Monday, March 11, 2013

Breastfeeding in Public

The really worried over is breastfeeding thing.  I couldn't breastfeed my first, but I am determined to breastfeed this next one (whenever it decides to show up!) Breastfeeding this one will mean the opportunity to breastfeed in public. (Breastfeeding in public means not using a cover or a blanket when you breastfeed in a public area or in front of other people. It can be very discreet, but not hidden). I feel that breastfeeding in public is a very personal choice, and there isn't a right or wrong decision. If given the choice, I will choose to breastfeed in public. And this is why:

Back in the 80's, in a zoo in Ohio, a female gorilla born and raised in captivity gave birth. That gorilla had never seen another mother gorilla feed a baby gorilla. Her instincts told her she should, but she had no idea how. Unable to feed it, she killed it. A while later, this same gorilla became pregnant again. The zoo keepers, not wanting this newborn to be killed, decided to try something new.  They called the local La Leche League and asked for volunteers. Those volunteers came to the zoo, sat on one side of a glass wall, and breastfed their baby in full view of the female gorilla who watched from the other side of the glass wall. This was done throughout the gorilla's pregnancy. When the baby gorilla was born, the female gorilla could do what she was unable to do with the last baby: breastfeed it.  Monkey see, monkey do.

I feel a lot like that gorilla. Before my baby was born I never saw a woman breastfeeding. I knew breastfeeding was important to me. I knew I wanted to breastfeed my baby. Yet, when my baby was born, I couldn't. I utterly failed at breastfeeding. How could I have been expected to succeed when I had never seen it done?

For thousands of years, women breastfed their children. It was, and still is, the natural thing to do. Historically, breastfeeding was never an issue of modesty. In certain cultures walking around without a shirt was completely unacceptable, but in those cultures, having one breast exposed to a suckling child was normal. That's how babies ate. There was nothing immodest about it. That holds true for the Mormon pioneers. Exposing your ankle was immodest but exposing a breast to feed a baby? No one thought anything of it! They believed very strongly in modesty, but breastfeeding your child in full view of other adult males simply wasn't an modesty issue. It was normal! LDS Women openly breastfed in sacrament meeting and while crossing the plains.

Why? Why didn't they think that exposing a secondary sexual organ has anything to do with modesty? Because it's just that: a secondary sexual organ, just like a mouth. You eat with your mouth in full view of others and don't think anything about it being modest or immodest, because it's not a modesty issue. Babies eat with a breast (so to speak). It's the same thing.

The more you read the scriptures the more you get the idea that God thinks a breastfeeding is a beautiful, wonderful, GOOD sight.

"Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb." (Genesis 49:25)

"O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised." (Song of Solomon 8:1)

Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her:
That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.
For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her alike a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees.
As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:10-13)

Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. (Isaiah 49:15)

Clearly, God does NOT think breastfeeding is immodest.

Early LDS men and women picked up on that language and held the image of breastfeeding in high regard, as we can see in LDS works of art which are prominently displayed at Seagull Monument in Salt Lake City; in a wall mural in the Cardston, Alberta temple; and even in the Book of Mormon Reader (That image is on Page 31 [Enos 1:11-12] if you want to look it up yourself!).

So what happened? Formula has been around since the late 1800's, but  it was generally considered  inferior to breastmilk. In the 40's and 50's science was the hero of the modern world. In 1951 scientists announced that formula was the better than breast milk. If you wanted the best for your child, you gave them formula, not breast milk. And who wouldn't want the best for your child? Every parent wanted to do the best thing, and most parents thought the best thing was formula. But formula was expensive, and not every mother could afford it. Suddenly, a mother could not breastfeed her child in front of other, because that would be admitting that she wasn't feeding the baby formula; she wasn't "giving her baby the best". Breastfeeding became a status of low income, or of the uneducated. It was hidden away in back bedrooms where the ashamed mothers could feed their babies without the disapproving looks of society.

And then, years later, scientists realized, "Hey, wait a minute. Formula is NOT better than breast milk. It's not even the same as breast milk. Formula is worse that breast milk. Breastfeeding is actually way better. For a lot of reasons. Sorry about that." But the damage was already done. Breastfeeding was no longer the norm and when mothers began to once again nurse in public, suddenly there was an issue of modesty. But  modesty was never the reason women breastfed in private.

