17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Do Bare Breasts and Lactivists Help the Situation?

Marian was nice enough to add a link to a headline from today on CNN.com to the comments of Kage's post on breastfeeding. The article, titled "Lactivists: Where is it OK to breastfeed?", discusses the different reactions people have had to the Babytalk Cover and then parallels it to what the divided nation feels about breastfeeding in public. I felt like we started to touch some of these subjects on Kage's thread, but after reading the article, I felt like we needed a new thread to dig a little deeper into the issues surrounding breastfeeding in public.

I want to be able to breastfeed wherever and whenever I need to or want to (well there may be a few exceptions but I can't think of them right now).

I also want everyone around me to feel comfortable with me feeding my child wherever and whenever I need/want.

Some people would say "Why do you care? It's their own problem if they feel uncomfortable." I agree to a point, but I also believe showing concern for the feelings of those around you is something that comes with being a member of a community, or city, or nation. This doesn't mean I have to accept their "uncomfortableness" completely. I do want to help more people feel comfortable with the idea of a woman breastfeeding in public, but I don't think it is my place to force someone to feel comfortable seeing a woman's breast in public, as a food source or otherwise.

This is partially the reason I am a very discreet public nurser. I also choose to be discreet for myself. I realize my breasts are not just sexual objects. But while they are a food source for my baby, I still want to protect them as my own sexual body parts because I don't like to view them as just feeding machines either. I wonder if some lactivists would believe that choosing discreet nursing in public is just letting those who are uncomfortable with breastfeeding force more women under the blanket. I hope not.

I believe in the goal of making public breastfeeding more acceptable, but I wonder if exposing a breast on the cover of a magazine or having "Lactivist sit-ins" is the best way to go about it. I think the women who choose to nurse publicly but discreetly will do just as much (or more?) for the cause than those women who choose a more "in your face approach."


  • I very much agree with you about being discrete. My breast is not for everyone to see, although I wish our society were more comfortable with us feeding our children, even if it is under a blanket. They know what we are doing, so we are still getting the point across. We can be a promotor of breastfeeding without showing our breast. We don't have to do it in public either if we don't feel comfortable. Our friends know if we breastfeed out not and that can have a good influence.
    posted by Blogger Erin at 7/28/2006 10:25:00 AM  

  • I think it's clear that the more common (and seen) breastfeeding is, the more socially acceptable doing so in public will become. That said, I think it's equally clear that baring nursing bosoms publicly for the sake of the cause won't really do much besides further irritating the already irritated.

    It seems important that in order for people to be more accepting, there needs to be more public nursing. But until people are more comfortable with said public nursing, I think it's important to be discreet.

    My baby is the only grandchild on my side of the family. All three of my married (and so far childless) siblings and their spouses are HIDEOUSLY uncomfortable with my nursing in front of them. I expect this will change with time as they have their own kids, but in the meantime, I'm not looking to offend them or make them uncomfortable. I like them, for pity's sake.

    So, point of this long comment? Baby steps.
    posted by Anonymous melissa h at 7/28/2006 10:42:00 AM  

  • Honestly, I didn't know there was SUCH controvery and discomfort over the issue. I've already (after just four months) nursed in several restaurants, always under a blanket, but just because dd needed to eat--something that, especially in those early months, can't always be controlled, predicted, prevented, or prepared for. What was the alternative: letting dd scream at the top of her lungs (she's loud!) and disturb all the other customers? Sit in a nasty bathroom (so many public restrooms are not nursing friendly) for 25 minutes (often how long she'll eat) and hold up our meal, putting off other customers (from the table and the one-toilet restroom)? I guess the safest alternative to nursing in public is just staying home. But, I'm sorry, for my own well-being, that's not an option. I just went ahead and nursed. Honestly, I figured I was probably making a few people uncomfortable, but also figured they'd prefer a blanket over my shoulder to a screaming baby, and I never thought anyone would think it was outright inappropriate.

    What makes me mad are these people who react with feelings like "gross" or "ugh." It seems they're extremely out of touch with a very natural human process. I remember being in a class at BYU--a small senior English seminar--when a woman with a baby got up and excused herself to go nurse. The professor, a man, actually got upset that she felt she couldn't nurse in front of us. "It's the most natural thing in the world," he argued. I think he's right and I think disgusted reactions are evidence of how sexualized women's bodies are in our society--as if something sexual is occuring when a baby is nursing. What a shame. What a complete shame that people see it that way.

