Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bloody Brilliant Breastfeeding Blog

Over at The Lactivist, I read about new proposed legislation in Wisconsin to make breastfeeding in public a right (as opposed to simply not illegal) and to levy a fine against those who harass a breastfeeding mother. Somewhat ironically - because, frankly, some of the biggest lactivists I've ever met have also been conservative Christian feminists - the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin has said of breastfeeding, "Just because something is normal and natural — it doesn’t mean we have to condone [it]."

(So - Christians Against Breastfeeding? Interesting.)

The Lactivist wrote what I'm coming to see is a consistently excellent response, from which the following is excerpted:

Am I the only one getting a little sick and tired of this "done with discretion" crap?

There are two issues at play here...

1.) Who gets to define discretion? To me, discretion means that I don't stand on a chair and scream "HEY EVERYBODY! I'M GOING TO BE PULLING MY BREASTS OUT NOW!" before I nurse. To others, it means "covering up" with a blanket or nursing cover. To others, it means pulling the shirt down to cover most of the breast. To others, it means that you shouldn't be able to tell the baby is nursing unless you stick your head up the mom's shirt. To others, it means "don't leave your house you hussy!"

2.) When did people lose the ability to look away? I see a lot of things in public that I don't like. I see teenagers wearing clothes so small that I can tell when the last time they cleaned their belly button lint was. I see women shoving themselves into clothes four sizes too small. I see men that need to invest in belts and suspenders to avoid showing us their own little grand canyon when they bend over. I see people with mullets.

You know what I do? I look the other way. I don't have the right to "not be offended." I have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That's it.

Now beyond that, I really, really REALLY want to know where this magic land is where women "whip it out," "flop it out" and "hang it out" for all the world to see while they nurse. Granted, I live in a state with fairly low rates of breastfeeding, but I have never, ever EVER in my life seen even a smidgen of breast while someone was nursing in public. Not once. (Ok, truth be told, I have a hard time seeing moms nurse in public period...)

Every time I read one of these "done with discretion" comments I go back to that early Lactivist post where I wrote about the women that apparently nurse their children while standing on top of the bar with a tassel attached to the other breast shouting "hey everyone!! look at me!! I'm nursing!!!'

I just don't see it folks...

I'll add that I *have* seen breasts in public - sometimes mine. But in South Dakota, which is actually pretty pro-breastfeeding, in my experience, the breasts are never whipping, flopping, or hanging out. At most, there is the tip of a breast which is partly obscured by the baby's head. And many women cover the breast and baby with a blanket - which I think sucks, because the baby gets hot and sweaty and because sometimes one needs to see what's going on in order to ensure a proper latch - but they do it, anyway.

Which doesn't mean that I haven't heard of (I've never seen myself) the occasional brazen boob sighting. Honestly? I think that's fine. If boobs are ok to see in late-night commercials, the front page of newspapers in some countries, on HBO, at the beach, or at bars and clubs, then they're damn sure ok to see glimpses of in public places when they're being used for their natural purposes.

Now, before I get comments about how disgusting breastfeeding is and how breasts are obscene and all that, let me remind you that if you really believed that breasts were obscene, you'd be picketing the mall for selling tops that easily reveal more boob than does a breastfeeding mom. And frankly, in a world where I have to see what kind of underwear the strangers around me are wearing, I would much rather see a baby being nourished by a breast.

Here's what I think: I think the people who object to breastfeeding in public (and sometimes anywhere, because it grosses them out) can't handle the cognitive dissonance of breasts sometimes being sexual and sometimes being maternal. It's the madonna/whore split all there in one body part. And then there are also people who associate any liquids in the body with filth, and so the idea of someone drinking milk that comes from a human breast literally disgusts them. I'm pretty sure, though, that these same people drink cow milk and eat yogurt, ice cream, and cheese, so I'm not really swayed by that argument.

