeed specifically because I had only experienced my breasts as sexual objects. as I got closer to having him I decided I would breastfeed for six months and now that he is a year old I plan on continuing until he is at least two. I feed him in front of female family and close friends. but a letter from my aunt after I fed him amongst my whole family on christmas eve kind of ruined nursing in public for me. I try to advocate breastfeeding normalization as much as I can and my husband is very supportive as are my mother and grandmother and girlfriends. I hope that we can remove the stigma from our culture for everyones sake. articles like this need to be shared. ty.

Beautifully articulated. I haven't thought about this much since it's been many years since I've breastfed my own children. It's true that we haven't been around families much in the past few years where we see breastfeeding, but we haven't been around many babies lately, period, so they haven't seen much bottle feeding either! It would be wonderful to see it "normalized" in our communities.

Great piece! I love it and quoted you here: http://su.pr/1ZNA7w Thanks, Ceridwen Morris

I am bothered by this entire post. Not only do I not want my 4 year old asking why some lady has her breast out, but I don't want to see it either. I am all for people breastfeeding, but come on do we live in the olden days or the 21st century? Cover up ladies or even better go someplace private.

Anonymous, you apparently have not been very cultured. Women all over the world breast feed and don't think twice about it nor do the people around her and her baby. Breast were put their to breast feed. We just have turned them into something sexual. So yes we do live in the 21st century, unfortunately a lot of people have become very uncultured, uneducated and narrow minded in what is best and why our bodies were made the way they were.

Breast feeding is amazing! It is amazing all the benefits that both baby and mommy get. It is crazy that people are so offended by breast feed in general and breast feeding out in public. I breast fed my son until I stopped producing milk which was when he was a month shy of 2 years old. I think I stopped because I am expecting my second one which I plan to breast feed just as long if not longer and in front of my little boy. He actaully thinks it is cool when he sees other moms breast feeding and says to me "Mommy, baby and mommy love!" How sweet is that! Even though I get very nervous breast feeding in public I do it anyways. I also try to make an effort to commending other mothers when I see them doing the same. I have had some dirty looks and people ask me why I didn't cover up but that is all. Even if I wanted to cover up, my son wouldn't let me. He hated those things. He wanted to see my face and honestly I wanted to see his. Besides how many of us would want to eat in a tiny, dark, hot, and stuffy room?

Being cultured has nothing to do with it. I simply find the whole thing disgusting. It's a matter of modesty. I will freely admit I am not a breast feeder and there are few in my family who are and those that do go into another room out of respect for those of us who find it offensive. I had a cousin who breastfed her son until he was almost 5 and I am sorry but when a child is old enough to crawl under your shirt whip your boob out there is something very wrong with this picture. That crosses so many lines I don't even know where to start. I think even doing past one is ridiculous. Actually doing it at all is ridiculous. That's why we have bottles and formula.

Anonymous,

I was planning on formulating a well thought response to your feelings about nursing past infancy since I think a dialog on this is important. But then you said "That's why we have bottles and formula." So, now my only response can be: /facepalm. Because, obviously humans were meant to drink the milk from a cow's breasts.

As far as modesty goes, that is VERY subjective. My idea of modesty might be vastly different from yours which might be vastly different from another's. Some cultures believe shoulders are immodest, others hair, other ankles. To require people to adhere to a select group's ideals of modesty would be pure tyranny and the complete antithesis of a free society.

When my Amish friends go out in public they are not indignant that others have their hair uncovered and hanging down their backs although that would be scandalous in their beliefs. They understand that others are different and they behave with decorum and not disgust.

Paige @ Nursing Freedom

I probably did come across a little blunt which I will apologize for. I did not grow up around people who breast fed their babies and perhaps if I had I may feel differently about it. I just really hate going out in public places and having some women be so in your face about it. I am 100% bothered by this. I don't want to watch someone breastfeeding their baby while I am out to dinner or at the park with my kids etc.
I caught a lot of hell from my mother in law and her family for my choice not to breastfeed. My thought is that If I am completely bothered by the whole process my baby would not be comfortable either. I enjoy feeding time. In fact it is one of the best times I have ever had as a mother but I get really upset when people insinuate that my choice to bottle feed makes me a bad mother.
That being said I am very bothered in general by older children being breastfed. It seems almost voulger to me. It's one thing to feed a baby, but when I child is walking and talking and eating food at the table with the rest of the family it's time to try a sippy cup

Anonymous,

My immediate response is gosh I wish this person wasn't anonymous because I'd like to plan a nurse-in on your lawn. The problem here isn't that breastfeeding is vulgar, it's that you have been brainwashed into thinking that breasts are sexual and therefore its only acceptable for children to eat from bottles and cups and plates. Would you snatch a baby kitten from his mom or a calf? Trying to convince ourselves that "civilized" society wouldn't be so vulgar, only distances us from our biological impulses. You clearly need to experience more nursing in public to help deprogram your false perceptions of what breasts are for.

