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Nursing in Public

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Friday, January 13, 2006

One of the comments that I hear on a regular basis that just really jerks a knot in my tail is that idea that someone doesn't mind nursing in public so long as the mom is "discreet."

I find myself asking...who are these women that prance around topless while nursing their children for all the world to see. I've never in my twenty-eight years seen a nipple in public despite actively looking for nursing mothers when I go out. I see nursing mother's, I just don't see anything other than the back of their babies head.

Until now. Ran across an online slide-show today put together that shows a mother breastfeeding her toddler in public. Starts off normal enough with her sitting at a Starbucks but quickly progresses into a mostly topless show as she travels through the city.

In fact, this site (a GREAT site!) has quite a few slide shows running photos of women breastfeeding their children including some great photos of mothers tandem nursing. Many of them feature absolutely beautiful photos, others include a fair share of "hmm..." pics.

I'm just not sure I get it. I flipped through the pictures from that first slide show going "ok cool, she's at Target, she's looking at shoes, that's not a top I'd choose for nursing in public, but whatever, no one seems to mind and it wouldn't bother me."

Then, I'd hit a picture and say..."now really, do you have to have your shirt up to your neck while your child plays a few feet away?" I know it's good to air out the nipples after nursing, but I dunno, seems kind of excessive to me. On the other hand, here are breasts, in all their natural glory fullfilling God's purpose. To that end, it seems kinda cool and I saw bravo to the women for being brave enough to share these images with the world.

So my question is, what do you think? Does this type of nursing in public work to normalize it, or does it hurt the cause? What's a lactivist to do? I support (and fight for) the rights of mom to nurse in public whenever and wherever and I think it's ridiculous to be upset if you see a breast or nipple now and then...but a full frontal view while your child isn't even nursing? Is that necessary or is it being done just to prove a point?

Doesn't really bother me, they're just breasts, but I do wonder how it impacts the lactivist cause.

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  1. Anonymous Jax | 12:56 AM |  

    Hm, I did wonder if that show was put together to make a point, and whether she really nurses like that when there isn't someone following her around with a camera. That may have influenced other ppl's input as well.

    Haven't gone to look at the rest of the shows yes, will try to find time later.

    I would guess that that *would* hurt the cause, tbh. There are enough ppl uncomfortable enough with it that they would find that type of thing offensive and it would just give weight to their argument.

    The bit that bothers me is that I can't understand why breasts are an issue. We're quite happy as a society to have billboard sized barely covered ones all over the place, but the instant someone whips them out for the purpose they are supposed to fulfil, there are ppl all over the place complaining. It's daft and hypocritical.

  2. Blogger Jennifer | 6:10 AM |  

    Yes, but those breasts on the billboards...they don't show nipples.

    Remember...no one cares about Britney or Christina or whoever wears during a concert but when Janet had a wardrobe malfunction, people flipped.

    It's not the breast, it's the nipple that seems to offend people.

    I honestly think that this is what it comes down to with breastfeeding in public for many people...it's not that they are upset about seeing some breast, it's that they are terrified that someone will see some nipple. For some reason nipples are still a really big deal over here in the U.S.

    Maybe because that's what makes it a breast instead of a lump of flesh? ;) Or maybe because the nipple is what makes a breast's purpose clear?

  3. Blogger Amanda | 6:58 AM |  

    It doesn't make sense to me to nurse with both breasts out. I mean, it only takes one to nurse a singleton and the other one doesn't need to come up for air. A woman nursing a singleton with the non nursing breast hanging out is, IMO, like a bottle feeding mama feeding her child with a breast hanging out. It isn't necessary and society tells us it isn't inappopriate.

    Personally, I'm not offended. I have two of my own I see on a VERY regular basis so a breast is a breast. I do think nursing in an unnecessary fashion (i.e. giving the other breast a breather) could hurt "the cause".

  4. Blogger Amanda | 6:59 AM |  

    LOL, the photographer should come up with a related site-

    When Women Pump

    Maybe you could do that?

  5. Blogger Jennifer | 12:01 PM |  

    LOL...cept there's not often a need to pump in public...though I've done it multiple times.

    ...which gives me an idea for a post. ;)

  6. Blogger Carrie Lauth | 8:04 AM |  

    Maybe the discomfort with the nipple comes from the person's deep psychic pain at not having time at the breast? Or not enough time? ;)
    Everyone needs Primal Therapy. Sigh.