And then, I think that women who have internalized the notion that nice girls must always be modest have issues with the whole public breastfeeding thing. To them, it seems indefensible to purposely be in a position where one might catch a brief glimpse of boob. Some such women are, I sometimes think, perhaps the same women who police other women's behavior and their own, the ones who are comfortable calling other women "sluts" and "whores" if they perceive them as threats or as having stepped out of line. And others are just profoundly uncomfortable with what, to them, feels like it should be shameful.

I'll take this one step further. There are a lot of things we encounter in public that make us uncomfortable. It's one thing to be uncomfortable when confronted with something new that challenges our understandings of social conventions or of biological norms. Now, I'm not equating breastfeeding with a disability, but I do think it's interesting that able-bodied people often have similar reactions to both, particularly when some sort of impropriety is assumed.

Here's a (weird) example. I had a short-lived (because she refused to continue it) discussion with a woman who insisted that farting was entirely controllable and that it was just rude for someone to allow themselves to fart. (Don't even ask how we got started on this conversation in the first place. No, it was not because I farted.) I pointed out that in many cases, people have no control over this sort of thing - people who have had part or all of their colon or intestines removed, for example. People with Crohn's Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. She never responded to this - I don't know why. Perhaps it offended her sense of decorum to even have such a conversation in the first place. But essentially, her sense of decorum left outside all of the people I've just described. These are, then, people whose very bodies thus become shameful and disgusting as a result of societal ignorance and intolerance.

What we immediately think of as gross or disgusting often says more about societal norms, assumptions, and expectations than about whether whatever it is - two people of the same sex kissing, conjoined twins, women with hairy legs - is actually gross or disgusting.

No, I'm not saying that breastfeeding is the same as farting. But I am saying that breastmilk, according to all research, is not just *good* for babies, but it is the *best* food for babies. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatricians have stated that newborns should be *exclusively* breastfed for a significant time, and that they should be breastfed for at least a year, and that breastfeeding should continue after that for as long as it is mutually desired (the WHO says that it is beneficial for children to breastfeed for SEVEN YEARS). Given this, and given the fact that we as a society readily accept breasts in both sexualized (popular culture, fashion) and unsexualized (visual art) contexts, it is time for us to get over our prurient obsession with the breast. Particularly when it comes to breastfeeding.

11 comments:

Danielle said...

A few things-
If you think about it, the vast majority of censorship in this country is because of moms- because they don't want their child seeing something. It strikes me as hypocritical when they don't like other people censoring them and something they want to do. I was in a situation at work once where one mom was nursing in public, and another was upset that her older son "saw a breast". They wanted me to moderate. It was difficult.

Secondly, is it nursing in public people are upset about or is it nursing in general? Nursing is free. No one makes a profit off of it. All the more reason to intentionally create stigma around it, especially in our money-driven society.

Another thing is that it is, after all, the using of a woman's body to benefit a child. That alone is enough to make some feminists against it, don't you think? When my mom had me in the seventies, there was a lot of pressure not to breastfeed, because you were told that the baby "robbed you of your body" and that sort of thing...

plain(s)feminist said...

Secondly, is it nursing in public people are upset about or is it nursing in general? Nursing is free. No one makes a profit off of it. All the more reason to intentionally create stigma around it, especially in our money-driven society.

I think this is a brilliant analysis. I mean, I don't think that most people even think of it in this way, but I'm cynical enough to agree with you.

Another thing is that it is, after all, the using of a woman's body to benefit a child. That alone is enough to make some feminists against it, don't you think?

