Those offended by breastfeeding need to grow up!

Toula Foscolos
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It should be completely unnecessary for me to have to defend breastfeeding in public, in this day and age, and yet here I am, still having to do so.

Toula Foscolos

Recently, a heated Facebook discussion erupted on a friend’s page when he questioned whether a husband was in the right to be upset at his wife for breastfeeding their child in the middle of an Impact game. The responses came in more furiously and speedily than I’ve seen any soccer game play out.

Some people defended the woman’s choice to discretely feed her child, while others wondered whether a public place like the stands of a soccer field was the way to go. Couldn’t the woman had left the baby at home, or fed it by bottle, or gone to the bathroom for a brief moment, they inquired? I was left wondering, amazed, (and I won’t lie) extremely frustrated that this is still an acceptable topic for debate.

Let’s get one thing straight once and for all: breastfeeding is about feeding your child. There is nothing controversial, compromising, or pornographic about it. It’s natural and nurturing and a woman should be able to engage in it without feeling like she’s somehow offending someone’s silly sensibilities.

The World Health Organization (WHO), Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society couldn’t be any clearer on the subject; they recommend breastfeeding as the best method of feeding infants because it provides optimal nutritional, immunological and emotional benefits for growth and development. In short, breast milk is the best, healthiest, and most cost-effective way to feed children. 

In Canada, about 90 per cent of new mothers (the rates are higher for women with post-secondary degrees) start breastfeeding when their children are born - an excellent rate. By three months, only half of them are still exclusively breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics lists a lack of support in society as one of the obstacles to breastfeeding success. While I admit that there are many factors contributing to this decrease, if we, as a society, recognize breastfeeding's benefits, the stigma attached to engaging in it, in public, is certainly worth addressing.

There is nothing controversial, compromising, or pornographic about breastfeeding.

A few years ago, the editors of US BabyTalk magazine received numerous complaints from readers after the cover of an issue depicted a baby nursing at a bare breast. Even though the model's nipple was not shown, readers—many of them mothers—wrote that the image was "gross".

Gross? What does this reveal about our cultural biases that we can live in a world where the female body is routinely displayed naked or semi-naked for crass commercial purposes, yet the image of something so natural and pure somehow offends? How can anyone pretend this debate has anything to do with modesty? What sane woman seeking to feed her child in public is going to go out of her way to expose herself? Nursing moms typically show less cleavage than celebrities show on the red carpet, yet while the latter are shown on primetime TV, the former are shunned from the public’s virginal eyes? Unacceptable!

The real problem lies with the fact that we’ve been raised in a society where it's simply normal to see Victoria's Secret models strutting around on TV in a push-up bra and panties but it's no longer considered normal or appropriate to see a baby nursing from its mother’s breast. Lingerie and fashion models, whose breasts are barely covered, while they sell us everything but the kitchen sink – with a side of boobie, of course -- is somehow ok, but a woman feeding her child with, gasp!… that same breast, is somehow offensive to people afflicted with a sudden onset case of pseudo-puritanical modesty? Spare me!

The difference, of course, is the function. In advertising, women are objectified. Their purpose is to be leered at and lusted after. When a woman pulls out her breast to do exactly what it was made to do, it shocks those who only associate mammary glands with sex. It’s time they got over it.

Organizations: World Health Organization (WHO), Health Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society American Academy of Pediatrics US BabyTalk magazine

Geographic location: Canada, Victoria

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Recent comments

  • Ed Jurick
    October 05, 2012 - 15:33

    Well now, I think Foscolos should grow up instead of telling us.. If she wanst to breast feed her baby in public then she should move to a country where they do. In Canada, we don't. As a matter of fact, I cannot think of any country in North America where it's normal. I guess she will have to cross an ocean to feel comfortable. Bye Toula.

  • andrei
    September 20, 2012 - 18:53

    I believ that even this is a natural thing, it does not make a valid argument. brest feeding your child in public was not welcomed just few years ago. Ms.Foscolos is avery inteligent, well educated person and she knows how to write. I hope that your mother remembers that there is a matter of privacy that the younger generation don't care about. Does the word decency rings a bell?

  • Kelly
    September 20, 2012 - 06:28

    One of the things that amazes me about this debate is that a lot of the very same people who think breastfeeding is "gross" and they "don't want to see it" will turn around and say "awww!" at pictures of kittens or puppies doing the same thing. Seen that a bunch of times on facebook and I'm totally mystified by it. Part of me wonders if it's not so much the sexualization of breasts, as much as it is that people don't like reminders that we are actually animals/mammals. It's a disruption to the idea that we are somehow superior to nature, and a reminder that we're actually part of it.

  • Sheila Alteza
    September 19, 2012 - 20:54

    I had an experience in one of the malls here in our place when I was breastfeeding my toddler in the foodcourt (discreetly of course) because he was having tantrums, a female security guard approached me and told me that they have a breastfeeding station and that it's not allowed to breastfeed there. My son doesn't like going to the breastfeeding station because he was so amazed with the room and doesn't want to feed there. I also know that breastfeeding is a great tantrum-tamer. But, I just let it the incident pass and stopped feeding my son so as not to make a scene. However, after reading this article, it made me realized that I should have defended myself and my son. We should be more vigilant about this advocacy!

  • Shoshana
    September 19, 2012 - 12:54

    One of the most well written commentaries on the stupidity of the breastfeeding "debate". "it's time they got over it". BRAVO.

  • Naturo-Mommy
    September 19, 2012 - 12:08

    I HAVE to say a thought popped into my mind when you addressed the Victoria Secret models: "What if the models modeled nursing bras too?"

  • Josée.
    September 19, 2012 - 10:40

    This! THIS!! There is nothing more beautiful than a mother nursing her child. It completely baffles me that in 2012, people get offended by it.

  • Georgia
    September 19, 2012 - 10:19

    It's amazing how people tend to forget that we are mammals. How can there be a debate about public breastfeeding?

  • Rachelle
    September 19, 2012 - 09:19

    Exactly what I have been saying for the past 21 years, it is a shame that it still needs to be said. I thought we were making progress, I guess it is just a lot slower than I would have liked. For years I received trouble (told to leave, told to stop, told to go in the bathroom) for breastfeeding everywhere I went, at least now I am seeing women breastfeed much more often and with the internet their is enough support not to feel alone.

  • william konig
    September 18, 2012 - 10:58

    Well written article and anybody who is offended by this natural act should seek immediate help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ashley
    September 14, 2012 - 15:34

    This is very beautifully written. It is crazy how breastfeeding has become so controversial. People feel it is their business to tell moms how to feed their children and many believe breastfeeding should stop after a year. Educating moms will definitely change their minds. Great article!

  • Jackie
    September 14, 2012 - 03:35

    Exactly, you said it!

  • Liane RN IBCLC
    September 14, 2012 - 01:34

    Well put !

    • Phil
      September 18, 2012 - 06:20

      Very nice article. My wife has breastfed both my sons in public many times. We were always very aware of people's attitudes towards public feeding and for that reason she always tried to be discreet. However had anyone dared make her feel bad for feeding our child I would have made certain it was the last time they spoke to a nursing mother! As a canadian Having worked and visited many countries in the world I find north America is really far behind on many social issues such as this one. Get a life people!!!