Still, seeing a women breastfeed had become a rare sight, and seeing an exposed breast was no longer normal. In our modern society breastfeeding is once again becoming normal, but with nursing covers or with blankets. Especially in church, it a rare sight to see an exposed breast nourishing an infant. That makes it immodest in society's view, but not in God's. How do we change that? How do we make breastfeeding in public normal again? How do we overcome that bias of immodestly? We breastfeed in public. It wasn't so long ago that women wearing pants was considered immodest by society. How did that change? Women wore pants. Simple.

Why is that important to me? Why do I want to make breastfeeding in public accepted, encouraged, and considered normal?

Women need to see other women breastfeeding. Just like that gorilla, they need to see it so they can do it. They also need to see it to know that it's normal, that it's how babies eat. If more women breastfeed in public, more women will be able to breastfeed. That means saving billions of dollars and one thousand lives a year.

Little girls are taught from such a young age that their breasts are to tantalize boys. Everywhere they look women are sexualized. In the words of  M. Russel Ballard: "It is, unfortunately, all too easy to illustrate the confusion and distortion of womanhood in contemporary society. Immodest, immoral, intemperate women jam the airwaves, monopolize magazines, and slink across movie screens—all while being celebrated by the world. The Apostle Paul spoke prophetically of “perilous times” that will come in the last days and specifically referenced something that may have seemed particularly perilous to him: “silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts” (2 Timothy 3:1, 6). Popular culture today often makes women look silly, inconsequential, mindless, and powerless. It objectifies them and disrespects them and then suggests that they are able to leave their mark on mankind only by seduction—easily the most pervasively dangerous message the adversary sends to women about themselves."

We have to fight that! Little girls need to see breastfeeding to understand that breasts are not (only) for seduction! Breasts produce an antibacterial, antiviral liquid that nurtures babies with a perfect blend of nutrients. They make a liquid that builds immune systems, expands life expectancy and cures cancer. They are a completely green, renewable resource of food. Little girls need to see that so they can respect it.  So they can respect themselves. So they can demand more respect.

The sexualization of a women's body is everywhere. You cannot shield your little boys from all the graphic images, immodestly dressed women, and degrading videos seen everywhere.  Every little boy will be exposed to those images. The best you can do is to teach them how to respond to those images.

Little boys need to see breastfeeding so they can see the proper use of breasts. They need to see breasts in a context that is not sexual, but nourishing. Not degrading, but peaceful.  If little boys could see that as a common sight then when they saw a degrading image of a woman's breast they would not think that was normal. They would think something was very, very wrong. They would have a way to fight off those offensive  images. They might even have a way to avoid the plague of pornography.

This study showed that when a man sees a women in a bikini, the part of his brain that responds is the same part that responds when he sees a tool like a hammer. He doesn't see that women as a person, but as an object. In our society, scantily clad women are everywhere. That is all a man sees.

But when a man sees a women breastfeeding, he sees her not as an object or a tool, but a human being; as a mother. That is huge! He is looking at an exposed breast, and seeing a human woman, not an object. THAT is how we raise the level of respect for women. THAT is how we stop crimes against women.

I've never breastfed in public before, and the thought of it is scary, but I know that it is my choice to make. I am choosing to breastfeed in public becasue of these issues. I want to help other women breastfeed their babies. I want to help a little girl understand her value. I want to help a little boy grow up with respect for women. I want to help men understand that I am not a tool, but a human being. I think there are other ways to accomplish all of these things, but this is how I feel I can help change my little corner of the world.


  1. Wow, you are brave. If you can succeed in this, I admire you. What will you do if you are criticized in public for it, especially if Ash is with you? What if you are asked to leave a place? What will you do if you get the feeling some man is ogling you?These are things you will probably face, so be prepared.

    I love that Ballard quote. It's so true. As long as women are willing to become sex objects, men will treat them that way. As long as men are willing to pay, there are women who will do it, but the sad thing is how few girls are being taught respect for their own bodies. I've seen 9-year-olds dance in a way that makes me want to make sure no sex offenders are in the room--because a trusted adult taught them to!

  2. Yeah! FYI while I used a cover at church and in public, at home I did not. I didn't flaunt but I didn't hide either. My boys saw me feeding K and it was a normal thing for them.

  3. That is awesome! The home is where you can really make a difference! Good for you!


    I don't know if you have seen this commercial, but I loved it, it shows just what you are saying. The public is shocked at breastfeeding in public, but it is normal and natural. As soon as I get pregnant, I will be calling you for advice and information!

