Monday, June 18, 2012

the breastfeeding in public non-issue

so breastfeeding in public.
goodness gracious what a stir it's causing over the pond there in the US and Canada.
i mean, how long has this been going on for? every couple years something comes up and everyone is all up in arms about it. those on the "pro" side are venting and defending and those on the "con" side are bashing it and whatnot.
and then it dies down.
and then something else happens and woopdeedoo we're all crazy again!

so i'm somewhat removed from it all. somewhat because geographically i'm removed. but i have internet. so ... ya know. i read stuff.
but i just want to say that i love how much of a non-issue it is here. culturally it's not unusual to see a woman breastfeeding her child. fully exposed. one day i saw a woman at a little pedicure shack/store getting her toes done and breastfeeding her baby. love.
then another day i was at the craft market and saw a vendor breastfeeding her baby while sitting outside her shop. no "udder cover". no shawl. no receiving blanket. just a baby receiving his nourishment from a boob. that's right. a boob. {look at me being all controversial.}

and a part of me instinctively wanted to walk up to her and say, "good for you, mama!". but then my brain kicked in and i realized where i was and almost laughed at myself. if i did that, this mother would have zero clue what i was referring to. zero. because breastfeeding in public and showing your breast {gasp! no modesty!} is completely fine in most african cultures. so of course she'd feed her child where she was. she has a store to run to make money so she can put a roof over her child's head. closing up shop for 10-40 minutes so she could feed her child somewhere privately could mean the loss of several customers.

it's been interesting here knowing a few missionary mamas who are breastfeeding their kids and with both of them, they've checked with me to make sure i was okay with them nursing their babies around me and my boys. i've never asked them, but i'm almost 100% sure that they don't ask the ugandan's they are around if they are okay with them nursing. it's just so interesting. {oh and of course i said i was okay as long as they were fine with jude being a bit more curious about it all. and i got to see twins tandem nursing. mamas of twins who breastfed are absolute super stars!}

i personally don't feel the need to cover up when i breastfeed {although this was a long road for me, personally to become comfortable with it and eventually did it successfully with jude in public places and never had a single person stare at me or give me negative feedback. in fact, more people noticed when i breastfed with a cover as it drew more attention to the fact that i was breastfeeding.} and we'll see how it goes here. does it matter that i am white {and therefore so are my breasts} and breastfeeding? will that be an issue? i have no idea. but i'm guessing less of an issue here than in Canada or the US.

it will also be different as we will be sharing our living space with the other Canadian guy on our STINT team here and so that will bring another dynamic into the mix as well.

and so like most things, i am weighing in after all the hype has died down.

breasts are for feeding babies. but they are not just for feeding babies. which makes this {non}issue just a bit more complicated.
i want to be sensitive {and will strive to be when this baby is born}, but i also completely and fully endorse a woman's right to feed her child using her breasts wherever and whenever she deems necessary.

so that's where this Canadian-born, Ugandan-living mama stands on the whole breastfeeding in public non-issue.

thoughts? agree? disagree? does it make you uncomfortable to see a woman breastfeeding in public? why or why not? do you think it's okay as long as a woman "covers up"? what does that mean? is it okay if part of her back/stomach is showing as long as her breasts aren't? give it to me straight.

**edited to add** while i fully believe that as a woman and one who will be {hopefully} nursing a third baby soon it's within my rights to feed my baby wherever and whenever i deem necessary, if i'm around a man who feels uncomfortable or that it's something that could cause them to stumble, i would gladly forfeit this right and cover up {not that i would ever intentionally whip out my breast and fully expose myself}. my intention is not to purposely expose myself or cause someone to stumble, but to feed my baby and my intention in writing this is perhaps to cause people to re-think what they've been conditioned to think about breasts. 


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    1. really appreciate your "edited to add" :)

  2. What I find interesting is that the "soft porn" lingerie ads and bathing suit ads and perfume and whatever other super seductive ads that are out there are fully acceptable to the general public but oooh not breastfeeding! Yeah, totally backwards here man. I always feel bad when my friends feel they have to leave the room or cover up to feed their kid in front of me. But like you said it's a journey in our culture to be comfortable with ourselves like that around others (probably because of all those previously mentioned ads). Those are my thoughts.

