Friday, October 7, 2016

Here's Why Opposing Public Breastfeeding Makes You a Misogynist Who Doesn't Care About Children's Well-Being

If you come over to my house, you might catch a glimpse of my nipple. I promise it won't kill you. Studies show that not one single human has ever died from looking at a nipple. But many have died because they weren't offered ready access to their mothers' nipples. One recent study found that breastfeeding could save 800,000 lives a year.

If you run into me at the book store, you probably won't see my nipple, since it will be in my kid's mouth, but you might--gasp!--see approximately the same portion of my breast that a revealing top might show. I know, I know. It's unbearable to even think about. You're pro-breastfeeding, just not public breastfeeding. Or you think it's fine to breastfeed in public. You just wish people weren't such exhibitionists about it. Why do all these lactivists have to be so attention hungry? Why do moms have to be such exhibitionists?

Excuse me for a second while I laugh.

Because the last thing most newly postpartum mothers want is to draw attention to their bodies. Why yes, please look at my stretch marks and engorgement. That kind of attention will make all of my dreams come true!

And attention hungry? I'm feeding my child, not making a statement. The person who's seeking attention is the one who wants to dictate the terms under which I can feed my child. As far as lactivism, when did that become a bad thing? I am a firm believer that fed is best. It's not my role to judge how another woman feeds her baby, and formula is certainly a fine option for many families. I also know that breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed a child, and for most families, it's the safest, healthiest option. There is nothing wrong with advocating for the right to feed a child, and my decision to breastfeed is not a condemnation of anyone else's decision to formula-feed.

If you oppose public breastfeeding, you're advocating for a social order that endangers children and undermines families. Public breastfeeding is a virtual necessity if children are to be breastfed. An avalanche of public health data points to the benefits--economic, social, and medical--of breastfeeding. Don't support public breastfeeding? Then you don't support breastfeeding at all.

Perhaps more importantly, opposition to public breastfeeding is dictionary definition misogyny. If women can't breastfeed in public, then they must leave their children behind to go out in public. Practically speaking, that means they can't go out in public for more than a few minutes. If public breastfeeding is impermissible, then so too is the right of breastfeeding mothers to freely leave their homes, pursue careers, run errands, and participate in public life.

I'm Not Starving My Child to Avoid Making a Stranger Uncomfortable
Opponents of public breastfeeding sometimes argue that women should feed their children before going out, to avoid making strangers uncomfortable. That sounds good in theory, except for a simple biological fact: newborns may eat near-constantly, and even older babies frequently eat every 2-3 hours.

People who suggest I wait to feed my baby until I get home are telling me I can't go out in public except for short bursts. Or that I should starve my baby to preserve a stranger's feelings. "Oh," I can hear the naysayers exclaiming, "I would never say that! I just think you should go to the bathroom, the car, or another private place to feed your child."

That's more advocacy for starvation. Walking to a private location takes time, and when you're a newborn with an empty belly, that time is stressful and potentially harmful. Delayed nursing can undermine mom's milk supply, increase the production of cortisol in sensitive newborns, and wreck the day of everyone who has to hear a newborn desperately squalling for food.

I'm Not Putting a Blanket Over My Newborn's Face
Those who claim to support public breastfeeding, but "just not exhibitionism" sometimes suggest that the mom and baby cover up. This works for some breastfeeding dyads, but it's not a workable solution for everyone. To adequately cover the breast, a mom has to cover the thing it's attached to--the baby's head and face. Many babies refuse to eat under these circumstances. In some cases, doing so can even be dangerous. Suffocation and overheating can lead to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory distress, and difficulty latching onto the breast.

I live in Atlanta, where temperatures rise to 80-100 degrees at least six months out of the year. The last thing I'm going to do is put a blanket over the face of my sensitive newborn. The sensitivities of a nosy adult are not more important than my child's life and well-being.

Many Babies Won't Take a Bottle (and Offering One Can Prove Problematic)
"Just pump breastmilk and feed it in a bottle," the misogynist child-hater suggests.