I think it's truly a shame that you didn't even try to breastfeed. I think you would have found it a healing experience. I do hope that you do not pass on your ignorant and destructive opinions to your friends and family.

I imagine you fed your babies bottles in public and you probably let your kids eat when you go to a restaurant, nursing mothers nursing children of any age have the same right to feed their children. This website supports that and I can't think of any reason someone so close-minded would bother to read it. Please either open your mind or close your browser.

Jenn@Connected Mom

@Anonymous - your discomfort with women breastfeeding is exactly why this post was written.
As far as nursing older children, you might not understand it, but that doesn't mean your opinion is medically correct. There are a multitude of reasons to continue breastfeeding past infancy. Fortunately, your personal preferences do not dictate my parenting.
I hope that you will consider having a more open mind - your children will greatly benefit from a more receptive attitude. Besides - you say you don't want people to guilt you about feeding your child with a bottle, why would you turn around and criticize breastfeeding mothers? What does that solve? Why can't we just support each other as mothers?

Point taken. I will never understand why women chose to breastfeed but I hate it when people argue with me about my position on bottle feeding. I came across this website and it seemed to touch on all my hot buttons. I don't think I will ever be comfortable with public breastfeeding and I still think it should be done in private but that's the great thing about our country, we can all have and voice our own opinions.

I am a mother of one son and did nurse him but I completely disagree with you. I think nursing is great and that if a mother can they should nurse until a healthy age. However I when you don't cover up with a blanket or uddercover that is just rude. I don't want to see that (and I am a mom), I don't want my young son seeing a breast even if it's not meant to be sexual and it makes people without children who don't understand feel even weirder. Sure in other cultures it is 100% acceptable to nurse uncovered for the world to see, but it isn't in ours. Also who cares if your child thinks bottles is the only way to feed a child, when they have their own children they will learn about nursing and be able to make a decision about it then. So please cover up!

@Anonymous/Sept. 13 - I'd really recommend this post: http://www.intentionalbirth.com/breastfeeding-whose-business-is-it/
Particularly: "I think we live in a culture that allows us to express ourselves about subjects which are none of our business. And that gives many the feeling that their thoughts should be shared simply because they have permission to express them. That isn’t the case.

Using these 3 questions: Is it True? Is it Kind? Is it Necessary? it is possible to filter what might not be helpful to the discussion, no matter which side of the equation/debate your thoughts may hold.

It’s not just about what you think. It’s about the impact of your comment. Does it help? Does it bring comfort and support? Does it bring peace? Does it promote love? Are you bringing forward a part of you- authentically sharing with another with no expectation, just to be helpful?

Or are you being critical? Skeptical? Are you expecting others to conform to your standards? Is the comment divisive? Does it purposely breed controversy? Is it ignorant or hurtful?

It matters."

@Anonymous/Sept. 14: I'd recommend this post for further reading: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/03/13/what-gives-you-the-right/

Does anyone know or has anyone heard of K-12 schools of any kind in the USA or abroad including breastfeeding information in their curriculum? I'm a journalist working on a cultural health education story and am curious to learn of any first hand experiences. Thanks.

I am not really sure whether to respond or not. First of all my name is Amy. I have not been brainwashed as Jenn has suggested nor do I want a nurse-in on my lawn ( whatever that is). No I am not comfortable with breasfeeding, yes I made the choice to not breastfeed. No I do not regret my decision. Yes I bonded with my children just fine. Very few of my family or friends breastfeed their children and my opinions had no bearing on their thoughts or feelings towards the subject.

I actually think there are a lot of women who have feelings such as mine but because of the pressure society puts on them to breastfeed they do what they think they should do instead of what they want. My OB went as far as to tell me what medication I could get to dry up my milk so it wouldn't come in.

