Did you know that nearly 80% of American babies are breastfed at some point? While that number dwindles to just about 19% after babies hit six months of age, the fact remains that a great majority of newborns and infants rely on human nipples for sustenance. Why then, in a television culture lousy with family sitcoms, do we so rarely see breastfeeding on television? If we really want to accurately represent parenthood, we need more breastfeeding on TV. Television enables international communal experiences to be shared and/or experienced, and many of our cultural touchstones revolve around televised content, both fictional and non-fictional. I would love to see the power of this medium harnessed to remind us that not having more familiarity with breastfeeding is the historical aberration.
My desire to see suckling children on TV has nothing to do with some sort of overzealous, judgmental need to shame formula feeding moms or even to shamelessly promote breastfeeding as the end-all-be-all. I still contend that combination feeding my baby was one of my best parenting moves to date, so I really, honestly and truly, don't care how one chooses to nourish a child: just feed them. However, normalizing this natural act as just that, a natural act, lifts a lot of the presumptions, misconceptions, embarrassment and shame that surround breastfeeding and the mothers who do choose it so, honestly, characters breastfeeding on television stands to benefit a lot of people. Here are just a few reasons why:
It Will Help To Desexualize Breasts
Speaking as a bisexual woman, I can assure you that breasts can, indeed, be tremendously sexy. Trust: I'm not trying to take sexy boobs away from anyone. But that's not all boobs are. Boobs can, in fact, be quite functional; like being used to sustain another human life for an extended period of time. They can also just kind of be there. It's not like seeing more boobs through a non-sexual lens is going to make them less sexy. Legs and shoulders, for example, are widely considered sexy, and we see those things all the time as we casually go about our days. It's high time we afford female breasts the same opportunity.
The More Views Of Motherhood We Show, The Better
Here's one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to television: female leads becoming pregnant as a means of character development, having the baby, and then never seeing the baby ever again. (We're looking at you, Emma Geller-Green!) It's annoying on a whole bunch of levels. 1) Women can have drama and growth in their lives that have nothing to do with their uterus; and 2) Why bother depicting motherhood if you really never plan to depict motherhood at all? That's not to say that all motherhood must depict breastfeeding, but depicting breastfeeding can perhaps serve as a push to show one of the many ways parents raise their babies.
It Will Lead To More Women On Screen In The First Place
Female characters account for approximately 41% of television characters. When one considers how these women are depicted (whether they speak, what their professions are, what their physical appearance may be, race, age, etc.) things get more depressing. Representation matters, and representing breastfeeding will play a part in bringing more female experiences*, and therefore more women, onto our screens in the first place.
*Though not a uniquely female experience, since there are trans men and non-binary people who breastfeed their children. Dare I dream television can one day share those stories, too?
It Will Help To Destigmatize Nursing In Public
Even though every U.S. state has laws protecting a woman's right to nurse anywhere she is legally permitted to be (every state except Idaho so, you know, get your shit together, Idaho), countless women have stories about being shamed for feeding their baby in public. Okay, enough, people: this is juvenile and absurd. Well reasoned arguments and polite corrections haven't worked, but maybe y'all will listen to your beloved television characters if they demonstrate that breastfeeding in public is perfectly fine.
Keeping The Practice Behind Closed Doors Hasn't Done Anyone Any Favors
While breastfeeding rates in the U.S. are on the rise, most women are unable to reach their breastfeeding goals, and I can't help but hypothesize that keeping nursing out of the public eye (and therefore removed from general public consciousness) has a lot to do with that. Of course, this isn't the only factor that contributes to breastfeeding challenges, but it certainly doesn't help.
Our Favorite Characters Nursing On TV Will Ideally Spark More Public And Private Discussion About Breastfeeding
Because seeing will lead to talking, and talking will lead to discussing, and discussing will lead to sharing frustrations, tips, and ideas, and potential ideals and, well, you get the idea.
Visibility Will (Ideally) Encourage People To Effect Social Change
Vive la (Breastfeeding) Révolution! Mwahahahahaha! Our feminist machinations finally take root!
Step 1) Get breastfeeding on television
Step 2) Get people to talk about breastfeeding
Step 3) Get people to realize that all the hang-ups society has about breastfeeding are utterly ridiculous
Step 4) Get people to realize that there is a lot society can do to facilitate nursing parents
Step 5) Oppress all the men!
Erm... I mean, no, no, no oppressing men... *shifty eyes*
Shock Value Breastfeeding Scenes Are Getting Annoying
From Carol breastfeeding on Friends to Lysa Arryn breastfeeding her school-age son on Game of Thrones, it seems the only depictions of breastfeeding we see on television are either played as a way to make men uncomfortable or to demonstrate the nursing mother's character flaws. I'm not saying breastfeeding isn't funny (because breastfeeding is really funny) but I'd love to see that humor from another perspective. I want breastfeeding parents to be in on the joke, not the butt of it.
They Did It On Sesame Street, And All Of Television Should Look More Like Sesame Street
Both Buffy and Maria breastfed on Sesame Street, and you know what? It was awesome. Because Sesame Street is awesome. It's educational, funny, heartfelt, and inclusive. All television (nay, all the world) should look more like Sesame Street and, let's face it, dudes: if Big Bird can observe a breastfeeding mother in person without being scandalized and scarred for life, I'm pretty sure television audiences of all ages can handle it.
Breastfeeding Advocates Can Finally Chill The Eff Out
No hate on the lactivists, guys. I'd be deluded if I pretended I wasn't one (I spend a good chunk of my time writing about this very issue). While many mothers who formula feed their babies often say they've been shamed by breastfeeding mothers (which isn't a very kind move, people: knock it off) breastfeeding mothers are in the minority and many of us make up for our smaller numbers by being super-vocal and passionate about our right to nurse and the benefits of breastfeeding. I'm sure, sometimes, that can annoy people and I get it. (Always remember, my lactating comrades: you can be breastfeeding advocate without being a jerk). But once people who have hang-ups about nursing get over their issues, we won't have to insist on making it an issue! Win-win!
It's Just Not A Big Deal, You Guys
Seriously, guys. This isn't a thing. There's no need to make breastfeeding a thing. Let's just make it, "a thing that happens sometimes" and move on.