Barbara Higham discusses why she approves of breastfeeding in public.
In the 21st century, when images of the most disturbing nature are instantly accessible to anyone with Wi-Fi, it is still an almost daily occurrence to read news stories of women being asked not to breastfeed their babies in public spaces. There remains a sizeable number of people who will take offense at the sight of a mother lovingly nourishing her child at her breast. Many of the media reports are followed by corporate apologies and unconvincing messages of support for breastfeeding. These serve mostly to underline the fact that mothers who stop to breastfeed their babies, as they go about their daily lives, cannot do so without fear of encountering unpleasant reactions.
Publishing anything that advocates breastfeeding, especially in public spaces, can lead to a backlash from those who think it is overrated or who do not like to see mothers and babies breastfeeding. Heated social media discussion occurs when people disagree and, when breastfeeding is under the spotlight, many people are stirred to share their opinion. Here are some of my thoughts.
I have yet to meet a woman who wants to flaunt her bare breasts while nursing in order to invite sexual attention. A mother feeding her little one has already found a mate and even if she is on the lookout for a replacement, rest assured, when the baby wants his milk, attracting you won’t even cross her mind. If the sight of a bare breast disturbs you, then have some respect and do not gawp. This isn’t about you. Whether you are aroused or disgusted by the sight of breasts has no bearing whatsoever on the act of a mother feeding her baby. There is nothing immodest or shameful in the act of a mother uncovering her breast to feed her child.
Nor is there anything wrong in a mother and child deriving physical pleasure from the breastfeeding relationship. Breastfeeding is one of the greatest pleasures of motherhood (physically and emotionally) and babies and young children love it too. There are many different manifestations of human love, are there not? Objecting to the idea that a mother or child may experience sensual feelings of pleasure is a crude and puerile way to look at what is a normal and wholesome behavior.
During lactation, breastfeeding mothers and their babies release the hormone oxytocin, which is also released by couples during sexual intercourse. The same “hormone of love” or “happy hormone” is released too when you hug your grandmother or stroke your dog, or help a blind person cross the street. It is part of our biological design so that we enjoy doing things that are good for humanity as a whole, and which drive our survival as a race.
Birth and breastfeeding are a pretty earthy business. Some mothers orgasm when giving birth, although I don’t think it is a widely common experience. Whether or not women experience feelings of pleasure in their genitals during birth or breastfeeding does not mean they want to engage in sexual intercourse: we women are complex creatures (physically and emotionally) and it is part of our design to enjoy breastfeeding for good reason, otherwise you’d not be here on this earth to argue about it.
Breasts are beautiful and may be a part of how human females attract their mates, just like beautiful eyes or legs, but revealing them and using them for their primary purpose to feed babies has never been shown by any research to have an adverse effect on how a child develops its own sexual urges. If anything, the child that is breastfed on cue by a responsive mother until it is ready to stop will likely be more comfortable in his or her own skin, and less likely to have insecure or unstable hangups rooted in some perverse sense of shame, making it more likely too that he or she will go on to have loving and successful relationships in adult life.
Women’s Health Today has approached this topic of breastfeeding as the normal way to feed a child before. Two notable (of quite a few) posts are Natural-Term Breastfeeding No Longer Under Wraps and When Babies are Unwelcome at Weddings. And recently, the blog has touched on the topic in a series of posts by international public health figure James Akre. His focus of interest is the sociocultural dimension of breastfeeding as the biological norm for nurturing infants and young children, and how we might identify ways to ensure that breastfeeding (and breast-milk feeding) become routine once more everywhere.
Author and lactation expert Diane Wiessinger once wrote, “Instead of waiting for the world to accept public breastfeeding, mothers can get people so accustomed to the sight that they just don’t notice any more.” Until that happens, I believe we should all be sitting up and taking more notice of our personal reactions toward breastfeeding mothers and their children. A mother should not need to apologize for feeding her child. It’s time people applauded mothers for nurturing their children by breastfeeding them openly and not in secret. By “applauding” I don’t mean you actually need to stand up to clap and cheer when you spot a mother breastfeeding her child, but the occasional smile or nod of approval would, I think, be appreciated.