    1. Exactly {re: the sexually suggestive ads and other publicly accepted things}.
      It really IS a journey to feel comfortable with yourself. And whether that ends up with you nursing your baby alone in a room and you're completely fine with that because your baby needs the quiet and lack of distraction, that's perfectly fine.
      Anyway, thanks for the comment! :)

  3. I just don't get it. I think everyone needs to stop and remember that this is how all other mammals feed their young. It's a natural, biological thing and of course us humans are the only ones who have to go and make it into something else. I am not offended at all and if my boys see then I just tell them that is how the Mommy feeds her baby and they know. It's just NOT a big deal and I don't understand why people continue to try to make it one.

    Good post.

    1. Thanks, Elaine. I think it's a good thing for young boys to be exposed to and explained what it's all about - especially if it's not something they see in their home (whether their Mom breastfed or bottle fed or just doesn't have young enough children in the home).

  4. My thoughts are simpler since I've not had to experience breastfeeding in public. For me, it is a complete non-issue. If you're comfy, do it, if you're not, don't. I just think that there is no need for a controversy when there are greater issues like over-parenting, an increase in child obesity, adolescent sexual activity, lack of faith in our public systems etc etc etc. And breastfeeding in public is what people want to argue about? Hear hear sister V - it is a complete non-issue. And the fact that it comes up again every few years without any resolution proves it. Let the women who have to do the deed, do it how they want. Bango.

    1. I agree! There are SO MANY more important issues to be concerned about and you named a bunch!

  5. I've never seen a Chinese woman breastfeed here (in China). I'm not sure if they would, seeing that they are SUPER modest (on top, anyway... they'll wear the shortest shorts, but everything else is covered up ... it's the guys who hike up their shirts to show off their bellies ... that's different). They are modest "on top" but when it comes to bathroom stuff ... not so much. I've seen little kids running around in split pants (and no diapers) and/or going just about everywhere (inside malls, behind a tree next to a building, into a bottle outside of a bathroom in a tourist attraction ... the list goes on). I've seen a grown woman squat down and not even close the door to her stall. I've seen bathrooms that are basically outdoor trenches and no dividers (so no privacy).
    So it's up in the air about whether or not there would be public breastfeeding, in my mind anyway ... Then again, mothers and newborns usually stay indoors for at least 100 days after the baby's birth, so maybe they are weaned by then?
    Anyway, I've been exposed to (Western) team members here breastfeeding, and I can say that I agree with you. There's no point in secluding yourself unless, as you say, the surroundings distract the baby and just make things longer than needed OR what you are doing is a stumbling block for someone.
    And if it bothers someone, there is such a thing as averting one's eyes and looking elsewhere.
    At any rate, it'll be interesting to see how your Ugandan friends handle your parenting style and I'd like to hear what cultural clashes - for lack of a better word - you come up against after your wee one makes an appearance. :)

    1. Hey Mel,
      Yeah, I'm not surprised at the fact that you haven't seen Chinese mother's breastfeeding their babies. I dunno. I just would have guessed that it's not a common thing to see there. Haha about the split pants. :)
      As for the "cultural clashes" or issues, I have an inkling about some of them (like if I thought I got unwanted advice in Canada, it's a WHOLE different ball game here. I will get advice all the time I'm sure and the #1 may be that I don't have enough clothes on my infant as they overdress their babies and kids here like crazy. Like toques and sweaters and coats, wrapped up in blankets. It's nuts.)
      And THAT is for a post to come - probably after the baby is born. :)

    2. I heard an interesting anecdote about China & breastfeeding at our prenatal education classes. Our teacher told us that the there it is very common for Chinese women to be taught and believe that Chinese women don't have enough milk to feed their babies and as a result, few women breastfeed. She said that there is no scientific evidence to prove that Chinese women are less able to breastfeed than women from any other culture but because women are told that, they tend to believe it or create a sort of self fulfilling prophecy but suplementing with formula, which leads to their milk supplies decreasing.

      My Chinese mother in law didn't breastfeed either of her kids. Living in Hong Kong at the time (in the 1980s), she was told that she didn't have enough milk.

