Monday, April 14, 2008

Nursing "discreetly"

This is one of those concepts that seems on its face to be supportive of breastfeeding, but in reality smuggles in a lot of negativity, much like "Breast is best."

I must admit, I'm a bit torn on this subject. Many women feel very uncomfortable nursing in public, and worry a lot that someone will see their breasts. And I don't want to discourage these women from nursing in public in whatever way makes it possible. If someone feels she needs a shawl or other cover to go over the baby and her breast, I don't want to tell her she shouldn't use one. Especially since being unable to nurse in public is very likely to lead to early weaning or supplementation with formula, since mothers in our culture definitely need to do a lot of running around: errands, shopping, school activities for older children, and so on.

However, I think I may safely target those who offer advice to women along these lines: "Of course you should breastfeed! And if you need to do it in public, there are ways to do it discreetly." Or, "You're going to nurse? Great! You'll need lots of nursing tops, and this nursing wrap, and a pump and bottles so you can use a bottle when you're out." The surface message is that you should breastfeed your baby, but the subtext is that nursing is dirty, shameful, and abnormal, and must be hidden.

In addition, sending the message that one needs to buy lots of paraphernalia to nurse puts impediments in the way of nursing. You know what you need to nurse? A baby and a boob. Even one will do! Now of course it's nice to have some nursing gear (and a pump and bottles are very important if employed mothers want to exclusively use breastmilk), but it is not necessary, and it should not be pushed as a way to hide what you're doing!

Nursing is normal. It is not sexual. It is feeding a baby, and there is no need to push women to hide that they are feeding their babies.

So I say, if you are bold, if you are not shy, please go out and nurse indiscreetly! The more of us who do so, the more likely our daughters will live in a society that accepts breastfeeding as normal, and looks on nursing shawls and scurrying to the restroom to nurse as quaint artifacts of the olden days.


Anonymous said...

I don't know about the logic of this. Pissing is normal, too, but we women don't usually do it in public because it grosses other people out-- guys particularly (go figure!). Guys are also not supposed to piss in front of women and particularly in front of girls even though pissing is not a sexual thing, is it? The breast has two functions and one of them is sexual; in our culture we are not desensitized to seeing breasts as nonsexual. Are you saying that we should get there? That's okay with me because I'm flat-chested except when I'm pregnant or lactating.

Gramomster said...

Yay! Yay yay yay! I'm totally with you! Although my kids are 18 and 16, I was a very indiscreet nurser, as was my own daughter at the tender age of 16. Yup, she had a drug-free, midwife attended birth at barely 16, and nursed the little fellow anywhere and everywhere.
Boobs are lovely, but they really are there to provide food. A redefinition of the boob is long overdue.

Cogito said...

Hey, thanks for the comments!

Anonymous poster, I see what you are saying. But I do think we should get to a place where breasts are acceptable to see in public in a nonsexual context, much like seeing women's thighs when they wear shorts on a hot day. There was a time when even an ankle showing was very risque, and we managed to get over it. I trust we can get over the breast thing as well. And that doesn't take away the ability to enjoy the body part as a sexual object in the right context, either.

Gramomster, that is so great - your daughter must be a very strong person! Thanks for starting a nursing legacy.