    I'm going to continue nursing in public, always under a blanket from before I even lift my shirt until it's properly repositioned. But without any shame or discomfort otherwise.

    One more comment--I'm always amazed at how bashful women in the mother's rooms at church are. It seems like if there's any place besides our homes where we can be comfortable nursing, it should be in a room full of nursing mothers. But I always feel like most of the other women wouldn't be comfortable if I nursed without a blanket from start to finish.
    posted by Blogger sunny at 7/28/2006 11:08:00 AM  

  • Personally, I love the cover. No nipple is showing! People who reacted with a "gross" need to get over it and grow up. I realize that this was a cover and some people feel that it forces children/men to see a breast (Oh my!) but isn't this a pretty good way to see it? My 6 year old son is already fascinated by the female form and takes notice of scantilly clad women. I get annoyed when there is a Victoria's Secret billboard in his face or we walk by a T.V. playing a 50 cent video with gyrating women. I have been in line at the grocery store and flipped a magazine around that I felt was too suggestive for him to see. If this magazine were in front of him, however, I would welcome inspection and comment! It is a natural, beautiful, respectable act!

    That being said, I, like Carrie, am a pretty discreet nurser in public. I am aware of those who may not quite get it. My own brother has a hard time not seeing the breast in a sexual light. Last time we were at the beach he and his wife were appalled when a nursing mom gave up on her blanket (the wind won the battle) and let it all hang out. A huge debate ensued that ended in me promising to expose my breast to them as much as possible with my next baby.
    I am now pregnant and can't wait to make them squirm.

    When they are not aroung I will maintain some measure of modesty (all the while thinking that I really shouldn't have to). But that's just me.
    posted by Anonymous Marianne at 7/28/2006 02:18:00 PM  

  • I stand strongly in favor of a woman being able to breastfeed where and when it is best for her and her baby. Again, as Carrie mentioned, I'm sure there are exceptions, but they are just that - exceptions, not the rule.

    My son was never an under-the-blanket nurser - as soon as he had control over his arm, he would rip off anything i tried to throw over us. So I figured out ways of nursing without showing too much. Honestly, a well placed purse or bag hides a lot. But really, i was more self-conscious about showing the post-baby belly rolls than the actual breast!

    Carrie, I think you have a great point though. More and more mothers discreetly nursing their children in public is the best thing that can be done for the "cause". Now I didn't read the article in Baby Talk, but I didn't see this cover as being an overt political statement, nor was I in any way offended by it. It's a part of motherhood, and mothers are the intended audience of the magazine. I am surprised there has been such a political reaction, and, as Sunny says, it makes me sad to think that our society is so out of touch with the natural functions of our bodies.

    I'm rambling now, aren't I...
    posted by Blogger marian at 7/28/2006 02:42:00 PM  

  • Yeah....I agree with Carrie and others and the backlash towards breastfeeding mothers is upsetting.

    In our last apartment in NY, I had a neighbor with a two-year old who liked to come over to our house for playdates. Throughout our visits, her son would tug at her shirt and she would lift it up (she wasn't wearing a bra) and fed him. I have to admit that it turned my stomach to watch. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why it grossed me out so much.

    Was it the act of breastfeeding in front of me? No, I breastfed my boys (although not as long as many do) and I think breastfeeding is quite a beautiful act.

    Was it because I thought the boy was "too old" to be breastfeeding and because he was using her breast for a source of comfort more than an actual food source? Yes and yes.

    Does my neighbor have the right to breastfeed her child in public in this manner? Yes, definitely. People (me included) need to get over telling moms under what cicumstances they can and cannot breastfeed in public.

    It's frightening when you think of all the child abuse (yelling and worse) that occurs in public settings and people hardly bat an eye...and then there is this backlash going on against something that is going to benefit our kids (or at the worst in my neighbor's case delay their independence a little).
    posted by Blogger Jen at 7/28/2006 03:06:00 PM  

  • Housewarden- I think you make a good point-- there are some people out there that seem to be uncomfortable with breastfeeding even when it's done discreetly and that just HAS to stop. There is no reason for it.

