Grandmother: “Did you know, that there was a time in our history when breastfeeding was taboo? To nurse in public was looked down upon by many people?”
Granddaughter: “What? Why would anyone be upset about a mother feeding her child? ”
Grandmother: “Well, some people weren’t upset about the actual breastfeeding, some people were upset because these women showed their breast in public sometimes to nurse their baby, wherever they were. Our cultural sexualizes breasts, so the sight of them made some people uncomfortable. Certain people thought nursing mothers should cover themselves with a blanket or go to a private area, which usually was only a bathroom.”
Granddaughter: "That’s ridiculous grandma! Why would they care if a women showed their breast? It’s just a part of their body, it must have been hard for the mothers to nurse, trying to hide their breasts."
Grandmother: "Yes, it was frustrating for these mothers, especially because most babies, as you can imagine, didn’t like being covered up. Some people thought that the mothers who didn’t cover were just seeking attention or trying to be provocative. This judgment pressured some women to go into nasty bathrooms, hot cars, use annoying blankets or covers, and spend time at family gatherings alone in separate rooms."
Granddaughter: “Wow, that's not right at all!"
Grandmother: “Well, there were some women who decided they weren't going to stand for such ridiculous judgment. They began to activate for the normalization of public breastfeeding. These women fed their babies whenever, wherever, despite the disgusted stares and muffled remarks. They shared nursing photos on social media, and stood up for their right to nurse their babies, no matter where they were. They did this not only to feed their child, but with the hope of taking the stigma away from openly breastfeeding. They were apart of a movement to normalize breastfeeding and to empower women.”
Granddaughter: “That’s amazing!”
This is the type of conversation I imagine I would have with my future granddaughter. I expect her response about the stigma surrounding breastfeeding, to be that of shock, and bewilderment; because surely by then, breastfeeding will have been normalized. I would of course mention that I was one of those women that helped to normalize breastfeeding.
Why is it important?
Why is it so important that we as a society normalize breastfeeding? It's important because breastmilk is important! It is the healthiest choice a mother can make for her child. Health organizations state that breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. These organizations include: The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American medical Association, and the world Heath organization. Breastfeeding helps defend against infections, prevent allergies, and protect against a number of chronic conditions. If breastfeeding openly was looked at as a normal thing by the majority of society, then more mothers would probably choose to nurse their children. A breastfeeding relationship is very beneficial for both mother and child. A mother and her child’s wellbeing is important, while sacred sexual symbolism is not, and rather, ridiculous. A mother shouldn't feel embarrassed or ashamed just because she is nursing her child; she shouldn't feel like she has to hide and exclude herself from the group.
The normalizing breastfeeding movement will encourage mothers to choose breastfeeding over formula. We all know that breast is best, yet we still have many mothers who do not even attempt to nurse their babies. Why is this? Is it because of the rude looks given to the few mothers who do nurse in public? Is it due to the formula ads pushing formula and bottles? Is it because we rarely actually see women breastfeeding in public? Is it because mothers fail to nurse due to the fact they are separated from their child by having to return to work so early? Personally, I think all of these reasons play a role in the stigma associated with Breastfeeding. So what can we do? How can we make breastfeeding normal? How can we encourage others to try breastfeeding before resorting to formula?
"We, as a society, can normalize breastfeeding by providing unapologetic exposure. Misinformed stereotypes can be altered, but there has to be active discourse and a refusal to succumb to social norms. Breastfeeding is a beautiful, selfless expression of love; it should be treated accordingly."
WE NEED TO SEE IT
How can we make it less taboo? First of all, everyone needs to see women breastfeeding, confidently, and out in the open. The more people see it, the less of a big deal it becomes. People will stop thinking so much about it because they will be so used to seeing it. Their perception of breasts will stop being something that should be forbidden, or "X" rated, and in turn take the unspoken, mandatory censorship, away from breasts. This is one reason the free the nipple campaign, (which is a campaign to stand against female oppression and censorship) is so important.
