I would like to know at what point breastfeeding in public, in the United States, became inappropriate. Over the past several years, I’ve seen and read news items about people complaining and treating public breastfeeding as something indecent. It seems many American women will not breastfeed in public due to fear of public opinion. That’s odd because according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and their references on breastfeeding laws, most states in the United States have laws to promote breastfeeding.
The last time I saw a woman breastfeeding her baby in the United States was… never. Wait. That’s not exactly true. I have a very vague “memory” of my mother breastfeeding my youngest sister, but I couldn’t have been older than seven years old myself (around 1967). Since then, I’ve known it was taking place, but I’ve never seen it happening. I have four sisters and I never saw them breastfeed any of their children. My wife didn’t have large enough breasts to breastfeed when both of our children were born. Every other mother I’ve ever come into contact with, since I was a kid, has used formula instead of human breast milk.
It’s a known fact that human breast milk is the most healthy form of milk for babies, with few exceptions (such as when the mother is taking drugs or isn’t healthy in some other way). The immunities of the mother are passed to the baby, along with nourishment, which can only be a good thing. I understand that a lot of women who want to breastfeed use breast pumps to extract the milk in private and then feed their babies by bottle in public. The more adventurous of mothers will go so far as to wear nursing bras for public breastfeeding because they can hide everything but their nipples and the babies hide those with their mouths. Again, I haven’t seen that.
I lived in the United States for more than 40 years of my life (except for overseas duty in the military) and I’m amazed that I never noticed the lack of breastfeeding mothers. I think I know the reason. The human female breast has been sexualized for so many years that no one appreciates the basic, natural function of breastfeeding.
I once overheard a conversation about someone breastfeeding at a restaurant. The story indicated that the people at nearby tables were offended when they saw the woman pull her breast out from under her clothing and stick the nipple in the baby’s mouth. Apparently the mother said something to the effect of “you’re having your dinner and my baby is having his”. If the story is true, then bravo for at least one woman out of the millions of mothers in the United States who aren’t as courageous as this woman was.
I can relate to this:
Couples in the Philippines don’t believe in family planning. They believe in family planting. Sorry. That’s a joke. Really. The reason most Filipino families are large has to do with the Filipino culture. Birth control has been taught in public schools for several years, but a lot of Filipinos simply can’t afford to pay for it. I understand, but I think it’s cheaper to use birth control than it is to raise a baby. I could be wrong, though, because there are a lot of kids running around in my little area of the Philippines.
Public opinion is obviously different in the Philippines. I see women breastfeeding everywhere it seems. From within our compound to riding on Jeepneys, there are so many women that seem to have a breast hanging out at one time or another – it almost seems like I see them out more than in. Poor people won’t buy formula and I consider that a blessing, not a curse.
You may hear people referring to the Philippines as a backward and repressed society. When it comes to things like this, I’m more likely to believe the American culture is more backward and repressed than Asian culture. There are other cultures that are more repressed, requiring practically everything but the hands and the head above the nose to be covered on women, but that’s another subject altogether.
By: RT Cunningham
February 13, 2014
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