Thursday, January 19, 2012

Public Nursing: My Take

*Disclaimer: I am not an expert. I do not work for the Le Leche League. I am not a doctor or health provider. I am only a woman and mother with an opinion based on past experiences, my own research, and my observance of others' behavior, either in the news, in public, or in my ward meetings. No, I don't have references because most of them are found in my brain now --I can't remember where I read everything! You can correct me --if you do it respectfully, of course. :) Please do not assume my opinion is RIGHT. I am only writing this to show women the history of the subject, the trends, and their options in order to eradicate ignorance, awkwardness, and shame.

Nursing. It's a long fought over, guilt-inducing, awful subject (can be) that has created division among women. Much like any other parenting subject! I'm not here to argue about the pro's of breast over bottle, or how if a woman can't breastfeed, than she should BUY breast milk or whatever (trust me, I'm not). I think it's safe to say that most women will agree on the following statement: We know breast is best, but we gotta do what's best for our babies and ourselves, and sometimes that means bottles. End of story.

Instead, I'm talking about a not-so-little thing called Public Nursing.

Recently, on Facebook, there was a poll about public nursing. Should one do it? Should they not? Should they do it discreetly? Should they let it all hang out? This particular poll was geared towards the LDS public, a very modest demographic. Mormons are notorious for their modesty (as they should be! I applaud modesty!), and so the discussion and comments that followed this poll were quite interesting to read. What I discovered were that people fell mostly into three categories:

1. Nursing should be done in private if it can't be covered up completely.

2. Nursing should be done anywhere, public or not, BUT ONLY if it's done discreetly. Or if the baby doesn't wiggle. Or make loud sucking noises. Or in Sacrament Meeting. Or if there's a man nearby. Or if it's done to make a political statement...

3. Nursing is a right, protected by law, is not sexual, should not be SEEN as sexual, and should be allowed anywhere, covered or not! Let it hang out! It's YOUR problem if you don't like it!

Where do you fall?

Now think about your answer for a minute and I will take you on a journey (before I give you my answer). For various reasons, nursing has ebbed and flowed throughout society since the beginning of time. There was a time in Europe when only poor people nursed their own babies and the rich women sent their babies to wet nurses to be nursed. Just a few decades ago (the 50's, 60's, and 70's), women were told that nursing was not as healthy for their babies as formula. In fact, it's only been in the last 2 decades or so that science and women have begun to realize that nursing IS the best option for a baby, and that if a woman CAN nurse, she should at least TRY because what she has is literally invaluable. Most hospitals, including Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo (just a mile or so from my house) has breast milk on hand for the babies in the NICU. Colostrum (that first golden liquid before the breast milk comes in) is dubbed "liquid gold" because they have never been able to duplicate it in a lab.

Okay, so breast milk rocks. Society has gone back and forth as to whether it is "normal" or "elite enough" to nurse (let alone nurse in public!). What does this have to do with public nursing? Everything.

Let me give you another lesson. This one is on society's view the human body.

Ages ago, (before Christ), women were seen as glorified beings because they could give life. This is why we have a lot of female and fertility deities showing up in many ancient civilizations. Women, especially mothers, were revered. Women gave birth in calm places, were hailed as holy when they did, and they nursed their children.
But then, ironically, early middle ages Christianity came into power, and the whole "natural sin" thing began a couple thousand year rampage upon women and their nature. Childbirth was suddenly seen as "sinful." Nursing was shameful. Women went into hiding as soon as they conceived and didn't come out again until the child was weaned. Children became property of the men. Women had no rights, little respect, and were taught that their sexuality, let alone their ability to propagate the species, was sinful and wrong. Unless the men needed heirs and children, and then suddenly, it was good. Talk about confusing for the women!

Enter in Western philosophies considering the human body. In most of Europe --but especially pervasive amongst the Puritans in early America --modesty was king. Nobody talked about the human body. Nobody SAW the human body. So fearful were these people about sexual sin that they swung their handy little pendulum as far to the right as they could.

