When I made the choice (and was successfully able) to breastfeed my son, I knew what he was going to get out of the deal. I knew that breastmilk was very beneficial to and for him and that he would be receiving necessary antibodies and that we would be given some exclusive opportunities to bond. I didn't know, however, what breastfeeding would be giving me. I learned so much about myself, about parenting, and about the unavoidable importance of self care when I was breastfeeding my son. I also learned just how important it is to be, and remain, body positive.
I can't say that I was relatively kind to myself or my body before I became pregnant and brought another human being into the world. I, sadly, bought into society's condescending and unhealthy rhetoric concerning women's bodies. I thought I had to be a certain size if I was to be attractive and I had to shrink myself as to not upset the men I shared spaces with and I had to discipline myself enough to not eat too much or weigh too much or simply be too much. It was difficult to continue to adhere to that way of thinking after I had my son, however, as I realized that my body is incredible at any size, capable of doing marvelous, miraculous things and no amount of weight or pant size or space I take up would ever change that. My body could sustain human life (I mean, I could feed my kid by simply showing up and being alive) and that body, my body, was worthy of love and admiration for that reason and many, many others. I couldn't hate my body, because my body was doing some downright amazing things.
Which is why breastfeeding not only provides sustenance for another human life, breastfeeding can also teach you how to be more body positive. Just add it to another list of things your amazing body can do.
You Put The Emphasis On What Your Body Can Do
Sadly, our patriarchal society puts more emphasis on what a woman's body looks like, and less on what a woman's body can actually do. Breastfeeding definitely provides women with multiple, bonding moments that facilitate some necessary perspective; moments that can remind you that how your breasts look absolutely pale in comparison to what your breasts can do. It's amazing that women (who choose to and are successful at breastfeeding) can sustain another human being. It's incredible that a woman's body can produce necessary nutrients that keep another person alive. So honestly, it doesn't matter if you don't fit some unrealistic, predetermined yet fundamentally flawed standard of social beauty; you can keep another person alive just by being alive yourself. That trumps everything. That can foster the ultimate body positivity.
And, on the other end of that coin, if you struggle with breastfeeding, you realize that your body isn't flawed just because it has trouble doing any one particular thing. It isn't defunct or broken or lacking; it's a body that grew and birthed a human life (either vaginally or via c-section, with an epidural or sans drugs) and while it isn't without trials and tribulations, it's still a body that has done something incredible. Sometimes, it's the struggle of breastfeeding that provides the ultimate body positive lesson, because even when your body doesn't do something you want it to do, it doesn't mean your body isn't still absolutely magnificent.
You Appreciate Your Body's Multiple Functions...
Because our culture has successfully sexualized women's bodies ad nauseam, it can be difficult to not break away from that engrained, pigeonholed thought process and think of your body as anything other than sexual. Breastfeeding, however, reminds you that your body (even and especially the parts that have been deemed sexual in nature) is built for multiple functions. Your breasts are both sexual and functional, and being one doesn't inhibit their ability to be the other. You can have sex with your partner and they can appreciate your body in a sexual way, and then hours later, you can use your body (and many of those exact same body parts) to sustain human life. I mean, honestly, how bad ass is that?!
...And Its Ability To Be Two (Or More) Things At Once
Which is why a mother doesn't have to be de-sexualized as a human being, in order to be cherish and respected as a mother. A mother is still sexy; a mother is still sexual; a mother is still a human being with very real, very human needs. A mother's body is more than just a body that can grow and birth and sustain human life, yet it is all of those things, too. Instead of putting a woman's body in one easily definable box, we should all be celebrating the complicated, multifaceted functions of a woman's body; mother or not. Which is why breastfeeding gives us all the ability to remember that a mother's body can still be sexy and functional; they can still be desirable and dependable; they can still be sexual and responsible. They can still be human beings, as motherhood does not strip women of their humanity.
You Learn How To Stick Up For Yourself
Unfortunately, if you choose to breastfeed in public (especially without a cover) you'll probably be put in a position in which you'll have to defend yourself and your choice to feed your kid whenever and wherever they're hungry. It shouldn't be this way, but it is. The silver lining of the entire situation, however, is that you learn how to stand up for yourself, your body and your baby. You free yourself of other people's expectations or beliefs or thoughts on your body and choices, and learn to rely solely on yourself. If you feel comfortable and safe with your parenting decisions, that's all that matters.
You Realize That Other People's Opinions Of Your Body Don't Matter
Seriously, who cares? Beauty is subjective; "morality" is fluid; it's all relative and what works for someone else, may not work for you and visa versa. What a person thinks about your body or what they feel about it or how they think you should or shouldn't act with your body; it all doesn't matter, especially when you're busy sustaining another human life.
You Learn That Taking Care Of Your Body Is Most Important
When you're breastfeeding, you're acutely aware of just how important your health and wellness are. If you don't care for yourself and your body, you won't be able to take care of someone else. Motherhood and martyrdom are often considered synonymous, but they truly aren't. A mother must put herself, her body, her health and her all-around wellness first, if she is to adequately care for someone else. A mother's body is important. A mother's body is worthy of care. A mother's body is worth appreciation and support.
And Realize That Every Feeling You Have Towards Your Body, Is Valid
As body positivity becomes more and more of an accepted and celebrated concept (which in and of itself is odd, as it shouldn't be "trendy" to love and care about yourself), there seems to be a significant pendulum swing in the opposite direction, in which women feel like they can't be honest about how they really feel about their body, otherwise they're not "good feminists" and they're not "body positive".
Breastfeeding puts a lot of things into perspective, and can make you feel a lot of things about your body; some good and some bad. It's important to remember that regardless of what others think about your feelings (concerning your body or, you know anything else) they're valid. If you don't like breastfeeding all that much, it's okay, you're still a wonderful mom. If you don't feel comfortable breastfeeding in public without a cover, that's okay too; it doesn't mean that you hate your body.