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.
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.