Absolutely - and I really appreciate that you said "some feminists," because it's actually a big controversy in feminism. I'm a big breastfeeding advocate, but it's true that bf does tie the mom to the baby in ways that formula does not. It's not that it used the mom's body to benefit the child, but more that the mom loses a lot of freedom. Bf involves time and energy, whether the mom is primarily pumping and bottle-feeding or nursing. And it has to be done regularly for comfort and for nourishment. So it's interesting - there are feminists who argue that breastfeeding is a feminist act, and feminists who see it as a trap. It's true that mothering a newborn can be hard (and rewarding, too, of course), and it's also true that breastfeeding isn't possible for everyone (and even when it is possible, it's not always easy). Feminists on both sides dislike the way that mothers who have difficulty bfing think of themselves as failures (and like anything else, there are always others who are ready to tell them this - "you didn't try hard enough," or whatever).

There's an interesting wrestling match right now between those of us who want to promote bfing and those who feel stigmatized by the promotion of bfing (women who can't bf, for example, or who don't want to). It's not just happening in feminist circles, either.

Now that I've said all that, since I know you're expecting, I'll add, just FYI, that I breastfed my son until he was three. Mostly, it was a positive experience. It did hurt at the beginning, which I understand is common, even if you're doing it right (La Leche is a bit dishonest about this, I feel). But it was doable, and it got MUCH better over time. I would definitely do it again. The extended nursing, too, worked well for me. But I wasn't working out of the home for the first 7-8 months, and then very part-time after that, so it was a lot easier for me than some of my friends who had very little time after the birth before they had to return to demanding schedules. And many of them, as well, managed to nurse for 9 months to a year. And those that didn't continue to have healthy, happy children!

Oh, almost forgot - in the '70s, I think part of what was going on in addition to what you mention was the notion that formula was a scientific advancement over breastmilk. Formula was also a status symbol - it meant that you had money and could afford not to breastfeed. And, of course, formula makers needed to create a market for their product...

My mom had me in '68 - a natural childbirth, and this was an event at the hospital, let me tell you - and breastfed both me and my brother, four years later. I'll have to ask if breastfeeding was unusual, but the natural birth really was. That's another issue feminists disagree over, BTW, but my comment is long enough for now.

Danielle said...

You say that there is a disagreement within feminism regarding this breastfeeding issue. That some feminists try and promote it and think that it's a feminist thing to do, while other feminists think it's a trap and so on.
Are they fighting over what is "more feminist", or are they fighting over which one "women should do"???

If they are fighting over which is "more feminist", I'd have to say that the position that breastfeeding is a trap is more feminist. (My humble opinion).

As far as "What women should do", there is no right or wrong answer. Everyone's different.
As far as what I plan on doing, I have learned the last few months that I really shouldn't be verbalizing my plans, because according to everyone else, I am still stupid because I don't have kids yet, and how dare I plan. I am sure you nkow how THAT goes.

As far as formula feeding being seen as a monetary status symbol- that you are "poor" if you breastfeed- I still see that, even in this day and age.
It's still very common.

plain(s)feminist said...

First - in my earlier comment - I'm not sure if this came across right, but what I tried to say was that, regardless of breastfeeding or formula feeding, my friends' kids today are all happy and healthy.

Are they fighting over what is "more feminist", or are they fighting over which one "women should do"???

I think that actually it's more about whether or not breastmilk makes that big a difference that it's worth it for women to take on what can be a difficult job (depending on the circumstances - personally, all else being equal, I think it would be harder to have to get up and do the formula thing rather than simply unlatch a bra, but again, if you're working a power job, it's probably much easier to share formula feedings with your partner). For instance, my one friend who ran herself ragged trying to go back to work to a really crazy schedule and run over a couple of times a day to breastfeed, and has since said she'd never breastfeed again AT ALL.

I don't know if I've answered your question.

If they are fighting over which is "more feminist", I'd have to say that the position that breastfeeding is a trap is more feminist. (My humble opinion).

Definitely in some schools of feminist thought, but ecofeminism, for example, and some branches of radical feminism would probably be more likely to see it as a strength of women - we can nourish a baby completely from our own bodies - and to reclaim breastfeeding and even natural childbirth as uniquely feminine and therefore feared and hated and "managed" by patriarchy. The "trap" thing comes more from a critique of the idea that women *must* be mothers, and it's part of critiquing patriarchal notions of motherhood and figuring out what ideas of motherhood are positive for women.

