Monday, March 21, 2011

Where Are Our Breastfeeding Role Models?

I saw a woman breastfeeding her three month old son while walking around the busy farmer's market yesterday morning. No one told her to take it to her car. No one sent her to a restroom. No one gave her a disgusted look. There won't be an outraged newspaper article, followed by a nurse-in, followed by an embarrassed position statement from the farmer's market association. The simple, beautiful act of a woman feeding her son passed as it should: without fanfare, without event. I admit that I may not have even noticed her if her beautiful toddler hadn't approached my son in his stroller to engage him in a sweet baby exchange. She nursed her son while shopping for vegetables with the agility of a seasoned breastfeeding veteran.
It was just like it should be, and it was a beautiful thing. Sadly, the fact that I am compelled to blog about what should be a common occurrence means that it isn't so common.
Is it any wonder that so many women report having difficulty breastfeeding? Is it any wonder that the act of nourishing a child, something our bodies are so beautifully designed to do, is so hard for so many women? Should we be at all surprised that women, women who are good mothers, opt to forego breastfeeding entirely?
Where are our breastfeeding role models?
Do you know who the first woman was that I ever saw nursing? It was me. Before Jack was born, I had never even seen a woman breastfeed. I've certainly seen babies eat: I've seen moms walking around, well, everywhere, bottle in hand and babe in arms. But before Jack came into my life, the act of nursing was so shrouded in mystery that I had never even witnessed it before.
That's not right. But it is a direct consequence of our "cover it up" culture. How are we supposed to learn if we cannot observe? And how are we supposed to observe if women are being shunned into restrooms or exiling themselves to their homes during feedings?
I want to add my small but determined voice to the chorus of brave women calling for the normalization of breastfeeding, calling for a cultural revolution where the breast is first and foremost for breastfeeding.
I want my son's future wife, and his future daughters and their daughters, to never have a reason to think twice about what I saw at the farmer's market yesterday. I want that to be normal.
This post has been edited from the original version published at Monkey Butt Junction.
We are honored to host a guest post today from Jenn Collins. Jenn is a green mama and natural parent who blogs at Monkey Butt Junction. She has embraced attachment and natural parenting principles in an effort to follow her heart and achieve balance between the demands of a full time job and the call of motherhood.


My mom nursed my younger brother for about 13 months. My older sister had 4 kids before I had my first and all of hers were nursed, longer and longer with each kid. I happily nursed in public, not to make a statement, but to do my part to normalize it. Hoping that at least one person saw it, saw it done discreetly without a blanket, and something clicked. I know I am a breastfeeding role model to a few young women out there. Because they have come back and told me so. =)

I'm right there with you. I had my son 2 months after I turned 16 and I was the first person I ever saw breastfeed. My mom had 4 children and never attempted to nurse any of them.

Jenn, I completely agree that the scene you witnessed at the farmers' market should be much more common than it is today. I, too, had only ever seen one other woman (my best friend) breastfeed before I breastfed my own sons. I was one of the first of my friends to have children, much less nurse them. I count myself lucky, however, that I could turn to my mother for guidance and support since she nursed all three of her children. As she lives rather far away, I wished at times that my mother-in-law had the same experience, but alas, lack of support sabotaged her attempts to nurse, so she didn't even try to nurse my husband's two younger sisters. I have tried my best to be a good friend and support my friends' efforts to nurse using what experience I have, and if I don't know an answer, I will try to find it for them. Hopefully continued attempts at awareness and education of the public will eventually counteract the ridiculous prudishness making our society so backward about this completely innocent, natural act.

To answer the question: I don't remember! I know I saw it a few times when I was younger, but until my sister did it (when I was 16) I never witnessed the specialness of it.

I LOVE to see women breastfeeding! I have never felt the need to cover up or remove myself from a public area, unless I thought it was in the best interest of my child (for example, he needed to calm down a bit and the scene was too stimulating). The ONLY time I have ever "hidden" it is when visiting the firehouse my hubby works at and the only reason I do it there is out of respect for their personal space. None of them would mind if I did though, and they have told me that. I love having a supportive community!

The first person I saw nurse was my cousin who brought her 7 month old son to my wedding. What she was doing looked so natural and normal. I was fascinated. I knew then that despite never being exposed to Breastfeeding in my life I would nurse my babies. I would learn more. My cousin is an amazing role model and I am thankful for her example.

I now have no problem nursing my babies in front of our older children and other kids we come across. I want them to all to see that breastfeeding a babiy is as normal as bottle feeding a baby.

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