As I said before, I enjoy feeding time, but if I am uncomfortable won't my child be uncomfortable?

It's really twisted that our society has no problem with women walking around in tiny bikini tops or women being topless in movies - but a mother nursing her child is treated like a leper.

Actually I do have a problem with women being topless or in a bikini. I avoid the beach like the plague, because I don't want to see it, nor do I want my children to see it. When I was nursing, I only nursed in private, because that is what I felt comfortable with. I did not feel comfortable with my step-father, father-in-law, or male friends seeing me nurse. I did a lot of pumping.

That being said, I still support a woman's right to nurse in public. It just didn't feel right for me to do it.

I had such a hard time breastfeeding when my DD was born 8 months ago. Latch problems, position problems, everything seemed to hurt, I ended up with damaged nipples. I worked with the midwife, WIC, and a lactation consultant and got to where I could breastfeed without pain, but it wasn't really comfortable.

Then, I moved to rural China. I saw breastfeeding. I watched mothers latch-on their own babes, because they were doing so in public, without covers, without apology or shame. It clicked. Latch-on became easy. Positioning was natural. We've been here 6 months, and I'm now comfortable enough to breastfeed in public myself -- I'm not "showing anything off," but I'm not using a blanket, wrap, cover, or bathroom, either.

I really wish every young woman had the same opportunity to see breastfeeding so when they became mothers, it would come so naturally!

My stepson saw me attemtping to breastfeed my daughter as an infant and pumping milk for bottles once I realized she was not going to do so. Unfortunately, he's at his mom's house slightly over half the time & she's put some ideas into his head that are rather objectionable to me. One of them is that "boobs are gross", another is that pink & purple are 'girl colors' and blue & green are 'boy colors'. He's also decided that the pink cup is really red so that he can use it without feeling shamed. It makes me sad to realize that kids as young as 4 or 5 are being taught gender stereotypes, homophobia and that any part of the body is 'gross'.

Hopefully once I move to a 'crunchier' community and my daughter has less contact with her half-brother, I'll be able to erase the damaging statements that he's made to her. I've already made progress with some of them, so I'm optimistic that she'll grow up with a healthier idea about bodies, sexuality, gender roles, etc.

Well said! This is a very articulate post and you make a great case for breastfeeding in front of children (and anyone in public really). It is so important that this "issue" stops being one. The more women breastfeed in public, the more normal it will be. I am pregnant with my first child and I fully plan to breastfeed in public. It just shouldn't feel like I am making a statement, it's because I want to exclusively breastfeed and I don't want to stay in my house for six months! Thanks for the great post.

Love this! I work with prenatals and breastfeeding moms and one reason I had a mom tell me for her choosing to not breastfeed is because her daughter follows everything she does! *Sigh* A perfect way to show that it is normal to breastfeed but that mama didn't feel that way. I wish the culture didn't make women so ashamed of thier bodies! Its a beautiful gift we have been given to be able to provide food for our babies but unfortunately not every one sees this way : (

I have nursed all 6 of my children, actually still nursing the 6 months old and plan to for at least 2 years. I have never hid it from my children and now I have 17 and 14 yr old boys who don't see breasts just as sexual objects, but as what they were intended for.

They even go to the extent of teasing the baby by saying her name and so forth while she is nursing to try to get her to push them away. They think it is funny.

They are also comfortable enough to walk in a room where I am changing, bathing, or even going to the bathroom to talk to me. I have to say I am also guilty of this. I open the door when they are showering and such to ask them questions also. But now I have children who don't see the human body as a sexual object!

This is an excellent article. Extremely well articulated, and I agree wholeheartedly. I recently wrote on my blog about uninhibited breastfeeding in public, and have received a lot of criticism for it: http://redandhoney.com/2011/11/uninhibited-breastfeeding-in-public-reclaiming-my-womanhood-from-perversity/

I am responding to the comments/criticisms one by one (so far I've just done one, but more are coming). That children SHOULD witness breastfeeding so that it becomes normalized is, I believe, the strongest argument. It blows my mind that people can be so ignorant and uninformed in the face of such excellent reasoning.

Thanks for writing this!