Now let's go back just a hundred years, at the end of the Victorian Era and into the 60's, when women's liberation really took off. Suddenly, women were no longer covering up anything. Slowly, over the last 50 years, modesty has changed so drastically --thanks to the technology of the media. The idea that "sex is okay as long as they both consent" and "looking at p*rn is fun" and "women are only beautiful if they look a certain way and take off their clothing" is invariably accepted as normal. P*ornography is rampant. Sexual sin is normal. Affairs, one-night-stands, strip-clubs, and wearing very little clothing is as normal now as apple pie.

And this is where I come back to public nursing.

Men in this country tend to be raised (and have been raised) with the idea that women are A. Objects to be protected and/or B. Objects to be lusted. There are two sides to this pendulum --the A's are usually very good religious men (even the Mormons!) but they miss the mark --women are not objects (another subject for another blog post). The B's are obviously a little more in touch with their testosterone levels and lack of self control. But who can blame them when everywhere they look they are being shown sex, sex, sex? And women with no self-respect? And women in church who nurse!?!

Ah. There you go. It's an enigma.

Here are the facts:
1. Women's breasts were created for a few reasons. But the first and foremost was to nurse babies. To provide food for their offspring.
2. Breasts are a natural part of a sexual relationship that can be positive to both men and women. Ergo, breasts are also to enhance the sexual relationship.
3. Women, in western philosophy, have been raised with the idea that to show one's breasts is to show sexuality. They need to stay hidden.
4. Men, in western philosophy, have been raised with the idea that women's breasts are for sex only and should be hidden.
5. Secrecy creates curiosity. The more secret the body part, the more curious a person could get. P*rn addiction happens this way very easily --men know nothing about breasts. They never see breasts. They are never shown what breasts are for, and it becomes a secret. The secret creates curiosity, the man sees the secret through his wife (sexually) or a nursing mother or a magazine...mass confusion!
6. Men raised in societies where nursing in public NON-discreetly is normal --do they have the same obsession with the secret? Is that even possible since seeing a breast do it's first job overshadows the 2nd job? Or should overshadow it?

So, I asked you where you fell in your opinion with the poll results I observed. Where do you fall? Why? Why do you feel this way? Seriously, I want you to think about this before I give you my opinion. I want you to ask yourself these questions:
1. What kind of home was I raised in? Did my mom nurse? Did I ever SEE my mom nurse? Did I ever see another woman nurse before nursing myself (or seeing my wife nurse)?
2. How do I feel about the human body? Am I prudish? Do I feel shame when I see someone's body part on accident? Do I blush when I see a woman's nursing breast?
3. Did I have a hard time nursing? Did I have to bottle feed? Do I go to the mother's room to nurse because I'm being polite or because I'm embarrassed? Or because I want to escape the boring Sunday School teacher?

My Personal Thoughts:

*I don't care if women go to nurse in the bathroom. I think it's stupid, but I really don't care. I don't care if women nurse in mother's lounges or only at home or in Sacrament Meeting or on the plane, train, bus, car, or at public sporting events. I have nursed in ALL of those places.

*I don't care if women choose to nurse discreetly, completely, or full-on flashing.

*I don't care if men are offended by a nursing mother.

*I don't care if women are offended by a nursing mother.

This is what I do care about:

*Women feeling ashamed of their nursing breasts only because of the off-chance that their breast might be seen; the secrecy of shame that has accompanied them throughout their nursing life (or regular life).

*Women being asked to "stop doing that" in public.

*Boys and girls being raised never seeing a nursing breast/baby.

*Women being told they should not nurse in public if it doesn't fit the criteria of "being respectful to our society/public", i.e. loud noises (bottle babies tend to be louder, you know), seeing part of the breast, distracting "all the men", and/or making the men uncomfortable.

