Monday, July 05, 2010

Making Breastfeeding the Norm

Welcome to the July 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public

This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Nursing in Public hosted by Dionna and Paige at All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public ("NIP"). See the bottom of this post for more information.


Breastfeeding is so often seen as "exceptional." It is portrayed as a lofty ideal, the ultimate best a mother can do, far above "average." I think that needs to be redefined. Breastfeeding is not exceptional - it is NORMAL. It is the standard way of feeding and nurturing infants. Biology dictates that it is simply the way that babies were designed to be fed. Nothing magic, nothing supernatural, nothing exceptional - just normal.

But what is seen as the normal, standard way to feed babies in our society? The bottle. Walk into any supermarket - at least in the area where I live - and count how many babies and toddlers you see drinking from bottles. Then compare that to the number of babies you saw who were nursing... What's that? You saw no babies nursing on your last trip to Wal-Mart? You have never seen a baby being nursed while doing your weekly grocery shopping? Wait... you say you can count on one hand the number of times you have ever seen a baby being breastfed in any public place?? So, are you not seeing many babies out in public? Oh, you are? Lots of babies and toddlers? You are seeing them eat in public, but you have rarely seen a child nursing in public? How is that???

...... Oh, yes, that's right... it is because the bottle is seen as the standard, normal way to feed babies in our culture. "Everybody does it!" We see bottles everywhere, and when you see a baby eating in a public place, he is drinking from a bottle rather than a breast 99 out of 100 times - maybe even more often than that.

The bottle is everywhere... listed as an "essential" on baby gift registries (even under "breastfeeding supplies," implying that nursing moms all must bottlefeed at times), pictured on baby shower gift bags and wrapping paper, baby scrapbooking supplies, parenting magazines, being used by nearly every baby portrayed on a TV show or in a movie... all bottles. And what does this teach us as we grow up surrounded by bottles and not by nursing breasts? That bottles are normal, and that breastfeeding is not (even if it is seen as better, it is not "normal").

So back to nursing in public... when all a person sees of baby-feeding around them is bottles, then one begins to think that it must be done that way - at least while in public. All the children, all the single people, all the currently-childless couples see is bottlefeeding, subconsciously influencing their future decisions they make as parents one day. So, on the rare occasion that they catch a glimpse of a mother who appears to be - GASP! - breastfeeding her baby in a public place, it is seen as weird, abnormal, wrong...

Why? Why is seeing a mother feed her child in the way she was biologically made to do it so shocking? IT IS BECAUSE IT IS NOT SEEN OFTEN ENOUGH OR AT ALL BY MOST HUMAN BEINGS. It is something practically foreign in many people's minds, seeing a baby nurse at the breast. If we don't see it happening regularly, then it seems abnormal when we do happen to see it. The way to normalize breastfeeding as the standard way of caring for infants is to have it been seen widely in public. The first time, it might be shocking, yes... it is something we typically don't see every day while doing our shopping. But see it again, and then another time, and eventually, it just becomes normal. A mother feeding her baby. A mother responding to the needs of her child. Simple as that.

"But won't somebody please think of the children!!!" This is the rallying cry of many people regarding children seeing breastfeeding in public. So, what if they see a mother nursing her child in public? Good, I say! One tiny step towards normalizing breastfeeding! If that child sees many mothers nursing in public as he grows up, then it won't be a foreign concept to him. It won't be "weird."

"But I don't want to have to explain THAT to my child," some parents say. Well, there are lots of things that I might not want to explain to my child, either, but other people's rights to do as they please in public (as long as they are not doing something illegal, which breastfeeding is not!) do not get rumped by my perceived "right" to not be offended or to not have to explain things to my own child. The simplest answer to give a child who asks is, "That mommy is feeding her baby. Some mommies feed their babies milk from their breasts. That is what breasts were made to do." This gives the child a healthier view of the female body than he will get by observing the more often publicly seen "purpose" of breasts: to accentuate them in tight, low-cut clothing as a sexual tool.

I don't think that other parents should have to explain breastfeeding to their children if they don't want to... I'm not about infringing on the rights of other parents to raise their children as they see fit. This is just a suggestion of a way for parents to address the issue of seeing a baby nursing in public. Remember, a young child most likely doesn't have a mentality of breasts being sexual, so he will not think that the mother is doing something wrong or "dirty," even if he happens to actually see enough to recognize it as a breast. He can use this experience to form a more healthy view of the purpose of breasts.

