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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nursing in Public and the Target Controversy

Today I had to go to Target and specifically went to one out of my way in hopes of meeting up with some mothers who were involved in the Target Nurse-In. Somehow, I read about a local protest going on in my area that the news reported on (somewhat snarkily, I might add) where five women got together in the Target cafe to do their thing. I got there too late (or somehow expected them to be milling around the store, babes in hand LOL) but managed to read some idiotic comments on the article when I got home from shopping.

I bet none of the people who left a comment even saw any of the women in question. And because Target wouldn't allow cameras into the store (which is pretty common practice) we could only get a shot of the back of one woman and the top of her baby's head. If I saw the picture out of context, I wouldn't have even realized she was actually nursing a baby.

People used the typical phrases, "Go somewhere else," or "Find a private place," with proclamations of not wanting to see bodily functions - almost like you're comparing breast milk to sputum or diarrhea. Well, that "bodily function" sure saved me a lot of money when it came to feeding my babies. And if you want to look at it that way - yes, it's a function of your body, which means it was designed to do it. Doesn't mean you have to, but if you weren't meant to you'd be born with two cans of Enfamil strapped to your chest instead.

As I cruised around the store I saw one woman in the baby bottle aisle contemplating which one to choose. Maybe she was shopping for herself, maybe not, but I couldn't help but feel an invisible pang that said "You don't really need that stuff!" Yes, yes, I know there are many women out there who can't nurse: women with serious health issues, some who take dangerous medications, some who have other health issues that interfere with breast milk production that they don't even know about (more about that later in my upcoming series on thyroid disease). But I can't help but wonder if some of the biggest obstructions to nursing mothers (or potential nursing mothers) is psychological.

I don't know if I want to come right out and call people lazy. But there might be some truth in that, some of which isn't even their fault. Nursing is sometimes hard work for people, and I have the utmost admiration and awe for those who succeed, or try their damnedest, to make it work despite the odds. Pumping, working mothers? Oh how I respect them, because I know not everyone can stay home all the time to nurse their child whenever he wants the boob. Women who have tried every supplement on earth and still nothing works? You bet.

I think the modern age of conveniences - like relatively cheap, easy-to-come-by infant formula, perhaps - have made us lazy, in a sense. The mentality of It's right there, just go ahead and use it! is very tempting. Old worn-out ideology about nursing ("Your breasts are too small," "Your nipples are too flat," "You can't feed a big baby") still manage to somehow prevail, which boggles my mind, and therefore creates in women the idea that they're broken and can't possibly work, so why try?

This mentality, I think, has been happening way before us: before we were born, maybe before our mothers were even born. The heavy marketing of cheap, ready to use infant formula (along with lots of other modern things that made our lives easier) swayed our mothers and grandmothers to think the very parts we were born with were somehow dirty, outdated, useless, and paved the way for something better, or just as good, at least. Once the idea that breasts are meant to be looked at, ogled, instead - and that you could display them as you wished because you were a woman and free to do so, if you liked - somehow replaced in our minds that breasts were first and foremost meant to feed a baby and now, we were free to talk at length about their other purpose.

Because of that mentality - the same one that took us from "breast is best and infant formula should be only used for sickly babies" to "formula is fine; why even bother with anything else?" - there's this psychological supposition of failure: That because your mother and grandmother "could never nurse," you might not be able to, either. That because your baby spits up on your three or four times, he has colic and your milk is "bad." That because he's "fussy," (whatever that means) that you should just go ahead and stop nursing because this stuff is better and you don't even have to do anything. Because "who wants a two-year-old sucking on your tit all day?" *sigh* We've gone from people who couldn't afford not to nurse to a nation that actually subsidizes it - by upwards of 50 percent of the total consumption.

That same psychology of failure is what leads many people to believe it's wrong, you can't do it, because it seems like they almost want you to fail because they did. Like, "Because I couldn't do it I'm going to complain at length about why you are." Perhaps they're jealous, I don't know. Maybe the reason they couldn't or didn't is because, like our generation, they get mostly crappy support. No one to quietly tell them, "Hey, great job!" "That's awesome!" or even, "I could never nurse my babies but I'm happy to see you doing it." It's another mommy war, in which people are still angry that someone else dare succeed where they have failed.