Sounds great. Until one is introduced to the actual facts of bottle-feeding:

  • Many breastfeeding babies won't take a bottle. I'm lucky enough to have a child who will accept a bottle, but only when her dad offers it. She's too distracted by my feed bags to take one from me. So am I not allowed to feed her when I go out? 
  • Offering a bottle too early can permanently destroy breastfeeding. Some babies prefer the faster flow of a bottle, and start refusing the breast after they get used to it. Lest you dismiss this as a minor problem, consider that breastfeeding requires no preparation, pumping, money, or special supplies. A child who refuses the breast costs her parents time, money, and stress. 
  • Feeding from a bottle requires mom to pump milk in advance. Many breastfeeding mothers cannot pump enough to have extra milk for a bottle. Others can't afford the exorbitant cost of a quality breast pump. 
  • Some women don't respond well to a breast pump; babies are more effective at getting the milk out than pumps, so that means a mom may have to pump numerous times to get enough milk for a single feeding. When you demand that a mother express milk, you're asking her to waste time to spare your overly sensitive feelings. 
  • Pumps can be irritating, and even cause injuries. Depending on the shape and size of a woman's breasts, using a pump can damage nipples, cause bruising, and be painful. Asking a woman to pump may mean asking her to injure herself because you can't stand to see her feed her baby in the biologically normal way. 
So tell me again why a mother should inconvenience herself, spend money she doesn't have to spend, and potentially undermine breastfeeding solely to avoid irritating a stranger she'll never see again. 

Publicly Breastfeeding Allows Me to Continue Participating in Society While Feeding My Child 
When I decided to have a child, I didn't give up my identity as a human being. I still go to activist events and academic lectures. I still shop. At some point, I plan to have a social life again (LOL if you don't understand why a newborn renders that basically impossible). If you think I shouldn't publicly breastfeed, you're arguing that I should become a total slave to my baby. As soon as she's hungry, I should have to duck out of the public eye and either go home or find a private location.

My husband, who feeds her with a bottle, has to do no such thing. Misogyny, plain and simple.

Bathrooms Are Unsanitary and Potentially Dangerous 
Newborns have incredibly weak immune systems. Even a cold can kill a newborn if it's left untreated. Bathrooms are dirty and teeming with germs. So too are the lounges to which many breastfeeding women are relegated when they can't publicly feed.

When I feed my baby in public, I don't have to touch anything, and I don't have to expose her to the unsanitary conditions of a public restroom. I also don't have to throw caution to the wind and hang out in an isolated public restroom or quiet parking lot where any number of dangerous strangers could approach me.

A parent's most important duty is to protect their child. Asking me to go somewhere private to feed my child, particularly if that somewhere is a bathroom or my car at night, is asking me to compromise that duty to cater to misogynist prudery.

Breastfeeding is Hard Enough
Here's something few people will tell you, since this knowledge can undermine women's willingness to breastfeed: In the first month or so, breastfeeding is basically an unmitigated disaster and a waking nightmare. Cracked nipples, clogged ducts, mastitis, constant pain, low supply, and near-constant feedings are among the many joys that await a breastfeeding mother. It gets better, but do we really need to make it harder? I'm self-conscious enough about my postpartum body, anxious enough about my ability to be a good mother, and stressed enough about my ability to successfully breastfeed. Why make things worse for a mother who may already be struggling?

Why Are You Staring at My Chest? 
Complaining about a woman who publicly breastfeeds is an admission that you are staring at her chest. Many woman breastfeed in public without revealing the slightest hint of skin. Even among women who show a bit more flesh, it's highly unlikely that you'll see much more than a shoulder and some cleavage.

So here's a tip: look away. It costs you nothing, doesn't put you or your children in danger, and allows me to mother my child as I see fit, free of public judgment. It's certainly easier for you to look away than it is for me to fundamentally alter my nutritional choices for my child.

It's pretty simple. Public breastfeeding is a liberty issue. It's about a woman's right to make decisions regarding her body and child without being locked away in the privacy of her home. You don't have to be a woman, or to breastfeed, to support public breastfeeding. You just have to not be a misogynist who believes your feelings are more important than the well-being of a baby.

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