I nurse my children wherever and whenever it needs to be done. I have chosen to use a cover in places of worship (every meeting in Church), or where the baby might be easily distracted (wedding receptions, sporting events, large gatherings/parties). This is due to that "respectful aspect," because I really do care about being respectful, regardless of how it sounds. However! I rarely cover up at home, in other people's homes, in shopping malls, in museums, etc. Restaurants are an either/or. The reason I don't is because I'm pretty dang good at still being discreet. It's truly not that hard.

I do not cover up because of shame. I do not cover up because I'm worried about the people around me. It is a choice I have made. But every time a nursing mother leaves a meeting to nurse, and every time I see a poor baby sweating under piles of blankets in the name of "discreetment", I cringe.

Our society is screwed up. So screwed up that we have two pendulums: Far left (anything goes! Sex, sex, sex!) and Far right (don't ever see a human body, EVER! Run away! Run away!).

Both are very, very wrong.

(And before you freak out that I'm speaking out against prophets or commandments, please show me where the Prophet has asked women to not nurse their babies. Or that breasts were NOT for nursing. Or that seeing a nursing mother feed her child would send that observer to hell. And please note that it is only in a few western countries where covering up to nurse is even practiced, let alone encouraged! We have a world-wide church. It's not "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who abide by western philosophies only", now, is it? Not to mention how we have artistic depictions of women in the Church in the 1800's nursing their babies in public. Please go here to see the photos.)

My sons always see me nurse. They will know, from infancy, why God invented breasts. I do not want them going on missions to foreign lands and freaking out when they see a breast being used to feed an infant. How many of you men who served missions, and how many of you women have husbands who served missions witnessed this for the first time ON the mission? Having never before seen a nursing breast? That is NOT the time to be learning about the natural reason for a woman's breast.

My sons will learn that there is a place for modesty and decorum, respect and charity. But they will also learn the reasons our bodies exist, how life is created, how life is nurtured. This, I believe will actually increase their respect for women. And the gift of life. Something all of us need should probably learn more about (respect for the human body).


In conclusion, I think it's safe to say that many of you actually disagree with me. You will decide I'm crazy for thinking this way. That's fine. I promise I won't show you my nursing breast in order to make a statement (ha!). Just promise me that you will think twice before you judge that nursing mother in Sacrament Meeting, though, okay? It's probably me.


Ann said...

Perfect! The only thing I do different is I never use a cover. BUT that doesn't mean I don't cover up. It's not like I'm leaving my boob hanging out. Shirts can cover enough.

Mgaremani said...

WOW! You are right on ALL counts. I could not have said it better. AMEN.

Kathryn said...

Amen, amen, and amen! I rarely use a cover, but I, like you, am good enough at it that I can nurse without a cover without showing much. The only time I ever used a cover was when my son was really little and we were both trying to figure it out. He's 28 months and still nursing, and I'm due with a girl in a couple of weeks. I might use a cover at the beginning with her too, but we'll just have to see how it goes. Thanks for this post. It was thoughtful, well-written, and I agree with every bit of it! Our society really is messed up.

flip flop mama said...

I love nursing. What you said is right on. I do have one thing to add...I don't usually nurse in church meetings but go to the nursing lounge and here's why: I think one reason we nurse is to give us as mothers time to bond with the baby and slow down. I love having that quiet time when it's just me and the baby. We don't get opportunities like that very often so I like to take advantage of it when I can.

I do think it's pretty funny when women nurse with covers in the mother's lounge though.

Annette Lyon said...

Thank you! My nursing days are long gone, but this was exactly my philosophy. I loved using shirts especially designed for nursing (from Motherwear--so awesome), which made access uber easy and kept things covered (like you said, more for the sake of others in public places). I could nurse in public without anyone realizing what I was doing.

I used the mother's room at church (although not always), but mostly because I could let it all hang out, as it were, without worrying about offending someone. (And some of those chairs were really comfy!)

The two cultural views we have of breasts really is a problem--you explained it so well. It's not as simple as, "Hey, it's a food source! Get over it!" or, "It's sexual. Stop it!" So much more complicated than that.

Oh, and cunt my husband as one of those boys who first saw a breast on his mission. Yeah, not that ideal way to learn about these things.