    Melissa h - "it's equally clear that baring nursing bosoms publicly for the sake of the cause won't really do much besides further irritating the already irritated." This is my feeling too. I don't want the more extreme, breast-baring nurser to become the poster girl for public breastfeeding because it will be harder for the general public to accept (at least now). You said it perfectly: "Baby steps"

    Your story of your family being uncomfortable with you nursing reminded me of when my SIL (a very INdiscreet nurser) whipped it out in front of her 18 year old brother. I don't think his negative reaction was against breastfeeding, he just didn't want to see his sisters boob. I sort of think he should've had the option to not see it.

    Sunny, I have never gotten any bad reactions to breastfeeding in public, but it definitely happens and the press has picked up on it. And the "Ughs" and "Grosses" serisouly have to go. But I think that it is more people that nurse discreetly, not making it a big deal that will further the acceptance of breastfeeding in public.

    "But I always feel like most of the other women wouldn't be comfortable if I nursed without a blanket from start to finish." It's funny because I have always felt the opposite. People wonder why I am covered up when there are only women around.

    We know how you like to show off your breasts and nursing gives you the perfect excuse!! :)

    I totally get your point about the magazine's circulation and I haven't read the article either, but the cover was definitely a calculated statement. And while I am not bothered by the image, I am not sure using it for the cover was the best move for the breastfeeding movement-whether they were thinking about that or not, I can't say. It was obviously great for the magazine - what press!

    "Does my neighbor have the right to breastfeed her child in public in this manner? Yes, definitely. People (me included) need to get over telling moms under what cicumstances they can and cannot breastfeed in public"

    I agree that she has the right, but I still feel the public has the right to not see breastfeeding done in this manner. Yes, it's natural. But in our society, it is not the accepted norm and until we take a ton of baby steps in that direction, I can't blame people for their shocked reactions.

    Baby steps. Baby steps.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 7/28/2006 03:58:00 PM  

  • Before I had kids, I would look at photos of women nursing (I rarely saw it "in the flesh" so to speak), and I felt so uncomfortable with the notion of me nursing a child. Nothing about the photo resonated, I did not aspire to it, I felt uncomfortable with it. These feelings persisted through most of my first pregnancy. And then I had the baby and nursed her that first time and all trepidation was gone.

    ksl and I were speaking about nursing the other day and she was talking about how foreign it felt that she would do that again some day...and I remember feeling that in between kids too. So, I think that some hormone in your body clicks an "on" switch about being comfortable with breastfeeding.

    What I am trying to say, is that if you are not in that phase of your life or have never been in it, I can understand why people are uncomfortable, can't explain it, but I understand. And I think no matter how you nurse (like carrie or like jen's neighbor), it is not going to change their feelings...it's about them, not us breastfeeding mothers.

    I do think they can be less outspoken or rude about it, but that will only change with a class about manners, not breastfeeding more or less discreetly.

    And for the record, I have never had anyone show disgust at my breastfeeding, and I would say I am middle of the road when it comes to discretion (in public)...with my friends, forget about it.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 7/28/2006 04:05:00 PM  

  • I'm all for nursing wherever necessary, I've done it in waiting rooms, restaurants, church, parks, the pool, wherever, because my baby needs to eat when he needs to eat.

    I think being discrete about breastfeeding is just being considerate and should happen when nursing in public places. I actually don't have a problem with seeing the boob part of a breastfeeding mom when the baby is latched on, it's the nipple I don't feel comfortable showing or seeing.

    It is interesting that the cover of that magazine is such a controversy. The woman isn't showing any more breast than models and actresses on other magazine covers or at movie premiers, the Oscars, etc. Now I'm just rambling, I'm done!
    posted by Anonymous Mary at 7/28/2006 06:42:00 PM  

  • You know, not in a million years would I even have noticed anything about that magazine cover. It's about as inoffensive and benign as nursing can be... and on the cover of a parenting magazine... just wouldn't have noticed it.

    That said, my kids wouldn't nurse under a blanket so save my life. Period. But you can be discreet with your shirt and how you position the baby, and numerou other ways, as some of you have already pointed out.

    I thing masses of tasteful nursers will go us much further than the "flop the boob out" lactivists... No one likes their noses rubbed in something they find distasteful, but minds can be changed with subtlety and manners.
    posted by Blogger Tracy M at 7/28/2006 06:51:00 PM  

  • "I think masses of tasteful nursers will go us much further than the "flop the boob out" lactivists... No one likes their noses rubbed in something they find distasteful, but minds can be changed with subtlety and manners."

