Let's Talk About Breasts: It's World Breastfeeding Week

By: Rachel Peller, Office Intern

I want to start off this post with full disclosure: I don’t know the first thing about breastfeeding. I’ve never in my twenty-two years held a baby up to my breasts, and I honestly don’t know if I’ve even actually seen anyone breastfeed in real life. Ever. (I mean, okay, minus the time I was breastfed myself, but that’s a whole different conversation that I’m sure Freud would go bananas over.)

But anyway, my complete and utter naivety and ignorance about breastfeeding is exactly what makes me qualified to write about it.

We as a society have this big hang up about boobs. They’re simultaneously idolized and stigmatized. They’ve become an object of fixation, a tool for power, shame, and dehumanizing lust.

The popularity of Susan G. Komen’s Breast Cancer Campaign really comes as no surprise – we love talking about breasts, and we love doing it in a PC, humanitarian, sort of self-righteous context. We’re allowed to say the word “breast” out loud and even host events like “Bowling for Boobs” under the guise of helping survivors. I’ve seen pink trash bins, pink power tools, pink laptop cases, pink you-name-it, but for whatever reason, photographs of women’s mastectomies have been banned from social media sites like Facebook.

It’s become okay to joke about boobs, to lecture about breast health, and to compare bra sizes, but we’re still uncomfortable with “too much” cleavage, with seeing a little bit of nipple, and even with something as natural as breastfeeding.

When you think about it, we should be seeing breastfeeding all over the place. Apparently, breast milk is really easy to digest, which means those little tykes are just gobbling it down left and right (Ha! Get it?). But seriously, they’re supposed to nurse 8-12 times a day for about 15 minutes each time. That’s TWO TO THREE HOURS A DAY. Holy guacamole. And you know how many babies there are in the world? A lot. Like four million in the US alone. So on any given day, at least four million babies could be nursing for two hours a day.

So why in the world aren’t we seeing boobs at every turn?

Since I’m completely uneducated about breastfeeding (through no fault of my own), I decided to talk to a few mommas about their experiences. They said unanimously that it was an instinctive action, drawing their child from their womb to their breast in a fluid motion that symbolized and created human unity. One woman said to me: “You might think it crazy, but there are times I don’t even realize I’m breastfeeding- the act really just becomes so part of you.” She was right – I do think it’s crazy. But I also think that those crazy things in life are what make humanity so beautiful.

Unfortunately, breastfeeding in public is a much more complicated picture. Society once again entangles women in an impossible web of limits, restrictions, and judgments. If you’re too discreet, you’re a prude, ashamed of your own body. If you’re not discreet enough, you’re flaunting your breasts for attention. If you breastfeed for too long, you’re creating overly-dependent kids. If you don’t breastfeed long enough, you’re selfishly depriving your child of a bonding experience. How can you win?

As one of my interviewees stated, “While breast feeding is indeed nothing to be ashamed about, quite the contrary, it is up to the mother to decide when and where she feels comfortable feeding her baby.”

We need to stop ensnaring women in lose-lose situations. We need to create and develop avenues for fulfilling, nourishing actions. Breastfeeding has so much potential to be a positive and enriching experience, so let’s harness that and make it accessible.

Breast milk, especially at the very beginning, is known as “liquid gold” because it’s so rich in nutrients and antibodies. It’s basically magic juice run by genius fairies, because it matches what the baby needs and what s/he can hold at a time. It fights both short-term and long-term health problems. (As an unknown author once put eloquently, “Breast milk is better than any udder milk!”)

It’s really great for women, too, because it lowers the risk of ovarian cancer, postpartum depression, and even breast cancer (which is a lot more productive than just buying that pink IPod case). Also, it’s FREE. (Sometimes there is such a thing as a “free lunch”, if you know what I mean.)

But breastfeeding isn’t just about the practical stuff. It can also be an enriching experience on an emotional and spiritual level. As one momma said to me, “I see breastfeeding as one of the ultimate feminist acts. This is something no man can do – this empowers me as a woman.”

In our fast-paced, multi-tasked world, it can offer a chance to reconnect with our values and with our very existence. “It is not only good for the baby but good for us too – to slow down and focus on what is really important.”

Unfortunately, everyone isn’t able to breastfeed the way they’d like. Schools and workplaces often don’t allow infants to be present, and the nine-to-five schedule certainly doesn’t fit with a newborn’s persistent hunger. Many women don’t have the option to take two hours out of their day to breastfeed, even if they are multi-tasking while they do it.

The good news (because there’s always good news) is that the situation seems to be changing and there are ways that we can all be supportive.

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (a “global network of organizations and individuals who believe breastfeeding is the right of all children and mothers”) hosts the World Breastfeeding Week every year from August 1st to the 7th. This year’s theme, “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers”, encourages continued community support to encourage and allow women to breastfeed, especially several months along. The call to action focuses on the importance of peer counseling and “women-to-women support.”

WABA recognizes that support used to come from families and communities, but increased urbanization has alienated individuals from their traditional support networks. So basically, what needs to happen is that we have to create supportive spaces for breastfeeding women. We need to develop smaller communities and networks where women can learn from one another in an intimate, personal, and honest way.

Also, we need to get real about breasts.

We need to make it okay for women to whip ‘em out in broad daylight, to acknowledge that breasts are more than objects of desire, to end the stigma of showing too much cleavage or not enough. We need to allow women to make the right decisions for themselves and for their infants without worrying about judgment, pressure, or demands from others.

In closing, however, I do want everyone to keep in mind the most basic Nursing Mother Principle: Do not nurse a kid who wears braces.

Information gathered from http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/ ;http://waba.org.my/aboutus.htm ; http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/The author recognizes and apologizes for the use of cisgendered language, which was employed in regards to the expected audience. Please direct any comments and concerns to info@feministschoosinglife.org

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