About Breastfeeding...

*edited 1/29/09*

***WARNING*** Possibly inflammatory post! Read only if you are open-minded. :)

I have an acquaintance, for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration. She is a firm believer in standing up for what she thinks is right, a modern-day crusader, if you will. Most recently, she is tirelessly vocal about the rights of breastfeeding mothers, which are far too often overlooked if not completely ignored. I admire her for her conviction. She has introduced me to a hot button issue, of which I have made a casual but constant study for quite a while now.

I was a breastfeeding mother once. However, I was never the unfortunate recipient of discrimination, so I can't say I completely understand how this feels. In addition, I am a fairly passive person; I tend to avoid confrontation whenever possible. This being said, I have a hard time with some of the opinions and methods of breastfeeding activists (aka "lactivists") as a group. I don't say this to be contrary, offensive, or accusatory in any way. I'm merely voicing my views on an extremely polarized topic of interest.

(A good thing to remember before I start is that no two people are exactly alike. The following is an opinion I've developed based on a group of people as a collective. No one person or her convictions inspired this post, and I'm certainly not attacking anyone.)

A big issue I have with "lactivists" is the predominant attitude of "if you don't like it, don't look." This stinks of selfishness to me. I understand a woman's desire and her responsibility to put the needs of her child first. But how rude it is to tell someone that their feelings are completely unimportant to you? I know that breastfeeding is completely natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Exposed breasts make some people uncomfortable. It would seem that exposed breasts are the moral taboo of the United States. I wholeheartedly believe that the people of this country need to realize breasts are not primarily sexual in function. I just think the brazen "to hell with all who disagree" attitude is not the way to show people that breastfeeding is natural. It seems that open dialogue, consideration, and compromise would be a better pathway. It's my opinion that people will be more accepting of a woman breastfeeding in public if she engaged her naysayers in conversation, addressed their concerns, and calmly and respectfully explained that while she understands their opinions and will try to accomodate them, the needs of her child will always take precedence. Respect is a two-way street.

Another beef I have with "lactivists": breastfeeding is the only right way, and anyone who gives their child cow's milk or formula is doing irreparable damage to him/her. I agree that nothing is better for a child than being breastfed. Unfortunately, that's not always an option for many women. I myself only breastfed Kyle for just over 3 months. Kyle was and is unbelievably stubborn and independent, and I struggled to nurse him for as long as I did. When I finally made the decision to switch to bottle feeding, the change was remarkable. We both were far happier and more well-adjusted than we had been to that point. It killed me to stop breastfeeding, but I honestly believe it was the best choice for us. How do I know that? I recently ran across an article (one of many I've read recently) that outlines the benefits a baby receives from breastfeeding. Always at the top of any list: the transferring of mother's antibodies to the child, strengthening the child's immune system and reducing the likelihood of disease. My child has had maybe three colds in his life, and one fever, which doesn't seem to be excessive in the slightest. This is only one of many contradictions I have seen in my experience. What does that prove? To me, that says that while breastfeeding is best, bottle-feeding is not too far behind. My choice to bottle-feed Kyle made us both happier, and the consequences of that choice were not as detrimental to his health as many experts would expect. I definitely made the right choice for us. I would appreciate it if "lactivists" could be a little more open-minded on this subject (which is not too unreasonable, since they justifiably ask for others to be more open-minded all the time).

I MAINTAIN that anyone who feels passionately about any hot-button issue will not be judged and will be respected if he/she tries to do the same for others. Promote tolerance and understanding through your actions and example, no matter what you believe. It's my opinion that one silent example stands out in our world full of noise and distraction better than any speech or interview possibly could.


Natalie Sadler said...

I've begun to sway this direction after my most recent brush with breastfeeding. I don't love Copeland any less because I give him formula. I wish I could have breastfed longer (and i could have, if I really wanted to) and I will admit that this particular person had a lot of sway on me in a lot of things; however, I've come to learn my own style of doing things, and after this recent brush with breastfeeding, I'm confident that what I'm doing is okay.

Bottle feeding doesn't make you any less of a mom. In fact, last night Jay and I were talking about the benefits of bottle vs. breast, as he does a lot of research at work for things like this. As long as you're holding your baby close and acknowledging that he's there and talking to him or looking in his eyes, etc., you're bonding with him (and I know plenty of breastfeeding mothers who just sit there and watch TV or whatnot). Nutritionally, they're pretty much the same (with the exception of the casein in cow's milk). The antibody thing? A lot of it can be acquired as the child is exposed to illnesses, vaccinated, etc. Jay likes to bring home "bugs" to put in his bottle every night because formula lacks probiotics, which also strengthen the immune system (formula doesn't have this . . . yet). Formula, anymore, is actually rather good. And if your kid's gonna be a sick kid, there's not a whole lot you could do to change that. I think breastfeeding may have been necessary for many infants to survive because in the old days, there weren't simple antibiotics or good remedies for a lot of things, like pertussis, pox, polio . . .

