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Is Extreme Nursing Too Nasty?

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Gina Kaysen Fernandes: Breastfeeding may be a beautiful thing in the eyes of the beholder. It's an intimate act between a mother and child that allows them to emotionally and physically bond. While few would dispute the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby, not everyone wants to witness this lactating lovefest.

woman breastfeeding in grocery store

"I am all for breastfeeding. It is the most natural thing a mother can do. But I also believe in some sort of decorum," says Monica, who is childless by choice. Monica recalls feeling very uncomfortable in a grocery store when a mother of twins promptly latched on her little ones by lifting up her T-shirt and letting it all hang out. "I know it is food for your baby. But it's completely unnecessary to whip out your big boobs while standing next to me in the grocery checkout line. It is also unnecessary for you to glare at me when I cast you a dirty look. Hello? Ever heard of a blanket?!," said Monica.

Should standards of decency exist when it comes to feeding mama's milk?

"People aren't doing this to be exhibitionists," says Andi Silverman, author of the book "Mama Knows Breast" and the blog, mamaknowsbreast.com. "Nobody wants to expose themselves. They want to feed their baby and do it in a way that's comfortable for them and is respectful of the general public." Andi believes there are some places where breastfeeding is not appropriate, but in general, "given the choice, most people would rather not hear a hungry baby crying. Feed the baby and the crying stops," said Andi.

A whole cottage industry has cropped up in the business of covering up. There are designers devoted to selling nursing shirts, tank tops, and dresses. The loudly colored nursing smocks go by names like Hooter Hiders, Bebe Au Lait, and Lila Bean. The covers are a great solution for the mom who may feel too modest to nurse in public or would otherwise choose not to breastfeed because of issues involving her breasts. The accessories are a simple way to take care of your baby's business without making it anyone else's business.

Is breastfeeding toddlers healthy -- or wrong?

Nursing toddlers raises the debate to a whole other level. There's more public acceptance of nursing infants who rely on their mother's milk for all nutritional needs. But once they've got teeth and are eating solid food, nursing becomes more of a comfort food than a staple. Witnessing children who can "help themselves" and actually request it by name can make strangers a bit squeamish. "If a kid can ask for the boob -- it's time to wean. I'm sorry but breastfeeding is for infants, not your 2-year-old," says Monica.

While that may be the public's perspective, "nursing toddlers is very common," said Andi, who adds, "This is about mothers doing what they think is best for their baby's growth and development. It's not a choice about the mom, it's a choice about their baby." The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. At six months, other foods should complement breastfeeding for up to two years or more.

"Lactivists" and the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009

These days, bashing breastfeeding can land you in hot water. HBO's Bill Maher sparked a frenzy in the blogosphere when he criticized public nursing on a segment of "Real Time with Bill Maher."

"Yes, breastfeeding activists, called lactivists, say this is a human right and appropriate everywhere because it's natural. Well, so is masturbating, but I generally don't do that at Applebee's ... Look, there's no principle at work here other than being too lazy to either plan ahead or cover up. It's not fighting for a right, it's fighting for the spotlight you will surely get when you go all Janet Jackson on everyone and get to drink in the 'oohs' and 'ahhs' from the other customers because you made a baby, something a dog can do."

While Maher's rant borders on the absurd, it appears that "lactivists" are indeed a force to be reckoned with. Congress is considering a bill called the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the bill earlier this month that would protect breastfeeding mothers under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If passed into law, it would require employers with 50 employees or more to provide private spaces and time off during the workday for moms to pump milk.


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27 comments so far | Post a comment now
Gigohead  July 7, 2009, 4:30 PM

I applaud those who breastfeed but to whip it out is strange and uncomfortable even for women. My friend owned a nice swing that allowed her to feed her son and no one noticed even when we went out in public. I didn’t want to know my friend’s breast neither does the world.

Sara July 7, 2009, 4:55 PM

I’m all for breastfeeding but please put some effort into covering up a bit. Seeing your breast completely hanging out for the world to see is not necessary. At least make a little effort. It is simple to pull up your shirt just enough that your baby can slip into place, the shirt drapes down by the baby’s head and cover’s up the boob, or drap a light blanket over your shoulder and the baby. Simple!! Please do not just whip it all out!

