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August 08, 2006

The Savage Breast

By Sarah

It's no great revelation that our society is completely screwed up when it comes to the Splash_marketing_1 media sending mixed messages, especially to women and girls. The adolescence abstinence push comes at a time when teenagers are bombarded with Abercrombie & Fitch ads featuring sexy boys wearing their jeans mega low and cavorting with girls in teeny weenie plaid thongs. Think the cartoon sperm and eggs in Mrs. Foster's eighth-grade health class can compete with those boxers sliding down his hips? Uh, what page are we on again?

Wdaycover On the opposite end of the maturity scale, there's Woman's Day with its classic covers promoting the virtues of walking while visually enticing us middle-aged mothers with chocolate cakes you can mold into replicas of the Taj Mahal. Cookies and dieting. Every issue features both. And we wonder why Americans are overweight.

But nothing compares to the controversy surrounding Babytalk magazine and its decision to - gasp - feature a nursing baby on its cover. This image depicting the survival of the human species and, specifically, the superiority of mammals over, say, reptiles, has been described as "disgusting, rude, obscene" and, my favorite, "inappropriate."(I just despise that word - don't you?) My favorite comment on some blog came from a woman - a woman! - who said she didn't want her husband to be exposed to a breast he didn't wish to see. I am still laughing.

What's even more astounding is that this cover dawned - by happenstance, knowing production schedules - around another controversial report by the World Health Organization, this one proclaiming that NOT breast feeding is akin to maternal neglect, or worse.Babytalk

''Just like it's risky to smoke during pregnancy, it's risky not to breast-feed after,'' said Suzanne Haynes, senior scientific adviser to the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Only, you better not breast feed in the park or at work or in the mall. In fact, breast feeding is best done alone, the two of you, six times a day - for a year. Yippee.

First, let me say right now that I'm so glad I'm past the breastfeeding phase of my life. I was a lousy nurser and gave each of my babies three months, tops. The way I saw it, with pregnancy that was a year of my body donated to the survival of someone else and I was done. Formula was sooo easy. So filling. So convenient. I didn't have to run and hide. I didn't have to nurse every two hours. I didn't leak or smell. Others could step in. I was, uh, free!!!

Not to say I was right. I wasn't. A year would have been great but, hey, that wasn't me. Luckily, my children have both turned out healthy. No asthma. No allergies. No ear infections. And, lo and behold, even their IQ is fairly high. I'm afraid to tell this to the WHO, which has basically called my action or inaction criminal. I don't want my name to appear on their bad mother list. Can you tell I still feel guilty? I do. Especially now that I know I've put my kids at risk for everything from adult depression to paranoia. They can add it to their list of other ways I've screwed them up. Relax. I'm on the psychiatrist savings plan.

There's another reason I was eager to quit nursing and that was embarrassment. No, I was not like the pert blonde in our co-op who picks over the vegetables and stands in line smiling (a bit of a show off, if you ask me) with her beloved baby clamped on her fully naked breast. There's a lot of unclamping, too. And lots of exposure and, no Josh, you may not come for a visit.

I look at her in wonder. How does she do it? In a million years, I, never, ever....

See, I'm from Pennsylvania, one of the few states that doesn't have a law protecting a woman's right to breast feed. Pennsylvania's not a touchy feely state. We gorge on food, watch football and pass out. There is no room for women prancing about with their shirts off, unless they're clutching a pole in the dark as God intended. What's ingrained in me is so deep that even in my early 30s I couldn't overcome it. Screwed up? You bet.

So what's the solution to this dilemma where women are told they have to breast feed and they absolutely can't breast feed in public? Or how girls are told not to have sex, but to buy sexy clothes, to bake chocolate cakes that require of hours of decorating, but not to eat a bite. To go to college, but not to excel at work. Every beer and wine ad features women drinking, even though apparently we're not supposed to. (Unlike men who can, ahem, metabolize it better, apparently.)