    Well said Tracy M. And just like you and Marian said, being discreet doesn't have to mean covering yourself with a blanket. Marian-you did a great job at it because I can honestly say I have never seen your boob(s).
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 7/28/2006 06:59:00 PM  

  • tracy m. AS one who definitely pays attention to mag covers...I have never seen a mainstream parenting publication (granted this one is free, not on the stands), have this sort of cover. They are usually single (sometimes double) kids/babies with eyes looking directly to camera, very posy.

    Sometimes there will be an anonymous mother...especially if it is a baby in the bathtub (they have to be motherly correct-never leave a baby unattended blah blah blah)...or something like that.

    So, the cover did not bother me, but it really stood out compared to this posey, eyes to camera, usually full body and on a set cover. This was boob and baby sharing equal page space, close up, baby's eyes averted...very different for this genre.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 7/28/2006 07:27:00 PM  

  • I have to agree with Tracy that I don't think I would've really noticed the cover if there hadn't been so much hulla-balooey surrounding it. But when I do stop and look at it, I think it's beautiful. Completely inoffensive.
    posted by Blogger Julie at 7/28/2006 08:08:00 PM  

  • "Mothering" magazine has had several nursing babies on the cover over the years, one pic in particular is a personal favorite of mine... The baby is nursing, but looking up at mom (or the camera) and grinning a big toothless grin- while still eating- it's beautiful.

    Not sure how mainstream Mothering is though- they cater to a pretty specific target audience, (of which I had to retire from- the "no immunizations" thing just become too tedious)
    posted by Blogger Tracy M at 7/28/2006 09:57:00 PM  

  • Actually, as much as I disagree with the bare breast nursers, they are the only ones who are really furthering the cause significantly.
    There have always been women like me. Discreet nursers!!!! I felt comfortable nursing most places. I concentrated on what was comfortable for me and the baby. Sometimes I looked for a type of chair with decent support. I usually wore clothing that didn't show off my whole body to nurse. SOmetimes I stayed home because nursing was painful unless it was in a certain position.
    I am not an activist. I would of course be offended if someone told me not to nurse, and I might go to the press if a restaurant made me leave, probably because I was always careful and discreet for my own comfort.
    Its the fanatics that really bring the issue into the foreground. Its the fanatics that force people to change the status quo.
    As much as I roll my eyes and natural childbirth "crazy" people, I have to thank those fanatics that changed the system over the years so that my birth was the way I wanted it to be.
    So, while I disagree with the bare breasted nursing fanatics, I thank them for the sake of future breastfeeding moms who will not feel like it is inappropriate to nurse in public.
    posted by Anonymous JKS at 7/29/2006 12:26:00 PM  

  • It was only when I had a baby and started actively thinking about breastfeeding that I realized just how often women breastfeed in public. I wonder if some people think that no-one (or at least, no-one respectable) breastfeeds in public (because they've always assumed that the little one under the blanket was sleeping). And since no-one repectable does, no-one should breastfeed in public. The bare-breasted ladies provide a valuable service in making people aware of the presence of breastfeeding women. If there were a good way to make it obvious that I'm breastfeeding without showing any skin then I'd be all for that.

    On a side note, I think the tribal societies where the women don't wear tops are living proof that the breast need not be as titilating as we think it is. I tend to think that increased prevalence of non-sexual breast images could do wonders for our concerns about being discreet or flashing people. It would be wonderful for it to not be an issue to just breastfeed without without anyone being uncomfortable or fearing a peepshow. I especially wish this were true in the church. We say we're a family friendly church but I'll never forget sitting with 10 other women in an 8x10 room without ac to nurse. I didn't feel priviledged in there. I felt miserable, but I knew it would be inappropriate for me to nurse in the chapel.
    posted by Blogger Starfoxy at 7/30/2006 05:10:00 PM  

  • I'll never forget sitting with 10 other women in an 8x10 room without ac to nurse. I didn't feel priviledged in there. I felt miserable, but I knew it would be inappropriate for me to nurse in the chapel.

    Amen, Starfoxy. Just last Sunday, after trying to get Abby to eat in the sweltering little room for over an hour, sweaty and angry baby and I went home where she could eat, and we could both cool off.

    I don't get why we can't nurse comfortabley in RS, either. It's a room full of women, for heaven's sake, but at least in my ward, I have NEVER seen anyone nurse in there. We all get up and leave. I just don't get it.
    posted by Blogger Tracy M at 7/30/2006 09:51:00 PM  

  • I had never seen women nurse in RS either until my current ward. We have a lot of young moms/families (we're a predominantly military ward - Travis Air Force Base) and they just do what they need to do where they need to do it. It's the most liberating thing to see ever in RS and because I've seen them do it so seamlessly I'll do it in the future too.

