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Thursday, August 9, 2012

How do we normalize breastfeeding?

So World Breastfeeding Week is over and now we're into "National Breastfeeding Month" in the United States. It would seem that we need literally a month to devote to this subject because when it comes to our attitudes on breastfeeding, the rest of the world thinks we're nuts and can't understand our problem.

How exactly do we normalize breastfeeding? And what does that mean?

Some are all about the doublespeak: "I totally support your right to breastfeed, as long as you do it in private or very discreetly." Which sounds an awful lot like "I think breastfeeding is the best thing for babies, but I just don't want to see you actually doing it."

This Victoria's Secret mannequin
leaves nothing to the imagination
Sometimes when I'm out and about I observe things that make me scratch my head like "Seriously?" It's not a wonder we have issues.

1. We need to respect the breast. I'm sorry, but one thing I can't stand is hearing (especially women, for some reason) referring to them as "tits." And when men start basically making cat calls like "I'm all for anything that involves seeing boobs in public," that doesn't really help, either. Sexual euphemisms for your breasts are not helping with the double-minded attitude that people have about breasts and what they should be used for, or that they even have more than one function.

The popular nursing cover "Hooter Hiders" further emphasizes my point: when we're talking about breastfeeding but referring to them as "hooters," I don't know about you but I automatically think of the restaurant chain. Completely pointless.

Not only does the giant apron draw more attention to you, but the name
"Hooter Hider" seems to sexualize the act of breastfeeding. I cannot
wrap my brain around the conflicting messages here. It's like
nourishing your baby, with a touch of vulgarity. Bleh. (And while
they say it's a "top must-have for breastfeeding mothers," I have never
seen anyone use one of these things.)
By sexualizing the breasts even when promoting breastfeeding, it's like shooting yourself in the foot. Case in point - these idiotic promo ads from the Ad Council. Are you serious? Is this really doing any good?

Once again, Americans prove how incredibly juvenile they are about using the breasts for something other than sex.

On the other hand, New Zealand takes a radical approach and actually shows (gasp!) someone breastfeeding. Wait - there's no tarp covering her and she's nursing - and you really can't even tell. How is this possible?

2. Sort of dovetailing off the above point, just say the word breast. I dare you to. Target has a clever tactic of calling it natural feeding in their stores. They can't even say "Breastfeeding" on the sign above the display, even though I'm sure 100 percent of the product packages featured in that section do. Maybe we could get over our sexualization of them if we just matter-of-factly, maturely, called them what they really are?

3. And dovetailing off of that, get rid of the ridiculous marketing. Again with the Target display, I was dumbfounded when I saw this there the other day:

Not only do they not call it "breastfeeding," they don't show anyone actually breastfeeding anywhere in the picture: there is an entire display of bottles with formula in them, and a canister of powdered formula in the foreground. What?!

This was even more disturbing. The mother and baby featured aren't nursing, either. This would have been a perfect opportunity for Target to actually feature a mother doing what the sign advertises, right?

Stranger still is the sign underneath - that immediately equates "natural feeding" with using a breast pump. Some women, obviously, will use them, but this seems to make you think you must buy one, you need one, so you don't have to actually be seen feeding your baby. Truly bizarre.

4. Just do it. I can't think of a better way to normalize it than actually feed your baby somewhere. Who knows - the more women we see nursing in public, the more it can possibly change attitudes and even encourage just one mom. As much as people complain about "exposing" little Johnny and Susie to it as kids, children do need to see that relationship to understand the basic function of the human body, whether mom likes it or not. I'd much rather explain to my child how their brother is fed than have to tell them why Susie's mother doesn't object when she wears next to nothing to school every day.

5. Be an advocate, whenever possible. This doesn't mean staging a "nurse in" or anything of that magnitude, but respectfully standing up for yourself and your rights as much as possible. I'm not saying defy police authority in the pathetic event that they might be called, but responding even keel and not getting angry probably helps a lot (no matter how much you want to smash the person's face in). Hand them a pamphlet with your state's breastfeeding laws. Tell them you're perfectly within your rights and carry on. It's sad that you even have to approach such a thing as infant feeding looking for a fight, but some people will confront you no matter how much you're covered simply because they know what you're doing under there. 

Advocacy shouldn't include, however, being a "nursing Nazi" (a term I despise) and even if you do think formula is poison, keep those sentiments to yourself. Getting up in a mom's face for not breastfeeding is not going to make her turn around and lactate, either.

One way I could put my money where my mouth is, for instance, is to write a nice letter to Target asking them why they're complete asshats about the way they "promote" breastfeeding. Perhaps some positive changes will take place as a result; or maybe they'll just send me coupons for free formula. *snark*