At home, I was pretty open about it--nursing wherever and whenever. I have just one son, and he's the oldest, so I don't know how much he remembers about me nursing his little sisters, but it totally did. When babies are tiny, they're learning to nurse, and you're engorged, trying to cover up is INSANE.

I'm grateful that my mom nursed us. She was definitely not the norm for her generation. For her baby #2, nurses came into her room at the hospital to watch her nurse--because they had never seen a woman nursing before. NURSES. On a maternity floor. (Mom was glad this wasn't her first baby and had a clue what she was doing!)

I'm not big on whipping it out and flaunting it, but I'm also not a fan of women hiding in tent-like cover-ups. Modesty is good. Paranoia, not so much.

Now that I've written a post-length comment: BRAVO!

Michelle said...

I loved loved loved nursing. But I had no problem covering up. I think it's not that big of a deal to do so. But if a woman is going to choose otherwise, I don't want to be making a big deal out of that, either. (Although I'm not a fan f the 'make a statement' approach to breastfeeding.)

And yes, it's true that the prophet has never come out and said that nursing breasts are evil, but he's also never come out specifically saying anything the other direction, either. ;) (If anything, I see our leaders showing an awareness of and sensitivity to cultural issues, even if they are not ideal.)

As for cultures where it's ok to let it all hang out...I think we should be careful not to assume that that means that men have healthy views of women or sex. Just sayin'. ;)

I guess my vote on this is wisdom and order, which sounds like it's your approach in the first place. ;)

Liz said...

I think breastfeeding is wonderful and natural. With my first child I was so insecure and had to be hidden from the world to breastfeed, even with a wrap. However, now with my twins I feel less inhibited, and breastfeed with a wrap in public all the time. I get comments allot, more about nursing twins than breastfeeding in public.

I don't think I could ever openly nurse in public without a wrap (although I think my babies might have occasionally exposed me with their kicking feet and busy hands), but I do in private. I have no qualms about nursing my infants in front of their three-year old brother. It's natural and not inappropriate in my opinion. Plus, form my experience, babies breastfeed better when not under a blanket.

Frankly, I don't care much about others opinions, or I try not to care much. I say to each his own!

My Little said...

I love this post. There are so many wonderful things that you hit on that I fully agree with. I fall into the category of only seeing a child nursed once by my mom when I was very young and then one other time as a 12 year old girl. I definitely think that is why I fall into the group that thinks nursing is great, but should be done in private as much as possible. I don't have a problem with women breastfeeding in public, but I do not like them with their full breast hanging out, because of the discomfort that it places on others, whether it is due to our culture, sexual concerns or others, it doesn't matter, but I would prefer people not flaunt their breasts, no matter what the reason.

Some of the history behind breastfeeding sounds very familiar and wonder if it came from the Hypnobirthing book. Not that it matters, because it is true, but that might be your reference.

I also like the comments by one of the ladies, saying she likes to nurse in private due to the bonding time with baby. I agree fully with her as well. I have struggled with nursing, but have enjoyed it the most when I was in a quite place and could just think about my little one. Those were special moments. Also, I love those few minutes to close my eyes and rest if I was in need of that. I always said God created nursing so a mom could take a much needed break. There are so many benefits to nursing and I am glad you took the time to share them.

flip flop mama said...

I should also add that I have no qualms about nursing wherever and whenever my babies need to. Sometimes I use a cover and sometimes I don't --it usually depends on how old the baby is.

Cheryl said...

Yes! It was the hypnobirthing book!

I like the idea of quiet moments, too.

Keep the comments coming; I'm really enjoying them!

Amy said...

A friend of mine started a blog, with only 2 posts, to show LDS breastfeeding art. You would definitely appreciate it.

As for public breastfeeding, the decision is up to the mother and her comfort level. I applaud any woman who makes the commitment to nurse her baby. Period. I know it's not easy for everyone. I nurse in public with no reservations. I do use a cover up, but it's one that my mother and I have carefully designed to ensure my baby and I are both comfortable.
At home, I don't cover up and my sons know what breastfeeding is and what it looks like, it's a non issue. I agree with the comments that quiet privacy is a peaceful retreat.