      I have noticed that both her & my father in law seem to besomewhat uncomfortable with seeing me breastfeeding in front of them. They have never said anything to me but either look away, leave the room or move to the other side of the room anytime I breastfed in their presence. When we visited them, I often nursed downstairs because I didn't want to make them uncomfortable in their own home.

    3. it could ver well be that they aren't used to breastfeeding and that's why they looked away, but it would also be them generally respecting your privacy. my dad and father-in-law are both very familiar with breastfeeding (their spouses breastfed all their kids!)but they both looked away or left the room when I would feed Lily or Oli so they weren't staring at my breasts.... as their daughter, they thought that was most respectable. Who knows :)

      also, such a bummer that a whole culture would tell women such a lie! French women tell one another that often, I've read, but it's mostly a peer pressure they feel among each other to get back to their regular self fastest, which is why few breastfeed.

  6. Hmmmm... I guess I am more of the conservative frame of mind. I think it's important to breastfeed (if it works, as in my case both times had to switch to formula halfway through) and be of the mind that it is natural and good food source for an infant baby.

    I will be honest though, growing up in our culture and with some family values of extreme modesty, as well as associating breasts with not only producing a food source but also as an erogenous zone on women as well as being an arousal organ for men I am uncomfortable when I see exposed breasts. For me the latter definitions win out as breasts for me are only a food source for a short period of time. I think for me my source of discomfort in watching a mother breast feed without a cover is that when my breasts are not used as a food source they are a part of my body that I associate with sex and therefore have a hard time changing my perception of the breast. I suppose since my time breastfeeding is so short, this may also be why I am uncomfortable with older toddlers breastfeeding as well.

    For my husband I know that weather breastfeeding or not, when men see women's breasts it does cause a natural arousal in them and that can be a difficult thing to deal with when it's not their own wife. As you pointed out Vanessa, if you know that a man is uncomfortable that you are around you would not force them to have to watch. I think that's respectful of those around you.

    I think it's a difficult issue and the reason that the topic keeps coming back around is that with immodesty comes modesty and to have an very balanced view without cultural or familial infulence is impossible.I would like to see people respect each other and to respect mothers who choose to breastfeed in public with out a cover. I also think that mothers who chose to breastfeed without a cover in certain cultures need to consider their audience and respect the people around them and what they struggle with or feel.

    Romans 14:13-18 sums up breastfeeding for me: 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. (NIV)

    Sorry for the novel, but this stuff has been mulling in my mind since I read your post. Very thought provoking, Thanks Vanessa!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Bekki!
      I value your friendship and appreciate your well-written thoughts.
      And I LOVE that you posted Rom 14:13-18 and think it cuts to the heart of the issue.
      Thanks for your "novel". I'll take a novel of your thoughts any day! :D Love you, friend.

  7. I grew up with a mom who breastfed all 12 of her kids anywhere & anytime, without a cover and without a fuss or drawing attention so for me, breastfeeding was always natural and a non-controversial issue. Breastfeeding is so normal in our home that my younger sister would often walk around with a doll under her shirt, breastfeeding her or sit nursing her dolls while doing kindergarden(she is homeschooled). I think she even tandem nursed her dolls sometimes (not sure where she saw that as there are no twins in our family! ha ha).

    For me, I feel very comfortable breastfeeding in and went from beginning with a nursing cover to not using it within the first few months of nursing Sebby. I now use a scarf to cover up when I'm around strangers, in a large mixed group (like at church) or men (other than family members). I don't use anything when I'm around other women, and to be honest, I'd never considered that it would make another woman feel uncomfortable until I read some of the comments above.

    I continue to nurse into toddlerhood and do it in public although I am well aware that many people feel uncomfortable with seeing a toddler who is able to run up & ask for milk be nursed. I do continue to try to be as low key and as modest as possible when in mixed groups, around strangers or men.

    I was challenged when I read the comments from Bekki above. Before reading her comments, I would have just said that I think others need to be challenged to re-evaluate their views because breastfeeding is the natural way that God intended for babies to be fed and has tremendous health benefits for babies. I am realizing that just as my beliefs about breastfeeding have been strongly influenced by the things I was exposed to growing up, so are others and those things we learn growing up are difficult to change.


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