One older woman I know, and probably many like her, was given medication to dry up her breast milk - without even asking - because it was assumed she would formula feed. This wasn't even that long ago; sadly, one recent article I read said that few hospitals in the US fully supported nursing mothers in their breastfeeding relationship, even among those who expressly said they wanted to nurse. Disgusting.

People can tell you to "go somewhere private" all they want - but that's not always a foolproof plan, either. One time while shopping in Walmart, I had to nurse the baby so I retreated to a fitting room (which was fine with me; then I could get nice and relatively comfy). In the middle of nursing, a kid - probably ten years old - looked under the door for several seconds not once but twice, which I must say I found kind of annoying. I mean, modeling a perfectly normal breast-feeding relationship is one thing, but can we do it another time, perhaps? And where the heck is your mother, kid?

The majority of people in that article who complained, I bet, have never even seen a nursing mother expose herself. Much less even seen a woman nursing her baby in public. Sadly, I can't even remember seeing a nursing mother any time recently. I think the last time I did was almost two years ago at my son's school field trip, when the mother of my son's classmate was breastfeeding her baby. And then, I stared - in awe, not in shock - because I admired her for tucking herself in a shady little corner and discretely nursing her baby. I knew what she was doing, but saw no breasts, nothing - except a little bundle of love cradled in her mother's arms.

More reading:
Target employees bully breastfeeding mom despite corporate policy - Best for Babes
Breastfeeding mother 'told to leave council headquarters because it is a multicultural building' - Daily Mail
Breastfeeding mother asked to leave pool
Women-only gym asks mother to leave for breastfeeding son
Natalie Hegedus, Mom, Kicked out of courtroom for breastfeeding - Huffington Post
Kasey Kahne, NASCAR driver, tweets against breastfeeding in public - Huffington Post


Teaching-Mommy said...

Great blog!! I informed my grandmothers I'd be breastfeeding our 3rd baby (come hell or high water) and they were SHOCKED. BOTH said neither of them ever breastfed, nor did my mother or any of my aunts. It was very awakening for me.

Peggy said...

We live in a time of cultural instability: No matter what I do, someone is going to give me grief about it.

The Deranged Housewife said...

I don't want to offend people who chose to formula feed, because that's your choice - nor do I think militant breastfeeders should voraciously go after formula-feeding women. I don't ever want to make someone feel like an inferior mother because she chose not to nurse her child; however, I do think we need to step back and ask ourselves, Why is it like this? Cultural enabling have made us think that something we're born with is unnecessary, and we should ask ourselves, Why??

That is all. :)

Computer Technology said...

I understand that breastfeeding is natural, but I find it uncomfortable to be around someone doing it. Why can't a mother go somewhere private? Other bodily functions are natural, but we don't do them in public. Is it too much to ask that someone respect others feelings?

The Deranged Housewife said...

Men urinate in public (usually while drunk), and while they can get arrested for doing so, probably don't as much as they should. Spitting in public is probably another bodily function that most people totally ignore.

I encourage you to scroll through some of my photos that I've posted on my fan page - the idea of nursing publicly, openly, was nothing new before the days of internet porn and free and liberal use of cleavage came on the scene. Sex and breastfeeding were, clearly, two separate functions and nursing mothers were usually not even given a second glance. Now we've done a complete turnaround to the point where soft porn is almost welcomed, invited into our homes and in front of our children with mannequins, Victoria Secret models plastered on banners in front of the store, in commercials for just about every product under the sun, and then some. How is this okay - for kids who aren't even old enough to vote to be running around with barely anything on? But the sight of a mother nursing her baby, sometimes very discretely, wrong?

I know someone who was approached at the mall for nursing her child even though she was covered up, tucked out of the way and behind her stroller. The person still felt compelled to come over and tell her what she was doing wrong simply because she knew what was going on under that blanket, even if she couldn't see it. Ever passed on going into a particular toilet stall because it's so messy you don't even want to pee in it? Now can you imagine wanting a nursing mother to go in there to feed her baby?

Tom and Juli said...