  5. What an awesome commercial! How clever!

  6. I love this! Thanks for writing it!

  7. A very thought-provoking blog favorite! As for me, I think that while public breastfeeding can send a lot of positive messages, it's not a good tool for teaching other women the actual mechanics of breastfeeding, as most moms, cover or no, won't just hang out letting passer-bys see how the baby is latching on. I would recommend that women get a friend or relative to let them be a close and purposeful observer (the "gorilla") if they need a teaching moment.
    Also, I was thinking about why more moms don't breastfeed--the ones who can but choose not to or give it up quickly. I guess I worry that with all the praise of breastfeeding today, (I think most moms know it's best for their babies, right?) we make it sound to first-time breastfeeders like it's this magic rainbow-sparkle-pony super-power-bestowing mystical-bonding thing. And while breastfeeding is an amazing source of nutrients and a nice way to spend time and bond with your baby, it's also very painful at first, moderately to extremely time-consuming, (depending on how fast your baby eats) and rather inconvenient at times when mom is tired of being on call. Like most mom things, beastfeeding involves commitment and effort--I think that if we brought up these aspects and were a little more realistic about it, more moms would stick with it.
    Anyway, I am excited to follow your journey into breastfeeding with baby #2...keep us updated!

  8. A very good point. I've had several new moms tell me that their newborns eat ALL the time, so they must not make milk. Newborn's tummy's are marble sized, they really do eat every hour, and can nurse for an hour. It's exhausting, but normal, and I think we just don't prepare moms for that.

  9. This is an awesome post. And apparently I haven't checked your blog in a while, so can I just say I love all the pictures (and video!) of your awesome looking remodeled bathroom and yard?

    It occurs to me that I have no freaking idea how to breastfeed. The one time I saw it in public I was so surprised I didn't know what to do (my shock, admittedly, was partially because I'd never seen it before, but mostly because the child was nearly 3 years old and was shouting "Breast, breast!" in order to be fed. That just seemed too old for breastfeeding to me. But maybe it's not?). I'm glad I have a mother and a sister who both breastfed, so at least I have someone who can show me what to do.

    I'm also gonna need someone to show me how to change diapers and stuff. Man, I'm gonna be in big trouble some day...

    Anyway. Yay for being young and single! I won't have to worry about this for years! Still, this is a wonderful post. Great thought provoker.

  10. Love your post. I agree with everything. I failed to a large extent with breastfeeding my first, but felt I "succeeded" with the second. With my first, I was "misled" with some pre-conceived notions of its ease and easily frustrated when I "failed" (as one of your commenters noted), but also had few role models.

    However, I will strongly note that I do NOT think bottle feeding is in ANY WAY easier. People who think that are fooling themselves. When you are tired in the middle of the night, or on a plane and have no sanitation sources, tell me what's easier then... I was so SICK of bottles with my first I was 100% determined to succeed on the second.

    The medical establishment in many hospitals is still not supportive enough of breastfeeding. Maybe it's gotten better in the last twelve years. I would hope so. But this whole attitude that bottle feeding is "easier" needs to go.

    In terms of being in public, I did do this. Now, in Idaho Falls, I felt very judged. At times, I didn't feel like dealing with the judgment so I didn't do it. I never felt ogled. If that were to happen, I think a basic disapproving look is about all that's necessary.

    In all this, we can't forget that there are people that choose not to breastfeed or can't - and that's ok too (as I know YOU know). I had the misfortune to witness the aftermath of my sister-in-law being harassed by a woman for feeding her baby with a bottle - simply awful. I only actual saw the end result - my sister-in-law in tears. I was very upset I did not have the opportunity to talk to that woman. Unbelievable.

    All that said, go for it! And if some days, you aren't feeling like "braving the public", that's cool too. We all need to be a little more forgiving of ourselves.

  11. I totally agree that bottle feeding is not easier! When we had my nephew, he did formula, and that was AWFUL! If it had been easy, I think I would have done it with Ash. But pumping was actually easier than formula. For me, anyway.

    It makes me so sad to hear about people being harassed or looked down on for bottle feeding. First, everyone's situation is different. I bottle fed, but it was breastmilk because I couldn't breastfeed. I know a women who couldn't give her child her breastmilk at all because of the meds she was on. I know some women that give all the breastmilk they have to the baby, and it simply isn't enough. Moms do what they can, and they do what they think is best. It's not "failing" it's doing what you can, giving your child what you can.

    The problem is, I find a lot of mother uneducated on "what is best" and I think that's why people over react when they see bottles. They want the mom to know the correct information, but the way they share that knowledge is ALL WRONG. Shaming the mom about using a bottle is 100% unacceptable. Like I said, moms do the best they can and do what they think is best.


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