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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
jlowe August 7, 2009, 12:39 PM

I breast fed my son when he was an infant but I agree with Bill Maher, just because it’s a biological process doesn’t make it a right….there are plenty of biological processes i don’t want to see at dinner. i am all for everyone having rights….as long as those rights don’t interfere with the rights of others…isn’t that what breastfeeding mom’s want….their right to feed their baby? But the rest of us just want to enjoy ur dinner or coffee without a boob and a baby attached to it sitting in the room with us! And to make it worse!!! a toddler!!! please…this is not ok but for now we all just have to put up with it because these women want their rights and to hell with everyone else and theirs. I can’t wait for someone to argue that sex is a biological process like masturbating and taking a dump so we can all do these in public too….at dinner for all to see….

m August 11, 2009, 6:03 AM

i agree with breastfeeding, I breast feed all 3 of mine, but i think that there are limits on age. I know someone that is still breastfeeding at 3 yrs and says she wants to continue until kindergarten. i don’t know how to express my feelings to her that i don’t think its right. I can understand 2 years but 5 years is a way too long.

North August 11, 2009, 10:16 AM

I breastfed all five of my children until each was around 3 years of age. I believe they are healthier because of it.
If women’s breasts weren’t sexualized, there would be no issue about breastfeeding in public. If a guy took off his shirt in the grocery line, would you have a problem?
I’ve used those blankets, and become frustrated and angry when my child threw them off so he could breathe. If you don’t like seeing breastfeeding, avert your gaze.

Anonymous October 14, 2009, 9:54 PM

I think breastfeeding in public is seamy. I know some of these women say it is normal, but so is sex. I bet if someone started to have sex because they were aroused. They would be arrested on the spot. If a woman exposes her breast who is not lactating ,she can be arrested for indecent exposure. A breast is a breast and,the same rule should apply to a nursing mother. We are not wild animals and should not behave as such.

Barnegat Blummis December 23, 2009, 12:32 PM

I can’t understand the totally hung-up and sexually repressed damned fools who are against breast-feeding in public. The kid is hungry. The breast is the cafeteria. Let the kid eat. It’s the most natural thing in the world. You’ve made the whole thing into something dirty or nasty. You need to immediately find mental help and also quit voting for the Republicants.

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Ten Tees January 8, 2011, 4:22 PM

Great article! Enjoyable and fun reading. I have got a single observation to make about tee shirts.


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