Listen, maybe I should go out and find one of those men who doesn't want to be exposed to a breast he didn't want to see.....Yes. That should keep me busy for quite some time.



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Okay, I am just HOPPING MAD. This issue makes me completely nuts. When I was breastfeeding (11 months for the first and I think 7 or 8 or 9 months for the twins, but who remembers?) I could not recall my own name, but I had memorized the California Civil Code that allowed me to do it in any public place. Yes, any public place. And not in the bathroom of any public place, either. I was just itching for someone to tell me to button up. Jeez, I'm so worked up, I think I might be lactating again.

Years ago I was the day manager of a restaurant in the Seattle area. It was a relaxed environment with long community tables where you plopped you and your friends down next to another group and often the conversations joined.
A young mother was nursing and someone was offended and came up to complain to the manager. I didn't know much, but this didn't make sense. It was a restaurant. People were eating. So was the baby.

Well, it obviously is not I.

The question is, how many husbands were interesting in trying it, and how many wives consented? In my house, it was 1, and zero.

Thanks for the female perspective on this situation Sarah.

Being hetereosexual male, I think it is in our genetic code to look when a woman bares her breasts. Therefore code enforcement is in place so that men do not drive cars into buildings and trees. Less distraction behind the wheel.

I'm with you, Sarah and Harley. For starters, that's a lovely picture. I would like to know, though, how it is that baby is upright; I never managed that when I was nursing. Of course, my daugher weaned herself at 3 months (long story involving much maternal guilt over not giving up graduate school, using infant day care, and trying to do both the bottle and breast feeding).

Now, I was a modest sort who always used a receiving blanket or something to cover up if anyone was around when I was nursing. But that's just me. As far as I'm concerned, if people can't handle the sight of a woman doing what's best for her baby, they shouldn't look. Period.

(When I was pregnant, a friend bought me "Miss Manners' Guide To Rearing Perfect Children." In one of the exchanges of letters and replies, Miss Manners acknowledged her own error in recommending that women nurse in bathrooms. If we shouldn't have to eat our lunches there, neither should our babies.)

We are such a screwed-up culture!

Oh -- if anyone is interested in breastfeeding laws in his/her state, here's a nice summary retrieved from the Congressional Research Service (Library of Congress):

You know, I don't think about the whole breastfeeding thing until someone points it out to me, usually with a comment like "doesn't she know there are 'places' for that sort of thing?" I managed one whole week of that particular form of mother-child bonding before I caught a cold and ended up givng Catherine formula. Don't get me started on the breast pump either (an alternative...you know, torture yourself at home so you don't offend others in public...geez). Cat survived quite well. So, on a scale of 1-10, the issue is a 1/2. :o)
What irritates me more is watching a woman with 42DD cleavage wear a low cut tank top with no bra...sorry guys. The odds for wardrobe malfunction in this case are more than I should have to consider.

My daughter would have NOTHING to do with a breast once she had a regular bottle nipple. She would not take a nuk nipple, no Playtex nurser nipple, nothing but a regular bottle nipple. She'd just cry and "seek" when offered anything else. So breast feeding came to a screeching halt when she came home from the hospital. However, we were joined at the hip from the moment she was born, so I don't think she's suffered any ill effects from it, psychologically. And she got colostrum.

It's odd that there should even have to be breast feeding legislation at all.

First off, Sarah you kept me up till 2 am. If I fall asleep at my desk today it'll be all yoru fault ;)

Second, I remember after my first son was born my family (IE mom and dad you know those folks) made me feel very ashamed of breastfeeding my son. To the point my father said once, "That's not what those are for."

Apparently, unbeknownst to any of us, boobs were a conspiracy between God and Hugh Heffner.

I don't even know where to start on this one. Anyone who is offended by the cover of a Baby magazine has obviously never watched TV, during the day or night. I think counseling might be in order.

