So, a funny thing happened yesterday.
I have been a part of the MotherWise community for awhile now. I periodically share photos, stories, or links to “This Woman’s Work” with them. Yesterday, a story and photo of mine was shared. At first, the comments were sweet and supportive. Parents shared the picture on their timelines with comments like, “Awww!” and, “What a sweet story!” The more it was shared, however, the more people outside of the MotherWise community saw the post.
“Breastfeeding my 14 month old daughter, Olive on the ferry. A little boy was walking by with his mother and stopped to look. “My mommy gives me Na-Na’s too.” He said. His mother smiled. I asked her how old he was, and she said 5. He then walked right up to us and touched her head and said, “I bet your Na-Na’s make your baby smile. They are warm and sweet.”
“Yes, she loves them.” I replied, “You are so lucky to have such a loving Mommy.”
Seeing mothers normalizing breastfeeding, especially full-term, gives me hope for our future generation. Keep it up, Sweet Mamas. Keep it up.”
I mean…as of this morning, the post has been shared over 2000 times from a variety of pages (that I can see), thousands of comments, thousands of “likes.”
Which, I think is great. Really. I expected there to be mixed reactions. I expected people to be shocked. I expected ignorance, hateful comments, and for the trolls to get in on the action. I KNOW that nursing in public is still a controversial issue. I KNOW that full-term breastfeeding is a hot topic. I KNOW that whenever a breastfeeding picture is shared, for some reason, formula feeding gets brought into the conversation (I still don’t get why, however). I KNOW all of this. Which is the exact reason the picture and story was shared.
Several of my mommy-counterparts have differing opinions as to why breastfeeding, breastfeeding in public, and especially breastfeeding full-term bothers (also downright disgusts) a large part of American society. You can think it’s gross. You can think that 5 years old is “too old”. You can think that it should be done in private. You can think that full-term breastfeeding is perverted. You can shout about how everyone has an opinion, and that yours is just as valid as mine. But the difference between your opinions and mine, is that mine are based on facts (I will lay out those facts shortly). You want to know the root of all of these skewed ways of thinking? All of it? It all started with the sexualization of breasts in this country.
Compared to EVERY other country on this planet, the U.S. has an unnatural fetish with breasts. I am going to give you all a little Women’s Studies lesson here. Every generation and every culture has its own idea of what is considered beautiful. Its own idea of what is considered sexual. In the 1800′s, American women were afraid of being too thin. Food products were made to “plump up” women so they would be more appealing to the opposite sex. Then, in the 1920′s flat breasts and a slender figure were all the rage. Bra’s were invented to flatten out a women’s bosom. Now, here we are, in the height of the plastic surgery obsession to obtain the largest breasts as possible, all while having the tiniest of waists– which happens to be a completely unattainable figure to accomplish without the help of a scalpel. What perpetuates what is fashionable, what is considered attractive, what is considered sexy? The media. We are bombarded at a young age with Victoria’s Secret ads, Girls Gone Wild infomercials, magazines, and the entertainment industry that breasts are for SEX. That’s it. Bottom line.
The truth of it is, breasts aren’t for sex at all. You don’t use breasts to reproduce, you use breasts to nourish the offspring as a result of reproduction. They ARE NOT sexual, though they are being classified as such. Yes, breasts are part of what makes a woman “female,” but they are only a reproductive organ because they make milk. If all of a sudden, the sexual stigma of breasts was removed from society, who do you think would be the biggest group of people trying to KEEP the sexualization of breasts alive? The media. The porn industry. The lingerie industry. Without the allure or mystery of breasts…without that taboo…they would lose billions.
In all reality, breasts are just for feeding children. That’s it. Other cultures get it. Carolyn Latteier, author of:: Breasts, The Women’s Perspective on American Obsession said,
“Well, we do have a peculiar obsession with breasts in this culture. A lot of people think it’s just the human nature to be fascinated with breasts but in many cultures, breasts aren’t sexual at all. I interviewed a young anthropologist working with women in Mali, in a country in Africa where women go around with bare breasts. They’re always feeding their babies. And when she told them that in our culture men are fascinated with breasts there was an instant of shock. The women burst out laughing. They laughed so hard, they fell on the floor. They said, “You mean, men act like babies?”
If you remove the idea that breasts are for sex, and therefore should be covered up…all of the issues with breastfeeding fall away. There would be no reason to feel the need to nurse with a cover, or nurse behind closed doors. Mothers wouldn’t feel the need to hide away, or sit behind a pump for hours just so they can bottle feed in public…even though they have it ready, right on tap. People wouldn’t put an appropriate “age” on children breastfeeding…because it would never get “weird.” What is “weird” about breasts being used for what nature intended?
As for the whole age ordeal, which seems to be the issue causing the most uproar, human’s natural age of weaning is 2-7. The world average is 5 years old. The comments on this issue made my brain literally ache. “So, the mom just shows up at his kindergarten class for lunch time?”
“If the kid can ask for it, then the kid is too old.”
“Once they get teeth, they don’t need boob anymore.”
Yadda, yadda. The insanity continued.
First of all. After about the first or second year…children’s diets are mostly food. Like…95%. Maybe more. The child may breastfeed before nap and bed and that is it. Maybe just once a day. Maybe a couple of times a week. The psychological and neurological benefits for full-term breastfeeding are numerous. As are the physiological benefits.
I hear from most mothers of toddlers how picky they are when it comes to food. According to Australian Physician Sarah J Buckley breast milk provides toddlers with up to one-third of their daily energy needs, two-thirds of their fat requirements, 58% of their vitamin A requirements and nearly a third of their calcium needs. It’s no wonder why our children are so sick! They are weaned much too early, then expected to function on a diet of synthetic “food” and a different mammal’s milk. How backward is that?
If the kid can ask for it, the kid is too old? Seriously? My child was asking for it minutes after she was born. The World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding until at LEAST 6 months (before offering solids), then continuing to breastfeed until at LEAST TWO AND BEYOND. According to The American Association of Physicians “If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned.” Jen Davis explained in a 2007 edition of Le Leche League’s (LLL) New Beginnings:
“Even after 12 months, babies continue to benefit from human milk. At one year of age, a baby’s immune system is functioning at only 60 percent of adult level and because formula has no live antibodies, it is strongly associated with high rates of infection (Huggins 2007). A child’s immune system isn’t functioning at adult level until age six (Dettwyler 1994).”
These are facts, people. Test yourself a little. Peel away the beliefs you have that the media and society has ingrained in you. Look at nature. Look at anatomy. It is simple. It is so easy to understand. It isn’t some convoluted issue with grey areas. It is a woman using her breasts to nourish her offspring. Only the child knows when they are no longer reaping the benefits from the breastfeeding relationship…whether nutritional, physiological, or psychological. Trust your body. Trust nature. Trust your child. Contrary to popular belief…your children aren’t out to manipulate you. Promise.
Breastfeeding moms…keep on keeping on. The more you fight this social taboo, the more the taboo melts away. Maybe, just maybe, by the time our children are having children…the crazy idea of nurturing your child the way nature intended will be a thing of the past.