Culturally we all need to wake up to the importance of breastfeeding. It is not only the best form of nutrition but it also normalizes breasts within the society. In addition, there is a link to breastfeeding a sexual violence. In the book 'Sex at Dawn' author Chris Ryan elaborates on this topic. Here is an excerpt from his book:
“Prescott applied this logic on a cross-cultural level. He performed a meta-analysis of previously gathered data on the amount of physical affection shown to infants (years of breastfeeding, percentage of time in direct physical contact with mother, being fondled and played with by other adults) and overall tolerance for adolescent sexual behavior. After comparing these data with levels of violence within and between societies, Prescott concluded that in all but one of the cultures for which these data were available (forty-eight of forty-nine), “deprivation of body pleasure throughout life but particularly during the formative periods of infancy, childhood and adolescence is very closely related to the amount of warfare and interpersonal violence.” Cultures that don’t interfere in the physical bonding between mother and child or prohibit the expression of adolescent sexuality show far lower levels of violence, both between individuals and between societies.”
This is a huge reason as to why breastfeeding is so important, and why more mothers should be breastfeeding. Breastfeeding goes hand and hand with attachment parenting. This attachment is the process by which infants bond emotionally with caregivers. The resulting bond literally protects the human brain from stress. When babies experience stress, levels of hormones called cortisol are elevated in the body. Cortisol threatens brain development by reducing the number of synapses and leaving neurons vulnerable to damage, according to the book: Early Childhood Development by Jeffrey Trawick Smith.
Seeing mothers breastfeeding, not only normalizes it, it also teachers new mothers how to feed their child. This holds true for some animals in the wild. Apes know how to feed their babies from growing up watching other mother apes nurse their young. For humans and our primate cousins, successful breastfeeding is natural, but also a learned skill. It becomes natural after learning and observing from those around them.
There was a mother gorilla in the early 80s, at an Ohio zoo, who was unsuccessful at nursing her first child. The zoo realized that this gorilla had never seen another gorilla breastfeed. Without this observation, the gorilla wasn't sure what to do. So the keepers decided to bring in mothers of the La Leche League who would nurse in front of the gorilla. The gorilla took a strong interest in these nursing mothers the closer she approached giving birth and really observed them. When the gorilla gave birth to her second baby, she was successfully able to nurse her offspring. This is an example which shows just how important it is for other gorillas to witness breastfeeding. They learn how to take care of their young by growing up watching and learning how others in their species survives and thrives. Humans need to grow up observing these types of things as well. These observations allows people to learn and make more informed decisions for their own life. We can remove the stigma if we start seeing nursing everywhere.
Sharing images on social media also helps to normalize breastfeeding, by allowing people from all over, the opportunity to see it, when they might have never been exposed to it otherwise. Social media is a powerful tool that should be utilized for social change. Mothers from all around the world are also able to receive support for nursing their child/ren. It shows them that they are not alone, and are encouraged by other nursing mothers, and supporters, to nurse proudly. This support can help nursing mothers to continue nursing their babies through infancy and sometime beyond. Photos of nursing mothers on social media, exposes others to the beautiful bond between mother and child. The pictures show a true rawness of love and motherhood. Social media is key to unlocking the cultural trap that opposed minds are stuck in.
LET CHILDREN BE EXPOSED IT
To change how our society sees breasts we need to start with our kids. We can raise a generation of children who are not phased by breastfeeding. Children should be exposed to nursing mothers, that way, seeing it becomes completely normal to them. These children will grow up without the stigma associated with breastfeeding. Some women have no idea how to nurse because they didn't grow up seeing it, and did not receive support for breastfeeding. If young girls are exposed to it from birth through adolescence and adulthood, they will be more willing to start nursing on their own, and continue for a period of time. Children need positive exposure and a normal view of nursing for when it is their time to be parents.
STOP THE CENSORSHIP
Breasts weren't always deemed sexual. And still aren't deemed sexual in many cultures. But as our culture changed and grew, so did religion and puritanical views. This played a role in the censorship we have today. Now, In our modern society, men are allowed to openly go topless, while women are expected to stay covered up. Although, there was a time in history when men were told to cover up too, but they took a stand for their right to go topless.
