The act of breastfeeding can be traced back to the very beginning of mankind, depicted in cave drawings, sculpted into ancient pottery, and documented in primeval writings. Before you could buy formula at your local supermarket or puree vegetables in a blender to make your own food, there was only one way to feed babies. Although the word itself is essentially self-explanatory, modern ideas of breastfeeding have been increasing, leaving parents and healthcare providers alike with questions. Any one person may be able to define breastfeeding in the physical act, but when it comes to understanding or accepting the concept, no one wants to open their mouth.
The 77% of infants being breastfed in the United States have a thing or two in common. They are all being fed by a woman, presumably their mother. They are also receiving antibodies and nutrients that will benefit them for years to come. General breastfeeding can be defined as feeding a child breastmilk directly from the nipple into the child’s mouth. This simple explanation will suffice for someone who only wants the bare minimum but there is so much more to learn. Newborns are helpless and have almost only one way to eat. Without the vital act of breastfeeding, they are at a higher risk for weaker immune systems and sensitive stomachs down the road, among other things.
Imagine that you are eating in public, perhaps at a restaurant, and someone asks you to stop because it is making them uncomfortable. You are confused, but to them it is crystal clear. They want you to stop eating your roasted vegetable and hummus wrap that is providing your body with vitamins and energy because it is making them nauseous. Now imagine realistically that you are in the same restaurant and a woman is breastfeeding her 2 month old son, and is asked by the manager to do it privately or leave the restaurant because multiple people have complained. A mother taking only 5 minutes to provide food and sustenance for her child who cannot feed himself will feel as if she has been asked to stop caring for her child.
So the question stands, what about breastfeeding makes people squirm in their seats? We are a 21st century society, no longer as traditional as our country once was. Our culture has changed, ideas and morals have changed. Breastfeeding has almost always been an inclusive idea, not universally accepted as a public activity. Perhaps it is the modern idea to sexualize breasts, or maybe it is a disgusting thought to those more close-minded about infants and bodily functions. Some argue that they do not want their children to see a woman breastfeed or they think the woman wants attention. Others state that the word breast alone makes them feel yucky. Being hesitant towards accepting breastfeeding implies that feeding a baby poses an issue, or there is something wrong with it. Aside from a person’s own discomfort with the subject, there is no true issue.
Where there is controversy, there can also be compromise. Many mothers who breastfeed publicly will make efforts to minimalize the attention drawn to her. Although it can be somewhat uncomfortable for mom and baby, special cover-ups are designed specifically for breastfeeding. Women who feed their baby openly can take measures to attract less attention, but much of the compromise is in the hands of the bystander. Parents can teach their children to have respect for mothers and their infants and tell them to look away. People can educate themselves more about the concept of breastfeeding, and perhaps when they learn how necessary it is to proper development and bonding between a mother and child, they will find it less offensive.
Ignorance can to lead to assumptions and controversy. There may never be an answer to what is normal when it comes to breastfeeding. What some accept, others refute. What some are for, others are against. As with any other issue in the world, advocates for breastfeeding will continue to strive for acceptance but there will always be different answers to what is considered normal and appropriate.
“Breastfeeding Controversy: What is Normal? What is Accepted?” WordPress.com. 18 May 2012. https://formingthethread.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/breastfeeding-controversy-whats-normal-whats-accepted/
Reneau, Annie. “What’s So Hard About Covering Up To Breastfeed?” scarymommy.com. http://www.scarymommy.com/whats-so-hard-about-covering-up-to-breastfeed-in-public/
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “Breastfeeding Report Card, United States/2013. July 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/2013breastfeedingreportcard.pdf