I don't like to see butt cracks, but it happens all the time in public when people bend over. Want to know what I do? I look away. I have the choice not to stare at their butt, and I have the sense to teach my children not to stare.

I wish we could normalize breastfeeding to the point where people wouldn't even think to bat an eye when they see a mother nursing her child. It is rarely convenient or possible to find a decent private place to nurse. Why do we need to be shaming nursing mother's out of society as if they are doing something dirty or wrong, yet not care whatsoever when a mother puts a bottle of formula in her baby's mouth?

As far as the modesty issue goes, the baby is on the nipple almost the entire time, you would have to be paying close attention or just look at the absolute perfect time to see any nipple since your only chance would be when the baby is latching on or off. Most women don't show that much boob once the baby is on, and those who show any it's usually a lot less than you'd see on a woman wearing a low cut shirt. And back to my first paragraph... if you don't like it or it makes you uncomfortable then DON'T LOOK!


Deena Blumenfeld RYT, RPYT, LCCE said...

Couldn't have said it better myself! The normalizing of formula comes from the 1940's-1960's marketing campaigns. This was before the truth in advertising laws... Formula was sold as better than breastmilk. Modern science trumps nature yet again. Formula feeding was also seen as something only the wealthy could do - since only they could afford it. Used to be... way back when that if you were wealthy, you'd have a wet nurse, and wouldn't lower yourself to something so base as breastfeeding. Then modern science intervenes and now we have something "hygienic" so you don't need that icky old wet nurse anyway. So, formula feeding became a trendy status symbol and women were told, by the formula companies, and their doctors that formula was better than breastmilk. It took the hippies to tell us that we could and should breastfeed our babies. Now we still fight the marketing, the glossy pictures and our mothers and grandmothers who didn't breastfeed. Only takes one generation to change a way of thinking. Let's work to change it back. My 2.5 year old daughter "gives boobs" to her dolls. My 6.5 year old son thinks formula is weird. This is how we change it. Oh, well, that and I teach Childbirth Ed. and Breastfeeding classes ;-)

AmandaRuth said...

Another good post! But I almost think the breastfeeding is taking the lazy way out sometimes.

I nursed my first daughter for 20 months and now have a 4 month old.

Even though I work and pump throughout the day, use my lunch break to visit my little lady to breastfeed her at daycare - sometimes i still think i have it way easier then someone who chooses formula.

I never have to fix bottles in the middle of the night or wash tons of baby bottles. My children get to experience all of the health benefits which means i see the dr less (though, i wouldnt go to the dr anyways), when there is a breakdown i can always use nursing to help calm the situation, etc.

there are many situations in which people who choose formula are making more difficult simply because they dont breastfeed.... : )

Anonymous said...

I don't have much to add that hasn't been said, but I had a neighbor who didn't even try to breastfeed either of her kids because "Wic gives you formula for free".
That is not a good reason to formula feed. From what I understand (from my other friend who uses wic) they don't even give you enough formula to use it full time!
I've never had anyone come up to me while I was nursing (I never sat on the floor, but would walk and nurse my baby in a sling, while shopping still) but when I tell people I nurse at walmart or Mass they get real upset and tell me I should do it in the bathroom. If no one even notices when I do it, why would I hide in the gross bathroom? Why would I hide at all?

Anonymous said...

Thank you

Enjoy Birth said...

I think a lot of the problem comes from the fact that people see breasts a sexual instead of functional. If we see a man peeing in public we don't see that as a sexual thing.

Breasts have been so sexualized that it is hard for people to see them in any other way. I wrote a post about it. Breasts are not for entertainments purposes!

The Deranged Housewife said...

I know - people compare it to bodily functions, when really - most people seeing a man pee in public would probably just say "That's gross" and shrug their shoulders, commiserate because he's desperate or roll their eyes because they assume he's drunk. Spitting, ditto. Who gets called out for that anymore?

Somehow, though, because breasts seem to be the central focus of our sexuality (I've often noticed that when nudity is featured, it usually focuses on the woman's breasts, does it not?) that if a child is attached - well, that's just wrong. :/

Anonymous said...

I think it doesn't help that women care about what other people think of them, and we seem more keen on tearing each other down than building each other up.