I will say, though, that the vast majority of feminist mothers of young children I know are breastfeeding advocates. I would say this is a generational thing if I didn't also know lots of feminists my mom's age and older who are, as well. I don't know if there's any research on how these opinions break down, but it's interesting!

As far as "What women should do", there is no right or wrong answer. Everyone's different.

It's true. But many women have felt that their choices not to breastfeed - which, I should say, are frequently not choices but after unsuccessful efforts - have not been ok. Interestingly, it's not because they're hearing from feminists that they're doing the wrong thing, but that they're hearing this from mothers in general and the medical establishment and La Leche - pretty much everywhere they turn.

As far as what I plan on doing, I have learned the last few months that I really shouldn't be verbalizing my plans, because according to everyone else, I am still stupid because I don't have kids yet, and how dare I plan. I am sure you nkow how THAT goes.

Hee hee. I'll offer this unsolicited piece of advice in case it's at all useful - feel free to disregard. If you think you might want to breastfeed, read up on it and find out the resources in your area before you give birth so that if you have difficulty or you get a blocked milk duct or something, you'll know what to do and who to call and won't feel anxious. And despite what I said about La Leche, they can be very helpful - I went to them, myself and I know people who swear by their book with the (I think) silly title (The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding). It probably sounds silly to you, but at the beginning, even though Bean nursed well, I was really anxious that he wasn't getting enough milk. It's hard to tell if you haven't done it before! So La Leche comforted me - I went to their meetings and sat with nursing women and watched how they did it and they would check Bean's latch and it helped me a lot.

But, yeah. If you tell people about your plans now, they will have an opinion and - strangely - will feel free to lecture you about it. Well, I suppose that that's what I just did, but I hope I did it respectfully and politely and without trying to change your mind. What I mean is that, for example, my parents and my partners' parents felt no hesitation whatsoever telling us that they didn't like they name we picked out. ??? Can you imagine? I just thought that was plain rude. And that is was bizarre beyond belief that they thought it was ok to share that information with us.

As far as formula feeding being seen as a monetary status symbol- that you are "poor" if you breastfeed- I still see that, even in this day and age.
It's still very common.


Wow. That's really interesting.

All of this is making me want another baby!

Danielle said...

I thought "radical" feminism was more along the lines of staying single, never having kids, career only, etc. They advocate breastfeeding?

I would like to breastfeed. I don't say it out loud, because automatically you get the, "But you just don't know" comments from others. You're right, I don't "know". It doesn't scare me not to know what's going to happen with the baby. I am actually excited to find out.

One obstacle is that I have only found one daycare center that allows you to bring pumped breastmilk. On a positive note, this is also the least expensive daycare, but it's at an uber conservative church with an 11x14 golden framed picture of GW Bush in the foyer. Hehehe. These facts don't bother me as much, because I like both the director and infant caregiver. It absolutely floored me when I heard other centers saying no breastmilk. I used to work in a daycare, and a lot of the moms brought breastmilk. The daycares here that won't allow it said that their reasoning behind this was was that breastmilk is a bodily fluid, and can be dangerous for the other kids.

I felt like saying... just don't *let* the other kids have access to it? (We had a locked fridge).

But whatever. I also have some cloth diapers to use at home. An incident occured last week or so, when I had them all lied out on the bed, and my dog took a leak right in the middle of one of the diapers. I was dying to share this with people at work, because I thought it was hilarious, but the fact that it was a cloth diaper simply made the subject change into how hard that would be, and please don't use those, it's too much work, you just "don't know", you'll "find out", disposables are easier, etc, etc.

Not only did no one laugh at my dog, but I got unsolicited advice as well.

I have a feeling that once I have her, I am just going to hear more comments about how I "just don't know" until she's five, or in high school, or until I have two or three kids, or ten, or until I am a stay-at-home mom or whatever.