Secret Mommy July 7, 2009, 5:25 PM

I was never comfortable showing my breast in public when feeding my infant son, so used a Hooter Hider or nursing shirt that allowed me to only open up a teeny bit which his head then covered.

But for a “childless by choice” Monica to go making grandiose statements about how long is “appropriate” for a mother to feed her child, whether in public or private, is completely absurd. If you’re childless by choice, then keep your opinions about child-rearing to yourself. No one cares what you think.

Kristen July 7, 2009, 6:46 PM

The article is wrong when they say that women don’t want to show there breasts. I’ve met PLENTY of women who breast feed their children and make a point of NOT covering up just to make a statement about it, I think it’s kind of ridiculous. I breastfed both of my children and I was always discreet about it.

Bettina@bestforbabes.org July 7, 2009, 10:43 PM

Great post! Two thoughts: 1)There are clear health benefits beyond just comfort for nursing babies beyond 6 months, not just for babies, but for moms too—where duration well beyond 6 months is associated with reduced risk of heart disease and breast cancer. 2) While most nursing mothers are not exhibitionists, there are some who are, and it would behoove all of us to not engage or confront them. In fact, I would bet that if one just said “good for you” in a nice way it would go a long way towards acknowledging that many women who nurse defiantly and expose more than necessary are angry at how how many obstacles conspire to keep moms from succeeding at breastfeeding, let alone being cheered on and celebrated as they should be, much as we admire someone who is determined to lose excess weight, stop smoking or undertake any other healthy lifestyle change. The Breastfeeding Promotion Act aims to reduce at least some of the barriers to breastfeeding; as soon as more barriers are removed (such as hospitals pushing formula), we will see less defiance from lactivists who are ticked off that moms who want to nurse are being sabotaged, and probably a lot less confrontational nursing in public. So let’s fight the barriers, not moms!

Wendy Armbruster Bell July 7, 2009, 11:22 PM

Very well said Bettina! I dare say you hit the nail on the head!

Diane July 8, 2009, 12:42 AM

Breastfeeding a toddler is a natural, healthy activity with proven health benefits for both child and mother. It’s also comforting and helps with the mother/child bond.

Calling it ‘wrong’ is an indication of just how much our society has really lost its way in terms of feeding and comforting children. Lots of people are supportive of breastfeeding a baby, but become downright rude and hostile when a mom breastfeeds a toddler. Do the research. It’s the worldwide historic norm, it’s healthy and biologically valid.

Yes, you can breastfeed a toddler discretely - most times they just want a little cuddle/nurse when they are hurt or upset and it lasts less than 30 seconds and they’re back playing or whatever.

You can nurse a baby discretely with a nursing top or, my preference, a breastfeeding hat. As Bettina says, the moms that “whip it out” in a “in your face” kind of approach are probably trying to make a point and are feeling frustrated with the lack of support for breastfeeding (like the tone of this article, for example).

- Diane Sam @ MoBoleez.com

YvetteDownunder July 8, 2009, 5:09 AM

Now - hang on: She manages to get two babies on the breast while standing in a checkout queue and you also want her to somehow sling a blanket (or two) about their bodies so YOU don’t get offended?? And you can give a “dirty look” but she can’t “glare” back?

Can only assume you live in America, which touts itself as the land of the free, but has odd ideas about freedom.

If breastfeeding offends you, feel free to throw a blanket over your head.

just saying July 8, 2009, 10:19 AM

The WHO recommends nursing for at least 2 years….and I do nurse my 2 year old, AT HOME, maybe 2-3 times a day…and as an infant, always discreetly, b/c it does make people uncomfortable whether we like it or not….and I agree, those who are childless should have ZERO opinions!

Winnie July 8, 2009, 11:20 AM

Mouths can be very sexual and certainly some sexual acts invilving the mouth would be “nasty” to do in public. If I follow the logic of the “I don’t want to see breastfeeding” proponents, then people should only talk and eat without letting their mouths show! We talk about a mother’s right to breastfeed, but it is really about the baby’s right to “eat” wnehever and wherever the need arises. Infants do not have a sense of time and “wait” takes a long time to have an meaning to them. And don’t even go to “do it in the bathroom”. I bet noone who tries to push that approach would even think of eating or preparing their meals in a bathroom, so why should a baby have to eat there?