"Over 75 years ago it was illegal in all 50 states of America for men to be ‘Shirtless’ on a beach. A small dedicated group fought the puritanical status quo, the police and the courts. After several arrests and protests men finally won their basic human right to be ‘TOPLESS’ in public in 1936. Today there are 37 states in the USA that still arrest women for this same freedom, in some states that even includes breastfeeding." - http://freethenipple.com/what-is-free-the-nipple/
Women deserve that freedom as well. Socially, we all need to take part in the free the nipple campaign. Just talking about it with others is beneficial. Some people may not understand that before breasts were a sex icon, they were for sustaining a child's life. This censorship turns breasts into something that some people think is forbidden, and as something that is only to be desired for sex, as opposed for their natural purpose, which is to nourish a child. Breast can be considered sexual in certain situations, but when a woman is nursing, there is nothing sexual about it. The "free the nipple" campaign advocates for a women's right to be topless. Although, the free the nipple movement wasn't started just for breastfeeding mothers, it holds a very important role in normalizing breastfeeding. By making the male and female body equal, in terms of censorship, women may feel more comfortable and confident. It will help empower more women to nurse without needing to hide. Men and women deserve equal rights and there should be legal rights for all women to breastfeed in public. Breasts should not be viewed as a private part or as sex toys, but should be viewed as just another part of their body. Any part of a person's body can be deemed sexual to a certain person. If we keep associating breasts with sex only, we will only make nursing less and less acceptable in our society, and they will remain a private part. So, FREE THE NIPPLE!
Even if people disagree with a mother's open breastfeeding, they should set aside their personal preference and show tolerance. This means they should allow the mother to do as she wishes without judgement. The most important thing is that a child is being fed. That is all that should matter. It is so important that tolerance is shown without stipulations. Often times we hear, "I support nursing mothers... But... " ( "But not in public" ...But only if you cover up" etc) The people occupying position don't support nursing mothers, because it's not support if there is a stipulation. Once breastfeeding is 100% accepted, it won't be noticed.
BETTER MATERNITY LEAVE
A longer maternity leave is so important for new mothers who wish to have a nursing relationship with their child. It helps with prolonged nursing as well. Longer maternity leave accomplishes better breastfeeding rates. Mothers who are able to bond with their babies and development attachment, have a higher success rate for nursing. Studies show that decreased breastfeeding rates are correlated to shorter maternity leave.
CHANGE THE WAY WE VIEW FORMULA
When infant formula was first introduced, it was significantly influenced by advertising campaigns. This had a profound negative effect on breastfeeding trends. Around the 1940s and 1950, consumers and physicians considered formula as an acceptable substitution to breastfeeding. Formula companies began to aggressively advertise their product. As a result, breastfeeding experienced a decline until the 1970s.
Around the 70s, groups began to promote breastfeeding and raise awareness on the importance of breastfeeding. These groups were determined to normalize breastfeeding with their awareness campaigns, and as a result breastfeeding began to steadily increase over the next 30 years. However, in 1988, the formula industry began advertising directly to the public, which created popularity with formula feeding. By 1990, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a statement listing reasons for the organization's opposition to advertising infant formulas to the general public. The AAP believed the advertisements created a negative effect on breastfeeding, and interfered with physicians’ advice on infant nutrition.
We experience the same controversy with infant advertisement today. Many people think the advertisement of infant formula contributes to mothers choosing not to breastfeed. Although the breastfeeding rate was 90% in the 20th century, it has decreased to approximately 42% in the 21st century (Gaynor, 2003; Wright, 2007). Today the formula companies find any way to push mothers into using their products. New mothers are sent off from the hospital with samples and coupons, just tempting them to use their product. Samples and coupons are often mailed to new mothers as well. There seems to be no escaping the temptation of supplementing breastfeeding with formula.The formula companies create a vicious cycle where women are led to believe they can't breastfeed without supplementing. These mothers often don't have the proper support, and think they can't make enough, so they supplement. Supplementing lessens a mother's supply, which forces the mother to continue supplementing. In addition, Research shows increasing trends of formula-fed children developing atopy, diabetes mellitus, and childhood obesity. The children who grew up never seeing other nursing mothers, were more likely not to breastfeed their own children and the cycle continues today. Also, formula is easy to access and readily available. Formula advertisement further encourage new mothers to use their product. If formula was seen in a different light, seen for what it is, a breastmilk substitute, more mother's would probably try to nurse first. Education is key. We need to educate new mothers about the importance of breastfeeding and the potential dangers of formula.
We as a society, need to fight for a women's right to nurse at any place at any time. No one should be oppressed. Nursing mothers are not seeking negative or sexual attention, they are simply feeding their child while normalizing the most natural act of a mother. Be apart of the movement to normalize breastfeeding.