I am mulling over Anna’s breastfeeding post, and I am wondering why there are so many different attitudes about breastfeeding.
Seattle is a progressive city in terms of being able to breastfeed almost anywhere. The WA state laws regarding breastfeeding protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public without the act being considered indecent exposure. Work places can also be designated as “infant friendly” if certain guidelines are followed. A list of breastfeeding laws throughout the states can be found at http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/health/breastfeeding-state-laws.aspx). Over the last few days, Seattle City Council has been working to establish breastfeeding as a civil right after complaints that the state law doesn’t provide enough protection.
There are currently several cases of alleged breastfeeding discrimination in WA courts. One of those stemmed from a 2010 incident in which a staff member at a school prep program asked a volunteer to stop breastfeeding her child at the snack table because it was making others uncomfortable. Despite the mother’s assertion that she had every right to breastfeed at the Long Beach, WA Head Start location, staff took the issue to the regional supervisor who supported the ban on breastfeeding. Since this incident, the executive director of the Long Beach Head Start program has voiced concerns of the disruption caused by public uncovered breastfeeding. Keep in mind that Head Start is a national program and its philosophy promotes breastfeeding and healthy nutrition.
We know women are made to feel uncomfortable breastfeeding somewhere every day, right? But why? Repressed body awareness, a history of abuse, the inability to separate breasts from their sensual nature, entrained ideas that parents/family/friends have around breastfeeding, a culture dictating the act as abnormal or unnecessary, or the belief that we are damaging the environment of either professionalism or appropriate behavior around children by breastfeeding. Sometimes I think it’s a helluva lot simpler than that. It can be a really hard ritual to establish with a newborn child, let alone sustain for years. When a woman is breastfeeding openly, she is allowing others to witness this tender moment. One can choose to see it for the natural activity it is in our survival and evolution as a species, or to see it as an imposition – one that forces another person to have to think about what breastfeeding is, what it involves, and what it does.
The deeper question is “Why do some of us view breastfeeding as offensive?” If a child or teenager sees a breastfeeding woman, then what is the harm in that leading to discussions or questions about our bodies and infant nutrition? I understand that there are a good number of parents out there who have no clue how to talk to their children about their bodies, sexuality, or reproduction. It can also be a sensitive subject if someone was not able to or chose not to breastfeed.
I feel that when a child grows up viewing breastfeeding as a natural beautiful process (regardless of whether he was nursed himself), then it is a positive first step to body awareness. My three and a half year old daughter sat on my lap today and was poking my breasts with her fingers. Normally, I wouldn’t tolerate that because I try to teach her to respect my body and my wishes to not be poked and prodded. But I let her alone and she looked up at me and said, “Mom, these breasts are SO cool!”.
Yes, darlin’. Yes, they are.