My cousin's younger child was born 8 days after my daughter, and his 3-year-old sister would watch me nurse my daughter and tell me, "Don't do that to my brother. He drinks a bottle." I would just tell her that while I enjoyed nursing my daughter, I wasn't going to go around nursing other people's babies. She was soooo worried that I was going to sneak and nurse her brother. She would watch me like a hawk when we were together. I must have made it look so fun that I'd just randomly nurse other people's babies in the rare instance my daughter was not nursing. Maybe that thought will stick, lol.

This article is so important for all mothers to read and discuss! Our perceptions will only begin to change only when we are willing to change our behaviors. I am a lactation consultant and my young boys, aged 5 and 6, still think that babies feeding from 'boobies' is silly... and they see breastfeeding women all of the time. But, it begins with us, so let's begin the change.

I wrote about this and included a link to your article in my most recent blog post: http://sdbfc.com/blog/2011/12/8/breastfeeding-in-public-why-it-is-so-important.html

Thank you so much for writing this!

I realize this is a long time ago, but someone asked about breastfeeding curriculum. New York State developed a K-12 breastfeeding curriculum, which can be seen here:

http://www.health.ny.gov/community/pregnancy/breastfeeding/main.htm

I live in another state now and breastfeeding is not in any of the health, family education, or science curriculum, which is extremely unfortunate.

I am all for women nursing their children but what I find frustrating is when people think that they know better than me. If I don't find it appropriate for my children to see a stranger nursing their child that is my decision. No one should make me feel like a bad mother or decide for me what my children need to see. I would never belittle anyone for nursing in public- that is their business. But anyone who feels the superior need to tell me what is best for MY children need to keep their opinions to themselves. I wish to educate my kids on all aspects of life- breastfeeding, sex, changes that their bodies go through when they are older, etc. Why do people feel the need to take my responsibility away?

"If I don't find it appropriate for my children to see a stranger nursing their child that is my decision."

This is true - it is your choice to feel that way.

If I am understanding you correctly, it's not that you think women should cover up or be stopped from NIP, you are upset by others telling you that you shouldn't mind whether your children see, yes?

I understand that some women are simply more modest or uncomfortable discussing sexual matters because of their past experiences or even their religion. Maybe you are uncomfortable talking to your children about breastfeeding b/c of the way our culture sexualizes the breast?

In my opinion (that you are free not to share), it does our children a great service when we can educate them about the biological function of the breats first and foremost. If they can learn the miraculous way that mothers' bodies are created to nouris their young, then perhaps it wouldn't be so taboo to talk about - and see - breastfeeding.

But I do hear you that it is frustrating for parents to foist their beliefs on one another without taking time to find out where the other person is coming from.

Hello Anonymous from Feb 3,

You seem a bit defensive about the assertion here that all children, yours included, should see breastfeeding, because it seems you feel that as the parent you should control what/when/how they learn about it (and everything?) Do I understand that correctly? I wonder though, if you feel that way about other things? If this was a post entitled "Why Children Should Witness Bottle-Feeding", would you say, "I am all for women bottle-feeding their children but what I find frustrating is when people think that they know better than me. If I don't find it appropriate for my children to see a stranger bottle-feeding their child that is my decision."? If you would NOT say this, then perhaps you can give that double standard some thought.

Another analogy might be about pregnancy. I'm guessing many parents don't feel all that comfortable explaining sex to their kids, but I’ve yet to hear of anyone who hides their children from all pregnant people. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding can be explained easily and in age appropriate terms - "she's growing a baby in her belly" and "she's feeding her baby" are both perfectly sufficient explanations for young children wondering about what they're seeing. No need to explain how the baby got there, or what else breasts can be used for, until you feel it's more appropriate.

Another analogy... there are some people who resent that their children are taught evolution in school because they feel it conflicts with their own right as parents to NOT teach evolution, or to teach only creationism. They say the same kind of thing you’re saying - that other people are taking away their right and responsibility to educate their children as they see fit. While I would agree that parents can teach creationism at home if they’d like, I will not hesitate to say “children should learn about evolution.” Is that a "superior need to tell you what is best for your children"? Perhaps. We all have opinions about child rearing, and we don't all agree. That's okay. :)

So, yes, I think your children, and all children, and all adults, should see breastfeeding, and they should see it often. Here's the thing though - no one who's nursing in public is calling your child over to explain latch and prolactin and oxytocin and show them a video of the breast crawl. No one is knocking on your door to demonstrate breastfeeding to your kids up close and personal. If you truly want to shelter your children from learning about breastfeeding, that's your prerogative. I suggest avoiding zoos and farms. ;)

