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What's the Big Deal About Breastfeeding in Public?

Breastfeeding in PublicWhy do people get so offended at the sight of a woman feeding her baby in a public setting?

I don’t ask that question just to answer it for you. I’m genuinely looking for some serious feedback from the people who disapprove.

The argument I hear from most of the articles I’ve found online is that people feel uncomfortable seeing exposed breasts in public. They feel that breasts are a “private part” and they should only be seen by your partner, your children, and your doctor.

Oh, and maybe on TV shows. And movies. Okay, well, European beaches, sure. And awards ceremonies, National Geographic articles, the Superbowl halftime show, and pretty much every corner of the Internet.

But they should never be exposed in a restaurant. That’s offensive.

Tell me, why is it that, despite being perfectly comfortable with a relentless onslaught of upper body nudity from every media channel imaginable, people are still so uptight about seeing it in person, especially when they’re being used to their specific, intended purpose?

According to Amy Bentley, breastfeeding became taboo in North America due to our perception of the function of women’s breasts.

“The sexualization of the breast, already under way by the 19th century, was accelerated by the World War II pinup girl poster, postwar soft porn such as Playboy magazine, and the popularity of such Hollywood icons as Marilyn Monroe,” she writes.

“As breasts became more sexualized, they became less functional: more the purview of men as sexual objects and less the domain of infants and as a source of food.”

So okay, assuming that we’re being asked to put our breasts away because other people see them as sex objects, why are people okay with the sight of celebrities wearing revealing evening gowns at the Oscars, or the near-topless models on the covers of fitness magazines in the checkouts at the grocery store?

In short, is it okay to have your boobs on display, just as long as there’s no baby latched on to them? Or is it the fact that the ones we see everyday are filtered through TV screens and photographs?

But forgetting the double-standard for a minute, why can’t breastfeeding mothers just have a little consideration for the rest of us who, for whatever reason, rational or not, don’t feel comfortable with it?

How about you just cover up or go somewhere private and we can all get on with our lives? Problem solved.

What amazes me about this argument is that I see a lot of mothers making it. “I never had a problem with it,” they reason. “If I was going out, I’d just pump some milk and give her a bottle when she got hungry. Barring that, I’d go to the bathroom or cover myself up.”

Boy, do I ever envy the women who had such an easy time breastfeeding that they could throw a blanket over their kid’s head and he’d keep feeding, instead of clawing at the blanket, squirming fanatically, and generally losing his mind.

It must also be nice to be able to pump milk at the drop of a hat, but I know not all mothers can do this as easily as grabbing their keys. (I wonder, too, where did they store their bottles to keep them cool, and where did they warm them up before feeding?)

To those who suggest that women in restaurants should take their kids to the bathroom to nurse, I propose we split the difference. I’ll bring my baby into the public bathroom to eat for half the time, and then you can grab your plate and go eat in there for the remainder.

Yes, you’re right. That is disgusting.

Beyond all of that, I feel like we create a stigma around breastfeeding when we ask people to get it out of our sight. Think how it would feel to a new mother, who’s just getting accustomed to the pressures of parenthood, if someone demands that they leave the room while nursing.

Is that really the kind of environment we want to create?

So maybe I have taken a pretty hard line on this subject, but I feel like, with all of the fierce opposition to this debate, there must be some valid arguments, and I’d love to hear them.

After all, some rational discussion is the only way people on opposite sides of the issue are ever going to understand and appreciate each other’s viewpoint.

And unlike boobs, rational discussion is something I’m finding hard to locate on the Internet.

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