On breastfeeding in public
April 27 — Breasts.
I’m going to say the word a lot in this article and I suggest that if it makes you uncomfortable you keep reading, probably this is partly for you.
A few times in recent weeks breasts have made the news. Depending on the part of the world your news is coming from perhaps you’ve had more breast news than others.
I am, specifically, talking about the breasts in Singapore which have recently made news and been up for discussion by too many people who probably don’t need to be discussing them, many of them don’t even have functional breasts, an evolutionary aspect I don’t fully comprehend as male breasts seem quite redundant.
Recently a woman on the MRT made news for letting her child breastfeed, without making any attempt to cover herself. There she was, in a public space, exposing herself for all the world to see. And people got upset.
Thankfully people got equally upset with the people who got upset.
As a breastfeeding mother, while writing this article I even breastfed (gasp,) I would like to weigh in.
First of all, for those of you who do not, cannot, and have never breastfed, here are some facts. Breast milk is the most complete nutrition for a baby under one year old.
It is considered by health professionals to be the best thing for a child. Breastmilk gives a boost to a baby’s immune system allowing them to fight infections.
Breastfeeding is also important for the mother. Exclusive breastfeeding is even a natural method of birth control and reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and postpartum depression.
It is cheaper, cleaner and more readily available than formula.
But beyond the facts, breastfeeding is hard. It is uncomfortable. For the first few weeks, it hurts beyond belief. It’s functionally frustrating to deal with leaking and uneven breasts.
As the baby grows, it gets painful again as their suck gets stronger and they get teeth. Our previously perky breasts never return to the same shape after being tugged, pulled, pinched and sucked.
And most of all, it is really damn hard to navigate feeding your child and also keeping completely covered.
But we do it because it is important. Just as we carried our children for nine months and protected them, we continue to deal with the difficulty of breastfeeding because it is us continuing to protect and prepare our child for life.
Here is how I personally feel.
I have travelled the world and I have lived in or travelled through countries and cultures which could not be more opposite in their values and ideas. I have been in the most liberal countries and the most conservative.
There are places where I choose to be more careful about making sure I am covered well. This is not because I think my breasts are at all sexual, but because I am being sensitive to the feelings about it by people around me.
There are places in the world where I feel I do not have to be as careful, and I am not.
I, personally, am a bit more conservative than some. With the exceptions of emergency situations, namely when baby is screaming uncontrollably usually during one of our many flights, I choose not to fling my breast out but I choose to try and keep myself mostly covered while letting her feed without being smothered by a blanket.
I live in a country where feeding breasts are everywhere. No one has a problem with feeding out in the open no matter what the situation.
Even though I could do it, in this situation I choose not to because I am a racial minority and already get excessively stared at, I would rather not get even more stares at my very white breast hanging out in the sun.
While I personally choose this for myself, it is not my decision or my place to judge any other mother who is feeding her child how they feel comfortable.
At the end of the day, this is about a baby needing to be fed… nothing else.
I’ve heard so many people say, “I don’t need to see that,” referencing a breast they may have seen giving sustenance to a child.
This is a ridiculous response to seeing a woman breastfeeding. You see things every single day which you don’t need to see. You see scantily clad models, porn commercials on the internet, pictures of war and people dying. You see much more horrible things every day than a breast, yet somehow you choose to either ignore it or it doesn’t bother you.
So why does a breast, which if it was in a nice push up bra, on a young woman with a too tight dress on, you would probably be admiring, cause such angst?
Being a mother is one of the most difficult and exhausting jobs in the world. We constantly question our abilities and constantly are trying to do the best for our children. There are few to none of us who pull out our breasts to annoy your conservative sensibilities. We are simply trying to feed our children.
So the next time a breastfeeding breast offends you, do yourself and us a favour and simply look away and instead of getting outraged and disgusted consider that that woman is doing the best she can for her child, and it has nothing to do with you.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.