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Saturday, July 29, 2006

"A breast is a breast . . ."

There's nothing terribly profound about that statement. A breast is a breast. A nose is a nose. An ear is an ear. It sounds sort of like playing "Let's learn our anatomy" with Dace. And yet I am terribly troubled by that statement because of the words that followed it in a recent article Lactivists: Where is it OK to breastfeed? . A woman - a mother, actually - in Belton, Texas (a few short hours up the road from me, but a universe away when it comes to parenting perspectives) said of the recent Babytalk cover, "A breast is a breast -- it's a sexual thing." (She also said she shredded the magazine cover so her 13 year old son wouldn't see it . . .)

So a breast is a breast -- it's a sexual thing. Ironically, this issue of Babytalk (which sits, as I write, on my dining room table - unshredded) discusses some of the reasons why American women don't breastfeed, or don't breastfeed for the entire twelve months recommened by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The article - tagged as a Babytalk EXCLUSIVE! - summarizes the reasons that most moms are pretty much already aware of: nursing problems, time commitment, too much of a hassle when going back to work. Oh yeah, and negative public attitude. Huh - kind of like Belton Mom's proclamation that a breast is a "sexual thing."

I think Belton Mom's statement (along with other reader comments about the cover shot like "gross" and "inappropriate") tells much more about the dismal rates of long-term breastfeeding success in America than anything the Babytalk article was willing to say. In countries around the world, breastfeeding is not something to be hidden; women are not hassled or cajoled or dismissed to bathrooms to feed their babes. Countries where women have the highest success rate for both initiating and continuing breastfeeding are countries where the culture understands that breasts are not merely "sexual things".

Later, in the article Babytalk's editor references a "Puritanical streak" in which there is a "squeamishness about seeing a body part." Clearly, Babytalk's fearless editor has not perused a magazine stand lately where she would see lots, lots more boobie exposed on the covers of Maxim and Cosmopolitan than she would have dared to reveal on her magazine's cover. Perhaps Ms. Editor also doesn't watch TV, or surely she would see ads for Victoria's Secret that dare to defy America's "squeamish" attitudes about breasts by showing pretty much everything but nipples hanging out of lacy lingerie.

The last line of this article really irked me, too. A mom from Montana stated that breastfeeding is a moment that should "just stay between a mother and her child." Now, I am all about celebrating the beauty that is breastfeeding. It has been and continues to be a very magical, mystical, wonderful part of mothering my child. And yet it also serves the very practical purpose of FEEDING HER. And that was particularly the case when she was an infant and relied soley on my breasts for food. Montana Mom's statement that these moments should be kept private is ridiculous! Well, unless we are going to ask bottle feeding moms to also keep the moments they spend providing nourishment for their babies private as well.

A like-minded mama friend of mine recently made a statement that it's going to take time - maybe another generation or two - before American culture isn't so freaked out about seeing a mother nursing her babe. I know I personally didn't see a lot of breastfeeding going on in public when I was growing up. Our parents certainly didn't. I think the BEST thing we can do in this generation is to allow our children to grow up knowing that breastfeeding is a wonderful, natural, practical experience, that breasts are indeed more than sexual things, that a nursing mother is not deriving any sexual pleasure from the act of breastfeeding, and that there is nothing to feel embarrassed about when a mom chooses to feed her child this way.
I don't know. I'd like to think so. We'll see.