*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.