Breastfeeding in Public
The Difficulties of Feeding in Public
Breastfeeding in public is a very sensitive and important topic for mothers.
It is common knowledge (and also supported by all lactation consultants) that nursing mothers should breastfeed approximately every two hours. It's very difficult to be a parent without going out in public - there are always errands to run and people to meet with. A nursing mother who needs to feed her child will inevitability have to feed in public. Frequent feeding prevents painful and possibly serious complications such as plugged ducts, mastitis and insufficient milk supply. It is therefore very distressing that so many mothers meet with resistance when breastfeeding in public.
Some would suggest that a nursing mother express milk and bottle-feed in public rather than feed from her breast. Add the expressing of milk at home to an already full schedule, and you have a recipe for inconvenience and stress. There are so many benefits to breastfeeding: it is more economical, environmentally sound and easier to do in addition to carrying many health advantages for mother and child. It's therefore important for women to seek and offer each other support in public nursing.
Ending a Vicious Cycle
Most women who choose to breastfeed in public meet with resistance. Chalk it up to our culture's sexual taboos. It is important to realize that public breastfeeding taboo stems from the sexual associations attached to breasts.
These associations are learned in Western societies because we grow up seeing scantily clad women flaunted in advertising. These women are depicted as sexual objects meant to attract customers. And thus the vicious cycle begins.
Because breasts are perceived as sexual objects, many women are discouraged from feeding in public. They fear that people will see the motherly instinct of breastfeeding sexually, rather than as an act of nurturing. They are either stared at by "breast men" or given disapproving looks by people who don't understand the nurturing nature of breastfeeding. These mothers in turn feel less comfortable with breastfeeding, and stop breastfeeding in public.
As a result, the idea that breasts are taboo, sexual objects is enforced. This condition is aggravated by advertising that uses airbrushing technology to portray women's breasts as 'perky' or 'perfect.'
All of this creates a society where women are ashamed and unhappy with their breasts. It also takes away an infant's chance to engage in this nurturing act that promotes incredible health benefits!
How do we stop this vicious cycle?
Fighting Breastfeeding Taboos
One way to change our cultural public breastfeeding taboo is to remind the public what breasts are really meant for. Don't be afraid to breastfeed in public. There are many nursing bras and nursing shirts that allow for discreet feeding. You can also use a nursing privacy drape. These drapes are so discreet, they even have a built-in shoulder weight so baby can't pull it down! They also fold easily into a purse or diaper bag.
If you need support, there are many breastfeeding groups that advocate public breastfeeding and offer advice. La Leche league offers helpful information on their website and coordinates breastfeeding support circles in your area. Another advocate of breastfeeding in public is 007 Breast. Their site and advocacy program can be found online.
Breastfeeding in Public Is Your Legal Right
It is legal to breastfeed in public and in fact legislature on the topic of breastfeeding in the US is pretty proactive. Check to see the current status of your state's breastfeeding legislature.
Remember, breastfeeding is good for you, your baby, and for the way in which the female body is viewed and understood. Protect your right and feel free to breastfeed in public.
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