Nursing in Public: Hard for our culture, neccessary for our health.

There is more breast exposed on the advertisements for Hollister clothing (and the promotional cards handed out for their sister-companies, A&F and Gilly Hicks) than the amount that a mother breastfeeding her child shows when nursing uncovered.

 I mean, really. . .

Hollister promo card for GH

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Hollister’s webpage

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Hollister’s Webpage

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I find it insanely ironic that Hollister Co. staunchly declined to issue an apology to the nursing mom that one of their managers harassed – even after hundreds of moms staged a nationwide nurse-in to educate and encourage them to do so- when their own advertising displays breasts in a much more inappropriate way than when a mother nurses her child.

Many people make statements about breastfeeding in public being OK “if the mom is being discreet” or “if mom is using a cover” – but discussion about nursing with or without a cover is actually totally immaterial, ethically AND legally.

A mother has a biological and social responsibility to feed her child/children.

If a mother nurses her child, she is fulfilling this responsibility, utilizing the primary purpose of the female breast: lactation.

Law has been written to protect the human right of a child to nurse (and a mother to nurse her child) – in many states, a mother is entitled to breastfeed her child wherever she is authorized to be.

Laws say nothing about covering. . .

it’s not a mother’s ethical responsibility to cover. . .

nursing is normal. . .

. . . so where does this “It’s fine if you nurse in public, but make sure you cover up” idea COME from?

Sexualization of the Breast and Objectification of Women

The continual discussion of nursing in public comes down to one central issue: the fact that our culture sees the female breast as inherently and primarily sexual. The notion that feeding a child openly the way that God intends for us to feed children should be covered “out of respect” for others is one that has a firm base in the objectification of the female body and sexualization of the breast. It is a notion that I find to be incredibly disrespectful of women and of children.

No one would ask a bottle feeding mother to cover up- the only difference besides nutritional value and every other benefit is that nursing involves a woman’s breast. The issue is not with the woman, and it is not her responsibility to cover “out of respect” for others. The issue is with our culture and the fact that we have sexualized the breast to the point at which our culture places shame on women for doing what is best for their children and nursing them, covered or not.

Why It’s Hard for Our Culture

Our culture is socialized to view sexuality in television, movies, advertisements, and other media – sexuality and the objectification of men and women’s bodies is a cultural norm and a huge source of hypocrisy in our society. We walk past giant Victoria’s Secret posters in the mall without blinking an eye, but make negative, unsupportive, and sometimes just vulgar and inappropriate comments to nursing mothers because they are feeding their child from their breast. When we’re at the hair salon, we can discuss the need to go buy a push up bra so our cleavage will look good in our new shirt, but it’s taboo to talk about human milk.

The objection to nursing openly, without hiding the act of breastfeeding, is a societal issue, not an issue with the woman who breast feeds, or with the woman who does not breast feed. We’re used to seeing breasts as sexual objects. It makes lots of people uncomfortable to see a woman nurse if they are uneducated or misinformed about lactation. But a breastfeeding woman does not ethically have any such responsibility to cover her nursling or her breast while nursing. Rather, our society has a responsibility to become educated about the PRIMARY function of the breast and correct the harmful stigma surrounding Breastfeeding, which begins with a disrespectful and patriarchal sexual view of the breast.

Covering: A Mother’s Choice, not a Mandate

When I participated in the Houston Galleria Hollister Nurse-In two weeks ago, I talked to quite a few women who said that they nursed their children and that nursing is good, but were adamant that a mother “has to use a cover.” One of the women tried vehemently to convince Aleta, a fellow organizer, and I that a mother has a responsibility to cover in order to protect “children who might see.”

Obviously, Aleta and I were not convinced. We both have older children that see us nurse all the time, and we know that nursing is normal, and that it’s actually good for our public health for children TO see breastfeeding. But we had to allow the woman to leave the conversation without being able to gently convince her that this is so. So many people hold onto the belief that nursing should be covered, but since there is nothing wrong about nursing. . . there’s absolutely no reason to cover, unless it makes a mother feel more comfortable. Covering while nursing is a choice, not a mandate.

If a woman wants to cover because of her own comfort level, that is her choice. If a woman is comfortable nursing her child without a cover, that is also her choice, and should never be vilified nor shamed. A women ethically should not be expected to “cover up out of respect” Or “be discreet” Nursing is normal. That’s just the way it is!

How Educated are YOU about Nursing in Public?

Do you know your state’s breastfeeding law? If not, please take a moment to do your civic duty and find out!

What can YOU do to help normalize breastfeeding?

Can you think of some ways to help re-educate our culture on the true primary purpose of breasts?

How can YOU stand up for the rights of women and children?

Comments

  1. It’s a matter of language. As my nursling is now well past nursing, I simply talk about breastfeeding like it’s normal.

    • I agree :) I hope that as more mothers talk about nursing and breastfeed wherever and whenever we’re comfortable doing so, our culture will change! Thanks for your input!

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