Michael July 8, 2009, 4:54 PM

America, for one, has really slid backwards and become intolerant concerning this issue. The viewpoint expressed in this article may not be uncommon, but it’s not a well thought out one in my opinion. Why is it that in much of the rest of the world, exposing a breast while feeding a child is ok and considered normal? There are even places still left where women go topless just like men do. Are they backwards, or are we? Equating breastfeeding a child to other bodily functions is really an immature attitude. Concerning mom’s who don’t worry if their breast shows, I think if someone is so upset or offended by that then they need to re-examine their position and see if they aren’t the ones being unreasonable and overly assertive.

Michelle July 8, 2009, 4:55 PM

“But once they’ve got teeth and are eating solid food, nursing becomes more of a comfort food than a staple.”

Not true. For quite a while the baby continues to get the majority of their nutritional needs met through nursing (or formula). Solids basically serve as a method of learning to eat (as well as experimenting with flavors the baby will like) for the first months of eating solids. Please don’t post such misinformation. I’d hate to see a mother stop breastmilk or formula thinking that it’s just comfort food.



Meg July 8, 2009, 8:14 PM

If it is appropriate for a bottle, it is appropriate for a breast. Location and age. (Personally, I was excited when people would look at my exposed nursing breasts as they were just pimples before and after.)

Lynette July 8, 2009, 8:58 PM

1. Men can breastfeed if they choose to. (Look it up)
2. Men can expose their breasts without question.
3. Women are told their breasts are dirty and to be hidden.

My question is WHY? Why do we, as women, accept this?

Why are we to hide what is essentially NO different than men’s other than the fact that we have larger mammary glands? It’s completely sexist. Kudos to lactivists for not only advancing breastfeeding rights but womens’ rights, too. I’m tired of the sexism and hypocrisy.

Anonymous July 8, 2009, 9:37 PM

Nobody wants to see your old veiny boob hanging out

amanda July 8, 2009, 10:52 PM

It’s a boob…get over it.

Mousuke July 10, 2009, 7:17 PM

It’s great that you want to breastfeed your kid. But NOBODY wants to see it.

I repeat, NOBODY.

Yeah, yeah, it’s natural, “breast is best”, “it’s just a boob”, etc.

But seriously, NOBODY WANTS TO SEE IT.

What is so hard about covering up?

What is so hard about going to a car/changing room/bathroom/lounge to breastfeed?

What is so hard about using a blanket for modesty?

Do you seriously think we want to see you suckle your kid?

And no, a breast is not the same as a bottle. Not even close.

Melodie@Breastfeeding Moms Unite! July 11, 2009, 1:06 AM

Blankets and covers not only draw more attention to the act of breastfeeding, they contribute to the notion that it is dirty and wrong to breastfeed in public, which it is not. I think blankets and covers are fine for the women who need them in order to feel comfortable nursing around other people and if they will help that mom nurse longer, but for the rest of us, not using a blanket is about making it okay to breastfeed in public. The more often women do it the less strange it will become. We want breastfeeding in public to become the norm. We want to create a breastfeeding-friendly society.

Annette July 12, 2009, 11:36 AM

I find it very interesting and perplexing that this is even being debated on a website that is for Moms. and why is “Monica, childess by choice” contributing opinions to a mom’s website? Anyone who is childless by choice does not get a vote in how the rest of us raise our children. I think nursing covers are great for women who feel the need to use them, but I’m with Melodie. They aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be. I am on my 3rd baby and have noticed that’s becoming more “normal” now to be seen nursing out and about. I have nursed my baby in the checkout line at Wal-Mart and no one but the man watching me trying to get her latched on was even aware of it. And I’m pretty sure he was only watching because she’d been screaming for a few minutes and I’d been frantically trying to comfort and bounce her till I gave up and had to fidget around inside my baby carrier to get the boob out and in her mouth. I’m modest and I really don’t want anyone to see my belly or boob, but I refuse to put a blanket over my baby when it’s 110 degrees outside and we’re both sweaty and cranky. :) We have come a long way but we still have a long way to go.

j. July 17, 2009, 8:55 AM

Bill Maher hit the nail on the head!!!


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