    As an aside, I thought it was very interesting that I looked at the slides with my 5 year old and 3 year old in my lap and neither of them asked a question or showed any interest in the breasts on my screen...but one of the pics showed the Mom handing her daughter something (a flower maybe?) and 5 year old d.s. said "Mommy what is she giving her in her hand?"

    Breasts aren't a noteworthy thing around here. LOL

  7. Blogger Alisyn | 10:04 AM |  

    It is interesting to note that it's the nipple, not the breast, that causes such an uproar. What's so controversial about a cute little nipple?!

    I really think it boils down to us westerners being programmed from a very early age to think of breasts (and nipples) as sexual, instead of functional. And since sexuality is so oppressed in the country, people flip out at the first hint of it... like an exposed nipple.

    BFing gets a lot of lip service in this country, but when it comes down to it, most people feel "uncomfortable" with the entire process, and I think it's just so lame.

    I applaud any woman who is liberated enough to expose her breasts, both literally and figuratively, for what they are. That being said, I *do* think that letting 'em hang out while not actually serving their purpose is a little much. But whatever floats your boat, I guess. No harm, no foul.

    Now, if the store had tried to eject her for having her breasts exposed (which you can bet they wouldn't do to a man)... that would really enrage me.

  8. Anonymous Jax | 2:47 AM |  

    "Now, if the store had tried to eject her for having her breasts exposed (which you can bet they wouldn't do to a man)... that would really enrage me. "

    You are so right. I took out the bit in my original comment asking why it's OK for men to wander around with their breasts and nipples exposed and not women. Winds me up all the time.

  9. Blogger Carrie Lauth | 9:35 AM |  

    I suppose it goes back to the whole concept of a woman's sexuality/femininity being too powerful...this is the thinking that leads to, among other things, female genital mutililation.

    I think, deep down, it bothers some people that a woman doesn't need anyone to take care of her baby. She doesn't need men, Doctors, scientists, marketers, anyone...
    And I don't mean that babies don't need Daddies because they certainly do. But breastfeeding is so empowering to a woman that perhaps that freedom threatens some people.

  10. Blogger Meg | 10:28 PM |  

    I had to laugh over the unnecessary and ridiculous exposure of the breasts in that show. I really belly laughed. Of course it hurts the cause! Breasts are sexual! They are not bottles, they have more than one function of feeding. That needs respect! Breasts are beautiful live and love givers, and exposing them like a stripper reduces them to someone else's peek show. I have been nursing for three and a half years, but mine are still a part of my sex life. I wonder if that gets forgotten over the feeding function or if modesty is just a lost art of our culture. Hmmm. Just a few thoughts. Thanks for a great blog!

  11. Blogger Jennifer | 7:42 AM |  

    Now that's an interesting perspective Meg, thanks for sharing.

    See I think one of the problems that the lactivist/breastfeeding movement has is that we get so caught up in going on and on about how breasts are not sexual, that they are utilitarian.

    But the reality, as Meg points out, is that they are both. I think we do a disservice to our cause when we try to say that they are not sexual because everyone knows that's not true.

    The issue here is that they are not JUST sexual. They have two purposes.

    One of the things that I find most interesting as a Christian is that even the Bible makes it clear that there are two purposes for breasts. The Bible is simply full of imagery of a nursing mother being the epitome of caring, but at the same time, the entire book of Song of Solomon is devoted to a beautiful erotic tale of two lovers that devotes considerable word to the enjoyment of breasts sexually.

    (gasp! I know...all the 80 year old Christian ladies just had heart attacks...)

    I do wonder if there may not be need to shift tactics in order to figure out how to praise breasts for both their nurturing and their sexual function while making it clear that both are legitimate ways to enjoy them.

  12. Blogger Natural Mom | 12:10 PM |  

    Great points...yes breasts are both utilitarian and sexual. Just as lips, hands, and other parts are used for both pleasure and procreation. God knew what he was doing when he made the whole process enjoyable ;)

    It's worth pointing out that lips and breasts aren't sexual in some cultures however.

  13. Anonymous Mama C-ta | 4:00 PM |  

    Yeah that nursing girl w/her shirt completely up? Totally unnecesary. I don't have a problem in the least w/seeing a breast and DEFINITELY not BF in public anywhere but her? She was just silly and I tend to agree, I wonder if she would have been so open if there wasn't a camera following her. But even her shirt choice was revealing as you can see her nipple right through it.