- Rachel (I wrote this post)

i think that's a valid point, that you don't want people to show your children something that you are uncomfortable with just for the sake of "educating" your children. it probably would feel like they were trying to teach your children for you. and i certainly hope that while many moms who nurse in public hope to normalize breastfeeding if other people see them, that is not their main intent - they are primarily wanting to feed their babies, and maybe hoping that a side benefit will be that other people (and their children) will grow to see it as being normal. i don't think anyone nurses their baby in public only to spread their agenda of making other people's kids comfortable with it. however, i think the whole thing would be a moot point were it not for the fact that in this country we have strayed so far from what is normal that people really don't see nursing in public much, so they don't view it as normal. this does put an unnatural desire in us to want others to see nursing in public and thus reclaim it as being normal, because it is. we'd never be having this conversation if nursing was still the norm in this culture, and all kids would just naturally grow up in a society where nursing was seen as normal. so, while i hope that more and more people will nurse in public so that it will be seen as normal, i wouldn't say that i'd go and purposefully sit a few feet away from kids and make a big production of making sure they saw that i was nursing. i can just do it normally and naturally and hope tht if they notice me that they will also notice others and eventually see it as normal. i can see the point here, because certainly people are entitled to raise their children with the views they want to raise them with and to explain what they want when they want. i can't understand not being able to tell a curious child, "she is nursing her baby. mothers' bodies make milk for their babies to drink." but i can appreciate that others may not want to explain it, even if i don't understand. again, if it was still seen as the normal way for a baby to eat, there wouldn't even be this issue where people perceive that others (real or not) are trying to teach other people's children contrary to what they want them to learn.

They didn't have bottles or formula way back when... How do you think babies got fed? Grow up, sheesh. Breasts were created to breastfeed. Get over it. It's a beautiful thing

I think that if a woman breastfeeding in public is bothering you, then your clearly staring too hard

Well I read most of the posts here and while breast feeding in public is something I think should be natural and normal I do think that some of the posts here saying "It will be good for future generations" or insinuate that you have the right to influence how other parents raise their children is a bit of a surprise to me.....If women are breast feeding to change society view then I think the hidden agenda is unfair.....Do you mind if a women comes up to your child topless? Or someone comes up to your child and tells how they should view things like Creation or Evolution? I completely support the idea of not going into a dirty bathroom to feed your children and to do it in public however I think some on here have gone to far when they try and use something to force change in how parents want to raise their children......

My neighbour's kid only fed her babies with bottles until my youngest was born. Seeing me breast feed means she now breast feeds all her babies. It is amazing to see how one child's perspective was changed just through observation.

I completely agree with this! I dont remember ever seeing babies or toddlers being breastfed when i was a child- i didnt even realise how babies were supposed to be fed until i hit my teens, however i am now a strict lactivist, fed my little boy for a year (wanted to for longer but was very broody! now expecting no. 2 and hope to feed for at least 1 year or 2) My next baby i will openly breastfeed, i covered up last time but i've realised theres no reason why i should- its everyone else thats the problem-not me or my baby

I hate having to breastfeed in public because I am so fearful of offending someone - I BF a 2 1/2 year old and a 6 week old but as a result I hardly go anywhere. Or I spend so much time in my car (also covered in case someone walks by) or a changing room hiding from the world. I avoid extended visits with family or ask for a bedroom for privacy. I won't even BF in front of my mother or any other female (unless a Dr. or fellow BF mom). I think this is a damn shame. I am not doing ANYTHING WRONG! Why does this stupid society succeed in making me feel like I am doing something so shameful I should be hiding. I want to BF in public to help normalize BFing but I am so worried about what so many people might think! I am grateful for those that do chose to breastfeed in public in hopes future generations of women can do so without the terrible shame of it.

In the United states they give out no information on breastfeeding in schools even schools that make you take the annoying doll home to simulate what being a patent is like they give you a bottle for the doll.

How about,you don't look. My 7 week old isn't comfortable being covered and it interferes with his feeding, am I supposed to hide at home and never take my two oldrr children to the park so that YOU can be comfortable? Perhaps if you explained nursing to your son one time you wouldn't have to hear him ask. We're more than 'ladies' we are MOTHERS.

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