    I never saw anyone nurse in sacrament until I saw Z with her Hooter Hider take care of business with her DS. Again, I felt empowered - why shouldn't we nurse our children when and where we need to without compromising our own comfort/safety/well being (all provided of course that you have a willing participant in the baby as well - if you've got a latch on screamer or flailer, it's probably best to go somewhere more discreet)?
    posted by Blogger chloe at 7/30/2006 10:57:00 PM  

  • Thanks to JKS and Starfoxy for bringing the other side of the argument. I understand your points but not sure if I wholly agree. I'm not sure I agree with the desexualization of the female breast so women can more freely flash thier lactating boobs. While they have a dual purpose, I am quite fond of the sexual nature of my breasts (although we could do away with the oversexualized images for sure). I'm still thinking about it all.

    "If there were a good way to make it obvious that I'm breastfeeding without showing any skin then I'd be all for that.

    Maybe we could have ZInone's sister make a hooter hider design with embroidery that reads something like "Attention: Breastfeeding Baby Under Here!"

    Lastly, to the comments about R.S., you are all right. It doesn't make sense that a woman would feel uncomfortable nursing there. I just wonder if the pattern started because one women left just to ditch class and another woman left because her baby doesn't do well with distractions around and another left because she's a newbie at the whole thing, and a pattern was started. The rest of the women just follow suit. I wouldn't hesitate to nurse in R.S. and I don't think any woman in my ward would bat an eye at it. I usually leave because my babies do a little better with silence.

    I guess we're now starting a R.S. Lactivist League. Go forward and Nurse!
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 7/30/2006 11:38:00 PM  

  • With my first babies I always went to the mother room at church, then I had a good friend ask me why it is that women don't breastfeed in RS, there are only women in there. Good point I thought. This last baby (#8)I breast feed in sacrament meeting. I decided it was silly for me to leave my other children there alone (dad is not always with us)to go sit in a little room by myself. I do my best not to flash anyone. My husband agrees with me on this.

    She is 7 months now and just recently I have sometimes had to go to the mothers room because she is in the "lets let go and look around" stage.

    I say ladies, start breastfeeding in sacrament meeting!

    Karen mom of 8
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 7/31/2006 03:10:00 PM  

  • I was horrified when I learned that my cousin could breastfeed in Sacrament Meeting discreetly with her first child (my child was also my first and only at the time, too).

    Then I tried it in RS (baby steps for me) and I have to agree --why do we force women to the mother's room or the bathroom when you can do it so well and hidden in Sacrament Mtng? I will be bold this next time...

    tftcarrie --good thread. I agree WHOLE-HEARTEDLY with everything you said. And I try to do it, too...
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 7/31/2006 05:16:00 PM  

  • "I don't get why we can't nurse comfortabley in RS, either. It's a room full of women, for heaven's sake, but at least in my ward, I have NEVER seen anyone nurse in there. We all get up and leave. I just don't get it."

    YES! What is up with that? If you can't nurse around other women, who can you nurse around??

    Another memory: When I was a brand new mom with a month old baby, both hard, uncomfortable rockers in the bathroom (we didn't have a mothers room in that ward until just recently) were taken. I was still uncomfortable nursing in public - I wasn't good at nursing modestly yet. So I was rocking my fussy, hungry baby in the foyer, waiting for an empty room or chair. There were 2 other moms of small babes in the foyer with me, thankfully. They convinced me to sit in the foyer and feed my child - that they'd help cover me and stand in front of me until I felt comfortable. Bless those women.
    posted by Blogger Julie at 7/31/2006 09:15:00 PM  

  • LOL some of you feel like women are banished to the mother's room, but imagine if it wasn't there. Women would be begging for one! It is nice that it is there! I think it was put there out of consideration for us.
    Some women don't want to nurse when they are in a chair practically pressued up right against some strange man. Some women prefer a little privacy or physical comfort (chairs with arm support).
    Maybe some people really want to nurse in sac. mtg. I however preferred to escape for some peace and quiet. Also, I leaked a lot so changing pads was difficult.
    I know several women who have nursed during RS.
    posted by Anonymous JKS at 8/01/2006 07:40:00 PM  

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