Most mothers are somewhat discreet when they nurse, meaning they aren't the mythological women who "whip it out" (I hate that expression and have yet to see it in public, actually) and give passers-by the evil eye, daring them to say anything. But being discreet doesn't have to mean hiding the baby under a blanket or running out to the car or a bathroom (ick!) to nurse. If we hide public breastfeeding (or pump and bring bottles for use in public), it will still seem abnormal, like it is wrong to nurse a baby around others. If mothers hide to nurse, then it won't be seen by the public, and therefore it won't become normalized! That being said, if a mother finds it more comfortable for herself if she nurses in a private area, then she should do so if she would otherwise not breastfeed at all. It is a crying shame that mothers feel embarrassed to nurse in public because of cultural perceptions, yet in order to change those perceptions, we must go outside our comfort zone by nursing in front of others! Even the most confident mom can be shaken by a negative encounter with a stranger objecting to her feeding her baby. I must say that personally, I have gotten more comfortable nursing in public the longer I have nursed. I know how to do it discreetly (yet not hidden - you can still figure out what I am doing if you look and think about it), and I know I am doing what is right for my baby. I know that my baby has a right to be fed and comforted, regardless of who else might be in the general vicinity. All babies have this right!

So, if you are a nursing mom, feel confident about nursing your baby in front of others. It is not wrong, and in fact, it could help to change public perception about breastfeeding: that it is NORMAL! If you see another mom nursing in public, give her a little smile of encouragement, knowing that it might be taking her outside of her comfort zone to do this. If you feel uncomfortable when you see a nursing mother in public, just look away and remind yourself that she is only providing for her baby in the way God designed, and one day, maybe more mothers will nurse in public and help you to see it as being normal! It can be hard to change mindsets that have been ingrained all our lives, but I think that more public nursing would be a great step towards the normalization of breastfeeding.


Art by Erika Hastings at

Welcome to the Carnival of Nursing in Public

Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit any time to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.

Do you support breastfeeding in public? Grab this badge for your blog or website to show your support and encourage others to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the rights of breastfeeding mothers and children.

This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following days:
July 5 - Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World
July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child
July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.
July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives
July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It


mel said...

What happened to your last post? It was on my reader, but when I came to comment it was gone!

What I hear most when nursing in public is, "Oh! I didn't realize you were nursing!" lol...People will often come over to chat and bend over to peek at the baby and then realize...

Kids accept what they are used to. My kids will say (embarassingly loud), "How come that baby has a bottle?" lol...

Erin said...

yeah, i was afraid that would happen... it is supposed to publish on friday, and i accidentally published it yesterday without changing the date. look for it again on friday!

yeah, i've had people come pull the sling back to peek at the baby and then apologize profusely when they see she's nursing. i always tell them no big deal, she's doing that all the time, so if they want to look at her, that's what they're likely to see!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I'm with you - we need to NIP more so that more people come to see it as the norm! Thank you for sharing your post with us.

Rebekah C said...

I agree, we need to be nursing in public. Children seeing mama's breastfeeding is wonderful!

melissa joanne said...

I'm in complete agreement! The more we NIP, the better!

Allie said...

Great post mama. Nursing in public should defiantly be the norm. It blows my mind that parents are uncomfortable explain why breast are really there but have no problem with letting them watch bloody, gruesome shows and play very violent video game.

Anonymous said...

I love how you pointed the difference of being discreet and doing what society asks us to do - be hidden.

Carrie said...

This is an awesome post!!!! I agree!! I hope that we have another baby so I can NIP more!!!! :) I was very timid before, mostly staying in the car or in the rare provided nursing area. I agree with everything you have said and have found my views on so many things have evolved from when I had infants/babies before...can't wait!

Anonymous said...

Aside from other LLL moms, I don't think I've encountered anyone NIP at the same time I've been NIP. It would be nice though. Maybe nursing moms should go out in packs from time to time. That might truly blow some minds.

Lisa C said...

This is exactly why I continue to push myself outside my comfort zone. It's hard, but I hope things will be better when my own children are grown. Let's pave the way for our children and our children's children.

RedPowerLady said...

Great article. I love your challenge of the bottle as normal. The way you articulated that was very poignant. And that sometimes, if we can, making ourselves a bit uncomfortable to NIP will not only nourish our babies and help ourselves but will help establish a normalization of NIP that will allow us more empowerment.

Darcel said...

Great post! I was so excited when I encountered a mom nursing her 15 mo old at the zoo last week.

Pickle said...

I love this post! I just found your blog through hobo mama... you left a comment about being a Catholic mama. I am too. Excited to read more of your blog!

Maman A Droit said...

I have seen moms "whip it out" but I still hate the expression. Seems demeaning. Anyway, I totally agree with you. And I hate that so many parents think breastfeeding is something weird or gross they don't want to explain. I think knowing breasts are for feeding babies is a good foundation for a healthy view of the human body!