I don't feel guilty anymore. And it feels wonderful!

Carolyn told me once that the reason these people are so vocal about their opinions and beliefs is because they see truth in it. When you know truth, you want others to know it, too. I enjoy reading this person's blog, but I don't sway that direction anymore and am not as easily influenced by the things she says. Good for her for believing in what she does, but there is no gospel doctrine that says breastfeeding is the only moral and good thing to do. What about adoptive mothers?

And another thing . . . breasts, in this culture, are a sexual thing. If you have no problem baring in public to feed your kid, good for you. However, you know the teenage kid just a few feet away is going to see that and blush (among others), and I wouldn't want to do that. I seriously doubt that's going to change. If you want culture where breastfeeding is the norm . . . go somewhere else. You don't have to NOT breastfeed in public, but I personally don't feel comfortable doing so (I became great friends with the back seat of my car lol).

TopHat said...

First, in my "lactivism" I have never said anything about formula feeding moms. My lactivism is about breastfeeding in public- not about breastfeeding vs. formula like you make it sound like.

As for your other point. What if I were a vegan and seeing people eat meat made me uncomfortable? Would I have the right to require all people who eat meat to hide so I don't have to see it? No. The response I would get is, "People eat meat. Get over it."

Also what if someone were uncomfortable sitting next to a black person on a plane? If respect goes both ways, shouldn't that black man respect my comfort and go someplace else? No.

The real issue is that breastfeeding women are being discriminated against. We are asked to hide or leave while bottlefeeding women (be it formula or breastmilk in the bottle) aren't. I want to be with my friends and family when I'm out. I don't want me or my baby to be treated like we're dirty and wrong by people who feel that I should be "discreet." I feel that discreet should be left up to the comfort level of the mom.

As for the sexualization of breasts, I know they are sexual in this society, but that doesn't mean I have to accept that as the end-all. I can try to change things. Hands and mouths are sexual, too, but when I use them for utilitarian purposes, they aren't. Same goes for my breasts.

Danielle and the Boys said...


i think its so sad that breastfeeding as a whole has become this big arguement at all on either perspective of it. Yes, women should be able to breastfeed in public. But in the same respect, don't flaunt something so natural to prove a point and just whip it out in public. Use a cover. I'm a girl, I've breastfed. But I don't want to look at your boob either. Breastfeed in public, just show courtesy for others in covering up. Just my opinion.

Brad and Hailey said...

I have been debating this issue with my friends and husband for months now. And until today I have to say I was quite narrow minded and un open myself.

My good friend at work pointed out that my view (which is similar to Jessica's) is the same as Heather's but on the opposite spectrum.

I feel uncomfortable seeing women breast feed in public. I feel uncomfortable seeing pictures/videos of breastfeeding posted publically. I will not breast feed in public. I feel uncomfortable and want other's to respect my feelings.

HOWEVER.(NOTE: obviously this is my own interpretation of Heather's feelings and I am sorry if I missunderstood them, please correct me Heather) It seems to me that Heather feels uncomfortable not breast feeding in public and feeling that she can't. She feels uncomfortable hiding that part of her life and feels that it is wrong to fall into societies view and accept that brestfeeding is not okay in public.

I honestly do not think there is a comprimise or a solution, other than to understand that we can both have different views and feelings, and insecurities ... and it's ok! We can still be friends, we can still love God and be great mother's.

If I were in public and saw a woman breastfeeding, I don't know how to not feel uncomfortable. That is just how I feel. I respect all women and their choices, I just want to be respected too. But as to how to do that. I am not sure.

I was raised in a home and know and understand that the human body is beautiful and a gift from and likeness to God. However I am living a life that holds the body as precious and that should be protected from other's eyes and judgement. I am also living in a society that does not approve of women brestfeeding in public, eventhough it is legal to do so.

I think we just need to all take a deep breadth and realize that maybe there needs to be change and maybe there needs to be understanding, and there definitly needs to be patience for all involved as we all learn and grow ;)

Jessica I am grateful for your point of view as it has allowed me to better analyze mine ... :)

Cole, Jessica, and Kyle said...

Heather, I never intended for you to feel attacked in this post. Like I mentioned, I have a great amount of respect for you, and I think what you're doing is admirable and necessary. I was not singling you out; perhaps I should have been more clear in this. I've made generalizations based on my impressions from breastfeeding activists as a whole. I know you've never said anything about formula feeding, but I've heard it from other breastfeeding activists. I'm sorry if you felt I was calling you out.