The next La Leche meeting here is on February 20th, and I plan on going. I got their book for only a dollar at a discounted bookstore.

plain(s)feminist said...

I thought "radical" feminism was more along the lines of staying single, never having kids, career only, etc. They advocate breastfeeding?

Some radical feminists are more along the lines you describe, and others (like, for example, Heart at womensspace.wordpress.com) would advocate bfing (at least, I think she does, but I'm not sure. I know she bf her kids).

I would like to breastfeed. I don't say it out loud, because automatically you get the, "But you just don't know" comments from others. You're right, I don't "know". It doesn't scare me not to know what's going to happen with the baby. I am actually excited to find out.

There will always be horror stories and success stories, and for some reason, it seems that we hear them particularly about these issues. For me, it was partly because I felt that I had gotten a lot of support that I knew others didn't get - having a midwife and doula and a broad network of bf friends and acquaintances. And I knew several people who gave birth in very different environments and had a hard time with the medical staff. So I became probably very overbearing about it, just because I was wanting so much to make sure that women were getting accurate and helpful information. It was long enough ago now that I've mostly chilled out about it all. I think!

One obstacle is that I have only found one daycare center that allows you to bring pumped breastmilk. On a positive note, this is also the least expensive daycare, but it's at an uber conservative church with an 11x14 golden framed picture of GW Bush in the foyer. Hehehe. These facts don't bother me as much, because I like both the director and infant caregiver.

I've never heard of such a thing. That's a lawsuit waiting to happen, not allowing pumped milk. Argh - that makes me so angry!! I'm glad you found a place you like that will support you in bfing.

But whatever. I also have some cloth diapers to use at home. An incident occured last week or so, when I had them all lied out on the bed, and my dog took a leak right in the middle of one of the diapers. I was dying to share this with people at work, because I thought it was hilarious, but the fact that it was a cloth diaper simply made the subject change into how hard that would be, and please don't use those, it's too much work, you just "don't know", you'll "find out", disposables are easier, etc, etc.

First - that's hilarious! It's like the dog knew what they were for!

And second - good for you. I went the disposable route because I was lazy, essentially (also b/c there is no diaper service here - if we'd had one in town, I would've at least tried cloth). I remember the diaper pails of my youth! But I know lots of people who cloth diaper and I think it's great - probably way more comfy for baby and so much better for the environment.

Hey, you should check out elimination communication. This is another thing I never tried b/c I was lazy, but apparently it's used in parts of the world where diapering is just not possible b/c of the expense of disposables and the scarcity of water for laundering. Here's a link - I don't know the site, nor did I read all of the page, but it looks helpful for an intro: http://www.naturalfamilyonline.com/5-diap/42-natural-infant-hygiene.htm.

I have a feeling that once I have her, I am just going to hear more comments about how I "just don't know" until she's five, or in high school, or until I have two or three kids, or ten, or until I am a stay-at-home mom or whatever.

No kidding. There is never any shortage of unsolicited advice!!

Oh, one more link. I used to read Mothering Magazine - you might like it. I will say, though, that I think they have run articles that were misleading and not well-researched on vaccinations, in particular, and on autism (which they attribute to vaccinations). However, you will find a lot of support there for bfing, cloth diapering, attachment parenting, etc.: http://www.mothering.com/

I also like Hip Mama, which is much more liberal and more feminist than Mothering but covers a lot of the same ground:
http://www.hipmama.com/

foxgrandma said...

I had my oldest daughter in 1964 without any anesthesia and I had my second one in 1968 without anesthesia. The first one was in a bigger town in SD that had quite a large hospital, and the husbands weren't even allowed in the labor room, because there were about a dozen women in labor in the same room. My second daughter was born in a small town hospital but times had advanced to the point that there were seperate labor rooms and the husbands could be in the room, to the point that when delivery time came, and I was wheeled into the delivery room the Dr. told my husband to come along and there was a seperate room with window in a door that the fathers could stand and watch the delivery. Times have sure changed, now some people want the whole family in the room along with video taping the big event.

