Guest post from my amazing husband, Matt Swedlund:
I have read and heard a lot about nursing babies and mothers (more than I would have ever imagined). My wife and 2 year old daughter are still nursing and my wife is a bit of a breastfeeding/nursing advocate (she’s also a doula, aspiring birth educator, and all around awesome). For the most part I listen to these conversations or read blog posts and don’t comment because I’m a male, I don’t have breasts, and I don’t know what it is like to breastfeed a child. What I do know is that my wife and child’s breastfeeding/nursing relationship has been a very beautiful and natural thing. My wife breastfed our child “on demand” which resulted in semi-frequent public breastfeeding. She never encountered any extreme breastfeeding haters making rude remarks or ignorant employees asking her to go into the bathroom – which is great. I even think disapproving glares, eye rollers, and shocked or embarrassed reactions have been very minimal. From all the reading I’ve done it seems like these extreme instances of hate and ignorance are rare. I don’t mean to imply that they are nonexistent or that bringing attention to them isn’t important. In fact, I think it’s pitiful that any woman ever has to deal with that kind of garbage and calling attention to it and condemning it are appropriate reactions. However, my thoughts here are more focused on the folks in the comments section who claim some kind of a “moderate middle ground.” I’m calling the category these folks fall into: “Well, I’m not against it I just…”
Here’s the thing, pretty much any concept that comes after the preface of “Well, I’m not against it I just…” is grounded in the idea that breasts are exclusively, or at least primarily, sexual. I.E. “Well, I’m not against it I just think…mother’s should be modest…mother’s should be considerate of others around them…mother’s shouldn’t be tasteless, etc.” Breastfeeding/nursing is a great example of our culture’s dysfunctional idea of sex and bodies. Apparently, the idea that breasts are for sexual purposes has been hammered into our heads so hard, some of us have a very difficult time allowing them to be anything else. Now don’t get me wrong here, I absolutely appreciate the role that breasts play in a sexual relationship – I really do J. But as a father I now appreciate their role as a means to nourish and comfort children as an EQUALLY important role. Did you catch the emphasis there? EQUALLY!!! A person that criticizes women who breastfeed in public as being immodest, tasteless, or inconsiderate of others is essentially declaring that breasts are for sex. Well, guess what? They have an EQUALLY (arguably more) important role: to nourish and comfort children. What if we taught our children that the most important thing breasts do is feed babies and children?
Folks in the “Well, I’m not against it I just…” category are stuck (consciously or subconsciously) on the idea that breasts are first and foremost sexual and that breastfeeding is just a secondary purpose. This idea needs to be deconstructed. We need to open our minds and allow breasts to be what they are: multifaceted. Once we free ourselves from the idea that breasts are primarily for sexual arousal the critique of the public breastfeeding mother as immodest, inconsiderate, or tasteless falls to the wayside. Let me remind you once more that I’m not saying breasts aren’t ever sexual, I fully recognize that many people find breasts sexually arousing (myself included), the point is that as a society we have over sexualized breasts to the point that when we see them being used for another important purpose (breastfeeding) it makes us uncomfortable because all of the messages we’ve received about breasts have communicated that their primary function is for sex.
I propose that we get over the “breasts as primarily sexual” issue and start appreciating mothers’ bodies in a new and deeper way. The fact that mothers can nourish and sustain the life of a child with their bodies is pretty freaking rad. But inevitably this will be too difficult of a challenge for some people. Some people will just always think of sex when they see a breast (or more realistically when they catch a tiny glimpse of a breast for the 1 second before or after a baby’s head is covering the vast majority of it). Those folks might still be uncomfortable when encountering a breastfeeding mother in public. But guess what? That discomfort is that person’s problem not the breastfeeding mother’s problem. So stop shaming (subtly or not so subtly) the breastfeeding mother for someone else’s issue.
Lastly, I feel the need to address one other common theme I hear from the “Well, I’m not against it I just…” group and that is the idea that there are certain women that are “shoving it in everyone’s faces.” This comment is so baffling to me. Either I have a way different definition of what it means for someone to shove something in my face or this idea is just completely fabricated. Like I mentioned before, my wife has breastfed in public a lot and she has never used a cover. When our child is hungry she either pulls her shirt up or down (depending on the kind of shirt she is wearing) and within a few seconds they are nursing. After my daughter is finished nursing my wife puts her shirt back in place. All said and done a liberal estimate would be that the breast is fully exposed for 3 seconds (and you would essentially have to be staring creeper style to observe the full 3 seconds of breast). Is that shoving it in everyone’s face? I mean seriously, I’m waiting for the day that I’m eating out at a restaurant and a mother rips her shirt off, whips out her breasts, literally shoves it in my face, and tries nursing her child two inches from my nose. Now that would be shoving it in my face. In my 30 years I have yet to see a breastfeeding mother shove anything in anyone’s face (and that includes the past 2 years that I have been around a plethora of breastfeeding mothers). If what you actually mean is that there are women that are breastfeeding in public and, heaven forbid, posting pictures of breastfeeding on their private social media accounts then stop calling that shoving it in everyone’s faces! That’s called being a mother.
I am proud of my wife and all of the breastfeeding mothers that are doing their best to normalize breastfeeding in a culture that over sexualizes breasts and women’s bodies in general. Your bodies are amazing: life begins inside of you and from you, life is sustained. You are brave and strong and deserve to be praised not criticized.