    I think it would hurt the cause, I think that is what non-supporters are afraid of happening a bunch of topless women running around.

    I don't want it to sound like I'm a prude or all weird about it, I personally think the US is too uptight about nudity. But that's the reality of it, we aren't in Europe. I just think it was NOT necessary for her to have both breasts exposed for the sake of breastfeeding when her daughter was frolicking elsewhere.

  14. Anonymous Libertus | 7:49 AM |  

    In response to Jennifer's post, which says:
    "I've never in my twenty-eight years seen a nipple in public despite actively looking for nursing mothers when I go out."

    YOU DO THIS TOO? Oh! At last! I'm normal!

    Hi! My name is Paul, and I'm a milkoholic. It's been 37 years since my last drink, but I still think about it all the time.

  15. Blogger Jennifer | 7:55 AM |  

    LOL...I think...

    Yeah, I never used to until I had Nora, then it dawned on me that people likely WERE nursing in public and then I kinda wanted to spot them, just so I could internally say "yay!"

    I rarely see it. :(

  16. Anonymous Libertus | 8:02 AM |  

    In response to Jennifer's post, which says...
    "the entire book of Song of Solomon is devoted to a beautiful erotic tale of two lovers that devotes considerable word to the enjoyment of breasts sexually"

    My dear, you just achieved something that no other Christian in history, not even my own mother, has ever achieved.

    You have inspired me to read the Bible. Curse you!

    Now, I'm going to have to go find and read this book you're talking about. Could you help me focus my search with a citation, please?

  17. Anonymous Libertus | 8:09 AM |  

    just so I could internally say "yay!"

    Being a male, I internally say "yay!" any time I even *think* about a woman's breasts. I can't help it.

    So, really, all we need to do is to convince all women to internally say "yay!" when they see another woman's breasts, rather than do the depressing "hers are better than mine" thing, or whatever it is you do. :)

    I rarely see it. :(

    I agree this is sad. There is little I can do to help, except educate any I meet who express an opinion on the matter, no pun intended.

  18. Blogger Jennifer | 8:11 AM |  

    Ha! That's fantastic.

    You can either grab a standard Bible and flip to the book Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs, depends on the Bible version to see which it's called.)

    Or, you can read the whole book on Bible Gateway...

    Read Song of Solomon.

  19. Anonymous Libertus | 8:12 AM |  


    It's OK, I've got it. "The Song of Songs".

  20. Anonymous Libertus | 8:15 AM |  


    Well now I know inspiration behind the lyrics for Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy's 80's hit "Kiss Me". :)

  21. Blogger Jennifer | 8:19 AM |  

    Well now, I've learned something. I thought Sixpence was the first to record that. Interesting...

  22. Anonymous Libertus | 8:39 AM |  


    Bless you! What a lovely book. I'm not usually a fan of poetry but this has everything I enjoy and more.

    How times have changed, and pick-up lines along with them!

    3,000 BCE
    "Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes as they come up from the washing. Each one has its twin, not one unpaired with another."

    2,000 CE
    "Your dental surgeon is a genius! Gimme their website, please!"

  23. Anonymous Libertus | 9:35 AM |  


    The Song of Songs 8:1
    "Ah, why are you not my brother, nursed at my mother's breast! Then if I met you out of doors, I could kiss you without people thinking ill of me."

    Thank you. I really enjoyed that.

  24. Anonymous Bryan Fullerton | 2:04 PM |  

    I agree somewhat with jennifer. Put a dime on the nipple and its ok? Think about it. Isn't our society screwed up just a little? What is it that dictates what is ok and what isnt. Or what's in good taste and what isnt. The fact is this isn't back woods Africa where they prob think our society is crazy for women even wearing tops. Our society has gone out of its way to make breasts sex symbols of some sort and there is a link in our societal ancestry to the Victorian era where "polite" society just doesn't do things like that.
    Despite where I wish we were, a society built on more common sense, we aren't! If a woman wants to breast feed in public then so what. but if she wants to use that as a excuse to do what other women can't then she is hurting the cause so to speak. And for your information they don't need "aired out".
    Just my two cents, one persons view and all that and for those that want to slam me :) yes I am the father of two breast fed kids. 8 and 10 years old.

    Bryan Fullerton
    Black Ridge Custom Car Accessories

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