Danielle said...

Actually, they made it sound like allowing breastmilk would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. They just told me in such a tone as if to suggest that it was dangerous because of it being a "bodily fluid". They talked about it as if it would kill other kids or something. I don't know, it was just their tone. These were chain daycares, so maybe it was their company policy. It makes more sense that a church would be more understanding.

I will check out those sites you gave me- and I heard of elimination communication, and never gave it much thought. It makes sense. When I was working with kids before, several of them would act a certain way or do certain things right before they had to go. But not all kids are like this. I guess we'll have to wait and see. I am honestly really tired of waiting around and constantly having to tell myself that I don't know how my daughter is going to be and "What's going to happen". I want to just plow through the next few months and FIND OUT ALREADY. I am sure you understand.

andi said...

"few things-
If you think about it, the vast majority of censorship in this country is because of moms- because they don't want their child seeing something. It strikes me as hypocritical when they don't like other people censoring them and something they want to do"

Danielle, you've hit the nail on the head for a lot of folks.
I frankly don't care if folks breastfeed or not, if the use a blanket or not...whatever. I've only had issue with one Bf'er and that was the one wa sin my living room, standing in front of my open door and stripped off her entire shirt, then her entire bra and thought she should be able to walk around that way. This is not a necessary thing and I really don't want to see it ..any more than most folks would want to see my entire upper body exposed. When I told her to get her clothes back on she informed me that "I have a right to bf, if you don't like it leave."
Yeah, I might leave my house so she can essentially flash the entire neighbourhood.
Flash forward three years, She's raising her kid in a particular religion. She's attending a baby shower with in our mutal circle of friends at the home of a Buddhist. This woman proceeds to start disassembling the Buddhist altar and explains "I don't want Kris to be exposed to this, It needs to go away."
She's since been kicked out of the group...she just offended to many folks with her demands of "kris can't see that, you can't wear/read/have that in his presence".
If you want tolerance Give tolerance ....whether your a parent, Cf'er, EN'er or what ever.
Folks will be more tolerant if they feel free to be themselves too.

Soso said...

To bring this back to the original issue about breatfeeding in public, I am the mother of an almost three years old daughter and I still breastfeed her. Since she was born, I never cared where I was or who was around and made a point of nursing in public. With all the bottles and formula we see everywhere, there is a great need for some balance (or the elimination of the bottle, but some might think I am going too far). Just like I throw away the little baby bottles that come with her dolls, I encourage my daughter to be aware of breastfeeding as normal. Children, regardless of their age, should be more exposed to breastfeeding as their ideas about parenthood once they become adults will be shaped by their experience as a child. How can we expect a woman who has never seen another woman nursing her child to feel confident about breastfeeding? All these people talking about public decency or whatever and how it needs to be done in private or at least in a covered up fashion are working together to reinforce the idea that breastfeeding is not a reality. I personally cringe when see a new mother pulling out a bottle in public. Anyhow, my point is that birth and the other biological realities of motherhood need to be made more visible and that the consequences of hiding them are far greater than some people getting offended. Institutions such as medicine as well as capitalist corporations are working very hard to convince us that we are incompetent when it comes to feeding our children and breastfeeding in public is one way we can concretely fight back.

plain(s)feminist said...

Hey Soso,
Good for you! I agree that we need to make breastfeeding visible. And while this is not at all the point of your comment, when I read it, I couldn't help but to also think of death and the whole industry around funerals and the way in which we are separated from a very natural process that, like birth, happens to everyone. We see all of these things as taboo and icky as a society, and we don't really know how to do them because of it. And then we end up being dependent on external systems - like the medical system, the formula industry, and the funeral business - to get through the process.