I do see your point about respect and the sometimes ludicrous things that make people uncomfortable. If we try to make everyone else happy or comfortable, we'd go insane. However, I would never tell someone "get over it" if they didn't like a perfectly innocuous behavior of mine. I would say, "I'm sorry you feel this way. Let me explain why I'm doing this. Then, if you'll agree to try to be more open-minded, I'll agree to adjust my behavior as far as I deem sufficient." Life is all about compromise, and I don't really see why breastfeeding in public is exempt from this general rule. Besides, if a jerk comes up to you and gets in your face about breastfeeding in public, what better way to irritate him/her than by calmly, intelligently, and firmly explaining your viewpoint, rather than getting defensive? All he/she is looking for is a fight, and if you don't give it to him/her, you come out the victor.

Sometimes I feel like people aren't hearing your true message because of how you and others say it. This is just my impression, and again, I'm not trying to offend you or belittle you. I'm merely trying to offer constructive criticism. I think what you're trying to say to the world is "breastfeeding is normal and natural, and breastfeeding mothers should feel comfortable and welcome to breastfeed their children anywhere, anytime without being treated like second-class citizens." What many people hear from you is "I should have the right to flash my breasts anytime, anywhere, but it's okay because my daughter is attached to one, and if you don't like it, TOUGH!" Sometimes it feels like you are forcing people to see your side. It's been my experience that people are like stubborn livestock. If you try to force them to do, see, or believe something, they'll kick and fight and pull the opposite direction. If you try to LEAD them by persuading them that your path is the correct path and then let them choose for themselves, they'll often follow you.

Again, Heather, I want you to know how amazing I think you are. You are an example to me in many ways, and when my next child comes along I have every intention of breastfeeding him or her wherever and whenever the need arises. After that happens, I'll let you know--it's possible I may take your approach to this issue instead of the one I'm currently proposing. :)

TopHat said...

I'll admit that I definitely get tired of answering everyone in a "peaceful" manner. I get emails and facebook messages from strangers weekly about how awful I am and such, and it's really draining to answer these, so I do get somewhat curt. I feel like I have to say the same stuff over and over and over again.

To me, this is a gender discrimination issue- women are being treated differently because of their gender traits. It somewhat reminds me of when women gained the right to vote. Society wasn't all on board, and even though the law said women could vote in federal elections, they were still harassed on the way to and at the polls for some time. Of course now no one would think to do that.

Now, we have a law protecting breastfeeding in public. Society isn't on board with this and women are still harassed for it. I'm hoping that in the future, people will look back at this, like we do at suffrage, and say, "That was really crazy- who would discriminate against breastfeeding moms?"

I know it does sound like tough love, but part of it is. I really don't think there is a way to "compromise." I know some women feel that a blanket would be a compromise. But a blanket doesn't guarantee that everyone's comfortable, nor is a blanket possible for every situation. I have read many stories of women using a blanket who are still asked to leave a room or restaurant, who are still verbally harassed for breastfeeding. I read a story last week on a forum (not blanket related, but I feel is relevant to the issue of being "discreet") about a woman who wanted a non-bathroom quiet place to nurse her son. She asked the department store she was in if she could nurse in a fitting room. She thought this was a reasonable, discreet alternative- but the store did not feel the same way and denied her. I am trying to make breastfeeding accepted- no matter how women decide to do it. Women shouldn't be harassed about it- no matter how "discreet" or "indiscreet" they are being.

I wasn't always comfortable with breastfeeding in public, but I sat down with myself and questioned why. I asked myself why I feel modesty is important, why God feels modesty is important. I also considered the unjust experiences women were having and why many state legislatures felt that breastfeeding protection laws were necessary. Women were and are being harassed about it. I realized in myself that being uncomfortable was my problem and I needed to change that. I tackled it by surrounding myself with breastfeeding moms. Honestly, it was a little weird and awkward for me at first, but I got used to it. It also helped that I became a breastfeeding mom myself. I learned that breastfeeding isn't always that quiet, special scene you imagine- especially in the newborn stage. You have to persevere through the tears and struggles to get there. I think people who feel that breastfeeding is this private special thing don't realize that it's not always like that. Sometimes it's just not a special experience at all.

Well, now I'm rambling, but my point is, with discrimination, sometimes it is tough love. We don't have the vote because women said, "Well, people are uneasy with this, I'll stay home." We have the vote because those women didn't stay home and they kept going to those polls despite the harassment. I want Margaret and any other daughters I have to live and breastfeed however they choose is most comfortable for them without fear of being harassed, and I think that being a voice for this is an important step in getting to that point.

Katie said...

Oooo... hot topic. I like it. I've always thought it would be kinda nice to live in a culture where no one cared if breasts were exposed for the purpose of suckling one's young. lol. But since I don't live in that culture, I just use a hooter hider. :)

Cole, Jessica, and Kyle said...

I think I'm going to respectfully end this discussion. I have a lot more to say on the subject, but I don't feel it would get across the way I'd like it to. It's hard to hear the spirit of an argument when it's expressed through a blog. Therefore, I'm going to leave it at "we agree to disagree". Let's all make a commitment to do everything we can to promote the health and well-being of our children and to eliminate discrimination in all its forms.

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