I'm sure I told you this before, but about 7-8 years ago we were visiting family in Utah and went to their neighbour's home for a visit. I was nursing my oldest and did so in the living room with everyone there, using my cover up. While doing so, a couple started complimenting me on my decision to breastfeed and to do it publicly. They said it wasn't very common and were impressed. I accepted their compliments happily but honestly, I didn't realize there was anything to debate. It was normal to me and hadn't really given any thought to it, which I owe to my upbringing.

Now to judge HOW someone nurses their baby is not something I'm comfortable with. Every mother is passionate about how she raises her child, but to judge other women because they're not doing things "exactly" the same way is not right. Does a breastfeeding mom really need to defend her decision whether to cover up or not?
Why do women do this to each other? Why would someone think that the way they nurse is somehow better than another's? Are we not all doing what is best for our OWN babies? Raising children is hard, it would be easier with less criticism and more support despite differences. I know this was not portrayed in your views, however, I see it too often.

I realize my comments are quite long, but as you can see I am also passionate about this topic. :)

Cheryl said...

I was able to easily breastfeed my oldest 3 children for the better part of a year. I loved breastfeeding and did nurse in public occasionally but always covered up because I was uncomfortable not being covered. It wasn't for anyone else, it was for me.

My last two children for two totally different reasons did not nurse well and could not get adequate nutrition in order to grow. I pumped my milk for months (I HATE PUMPING) so they were getting breastmilk but not from me I felt horribly guilty and felt very judged by other women in the church when I would pull out a bottle. Once I went into the mother's room to feed my baby because he was so tired, he needed a quiet room. There were two nursing mother's in there who told me it wasn't really necessary for me to be in there because I wasn't breastfeeding. I felt awful about it.

I love it when women breastfeed, I wish women would cover up at church (except in the mother's lounge) because it does make my adolescent boy uncomfortable inspite of us teaching him and talking about it and seeing me breastfeed (he was quite young). We do have a couple of women who are not discreet in the least in sacrament meeting and I admit it bothers me. My oldest was passing the sacrament to her and the baby pulled off to look at him and her breast was exposed...that is not very fun for a 12 year old to deal with.

Long ranting comment here, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

sariqd said...

All of my sibs & I were nursed. My mother has passed on so I'm going to have to ask my older sibs how she was with nursing.

My third child is the one I got to nurse. What I've appreciated about it is my daughter watches me and tells me that she can't wait to have babies & nurse them because everyone is so happy. My middle child, a boy, just looks and goes, "huh." And then goes back to playing jedi wars or something. It's no big deal to him. I don't show him EVERYTHING but I don't cover up either. Out in public, I would use a cover only because my baby likes to have the whole thing exposed. None of that pulling the shirt down to cover everything but the essential part. Silly baby. Now, my husband - he was a couple of days in Honduras when he & his companion met a woman who just whipped it out for her baby. It freaked him out. It took him some time to get used to women just doing that. Then it was no big deal anymore.

bythelbs said...

When I nursed in public, I always covered up--even in the mother's lounge if I wasn't alone. But I'm a very private person. I like to keep my stuff to myself. I don't like changing in public locker rooms or stripping for doctor appointments either, but that's me. I'm not ashamed, just private.

I don't think anyone should ever be made to feel ashamed of nursing in public or feel like they have to hide what they're doing. But part of showing courtesy is being considerate of other people's feelings and comfort levels and maybe even adjusting our behavior according to present company. In public places like a restaurant or sacrament meeting, I think it is just polite to be discreet. That doesn't mean you have to bury yourself and baby under a mound of blankets, but just be considerate of others (like my son passing the sacrament) who might prefer not to become familiar with your particulars.

Cheryl said...

Somebody said something I liked in a conversation we had about the Target incident, she said "Just because something is natural doesn't mean it needs to be public."