I nursed both of my kids until they got their first tooth. No doctor told me this, it just worked out that way. I did not nurse my husband, but Josh - there are entire clubs of people who might interest you.

I live in PA, and nursed all over the place, and no one ever said a word. Once, at a restaurant in Breezewood (a major stopping point on the PA Turnpike) I noticed that a lot of people were looking and smiling at us on the way out. I thought they were admiring my beautiful baby girl, who was about three months old. Turns out, I'd forgot to button up, and since my husband was behind us, he didn't know it either. No one fainted or called the morality police. It just goes to show you that those truckers are more mature than the average Baby magazine gaper.

As someone who nursed her daughters until they were almost 2 years old, I certainly don't get offended by the sight of a woman doing what should be natural. Sarah, thanks for pointing out all the double-talk and ads that confuse our young. I loved nursing & the bonding. I was one of the ones who went off to uncomfortable seclusion (30 yrs ago) if we were not at home because others got embarrassed. Today, more women are less likely to hide & I applaud them. However, I also know how hard it is to nurse discreetly once your child is older. The kid gets distracted by everything!
I think the cover is beautiful, but I also don't think it's quite a natural position - too posed.

I would like to recommend Breed 'Em and Weep blog regarding exposure:

Thanks for the link, Holly -- that was hilarious! It also brought back memories of my first night in the hospital with my daughter -- when I tried to nurse her for 3 hours to keep her from crying. Why didn't anyone tell me that was Not The Right Thing To Do?????

I just talked to a friend about this, and we decided that just in case there is a future nursing mother reading today, she needs to know a couple of things that only my best friend told me - everyone else lied.

1. At the beginning, it hurts, and it's tough to figure it out. Yeah - it hurts - not for that long, and it's worth it and so forth, but it does. Plus, with your first one, no one really knows what they're doing, so you have to work at it. And no, your husband offering to demonstrate, while amusing for him, is not the answer.

2. Once you start, you keep going. Just because the baby is not attached doesn't mean the lactation stops. It took me three showers to figure out that many things can start milk flowing.

3. Just because your kids are no longer nursing doesn't mean you stop producing. My doctor told me this does not happen to many women, but I still can't spend a lot of time around newborns, especially if they're crying, without risking re-lactation (is that a word?). Obviously, this is how Wet Nurses made a living, and apparently that's an alternative career choice for some of us.

I'm currently nursing my 20 month old and my other went 27 months and to society's credit or my ability to stop people in their tracks with "the look", I have never had anyone give me any grief. Now to my chagrin, both kids stopped nursing on one side, so "lefty" is gigantic. It's quite a look.

The thing that gets me, and it relates to the beginning of the blog. I find the hoochie inspired clothing for little girls really disturbing. I don't want my 4 year old in a belly top or low rise pants. I hated preppie clothing as a teen, but I really hope that it is the height of fashion in 10 years.

And here I thought no one was commenting because the comment ticker read 0. I thought maybe there were a bunch of lact-o-phobes out there.
First of all, Kathy, you are a woman of many talents. But we knew that, didn't we?
Secondly, Cece, I swear it wasn't me keeping you up until 2 a.m. I was out by 11.
Lastly, I applaud all of you for being such stoic nursers. Also, the advice on beginning. It is painful. I remember the night my milk came in and the only way I could describe the pain was to compare it to the time I hit my thumb with a hammer and the swelling pressed against the nail.
BTW - That blonde at the co-op does nurse in the same position as the Babytalk photo. I kid you not.

Boy, did I get an education today!

When my milk came in, I was so sore that one night I just leaned over the bathtub & let it gush. I grew up next door to a dairy farm, but it wasn't until that moment that I understood why the cows always rushed into the milking parlor.

LOL Poor Dave.

Update - last night, Stephen Colbert addressed this issue, and tongue firmly in cheek, addressed a thank you to the woman who complained about her son seeing "a breast he didn't want to see" on behalf of all 13-year-old boys. I love that guy.

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