Believe it or not, in the year 2017 breastfeeding is still a polarizing issue. Just as formula-feeding moms have to continually defend their choice (and sometimes it's not an choice, people), moms who choose to breastfeed are faced with harsh criticism and judgment. The sexualization of the female body and the way it's portrayed in the media continues to make any breastfeeding attempt, especially one in public, difficult. And regardless of whether or not you breastfeed, bottle-feed, or even have a child, rest assured, there are ways to help normalize breastfeeding that will support tired moms and hungry babies the world over.
Moms everywhere have empowered themselves by sharing their nursing journeys unapologetically, be it a social media post or a well-written blog post, and in doing so have slowly but surely changed the culture to be a tad more accepting of women using a highly sexualized part of their body for it's intended purpose. So by breastfeeding and/or pumping in public, you're already helping to normalize something that's previously been viewed as "taboo." According to Slate, the sexualization of the female breast began during the World War II era, when Marilyn Monroe glossed the cover of Playboy. Suddenly people forgot one of the reasons why women have breasts: to produce breast milk if and/or when they choose to have children.
Not long after, Slate adds, companies like Gerber, Beech Nut, Heinz, and Clapp's were portrayed as "civilized," making breastfeeding "barbaric." It's all cloaked in double-standards and objectification, especially when you stop to consider that more skin is shown during a daytime television show than from a mom feeding her child.
Thankfully, public opinion surrounding the act of nursing is changing. According to one study, two-thirds of moms in the United States agree that breastfeeding is totally natural and, as a result, they refused to be shamed. But what about the rest of the country? If you're feeling outraged by the shame and judgment breastfeeding moms face on a regular basis, here are some ways you can help normalize breastfeeding:
There are a slew of reasons breastfeeding works for women and their families. March of Dimes lists just some of the ways breastfeeding promotes better baby development, while helping lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The site also highlights how mothers benefit from breastfeeding, too.
If you're a breastfeeding mother, you likely made the decision to use your body to feed your baby for a variety of personal reasons. And regardless of those reasons, normalizing breastfeeding begins and ends with you. So if you're feeling insecure or in doubt, remind yourself why you started nursing in the first place. Then ignore the damn haters.
Support groups, like a La Leche League group near you, are a great way to jump-start the conversations that could end up completely normalizing breastfeeding. Not only will you be around like-minded women with the same goals and desires as you, but they'll be going through the same trials and tribulations as well. In other words, you'll be supported and inspired in your journey.
And if you're not breastfeeding, you can donate to helplines — like the LLL Breastfeeding Helpline, a part of La Leche League International — to assist women in getting the nursing support they need and deserve.
If you're nursing, Today's Parent offers some great tips for breastfeeding in public spaces. And if you're uncomfortable nursing in public, or it's something you haven't quite mastered, a cover-up is a good option to ease your nerves.
As always, however, it's important to remember it's your decision to feed in public. No one should make you feel as though feeding your child with your body in front of strangers is an obligation, and no one should shame you or tell you to cover up if your breastfeeding in a public space. Breastfeeding is legal in almost all states , and nursing moms exempt to public indecency or nudity laws.
And if you're not a breastfeeding mom, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a guide of strategies to support breastfeeding mothers and their babies, including support for breastfeeding in the workplace and social marketing that will help normalize breastfeeding in public.
Another way to normalize the sight of a mother feeding her infant is to cheer on and support any mom you see in passing who's doing this very thing. Again, there's strength in numbers, and a collective voice can work to de-stigmatize breastfeeding far quicker than just one or two dissenting voices.
Intra Health International encourages breastfeeding on demand, so go ahead and give those moms breastfeeding in public a high-five. Chances are, they will welcome the support and encouragement.
There's always going to be someone who can't seem to look away when you're breastfeeding. They're also typically the ones who complain or tell you to go somewhere private.
You are under no obligation to put yourself in a potentially uncomfortable and/or unsafe situation in order to educate the small-minded. If you are feeling unsafe and/or attacked by someone who thinks breastfeeding is "gross," call for help and/or remove yourself from the situation. Your safety, and the safety of your child, is always the most important.
But if you do feel safe and supported, call the individual out. Let them know that in no way is judging and shaming women, including breastfeeding women, OK. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released some tips on how to "handle criticism" when breastfeeding in public, including talking to other moms who have experienced shame and asking how they responded.
Even when you're pregnant, you should make your plans for breastfeeding known to everyone who is supporting you, including your health care providers, your partner, your family members, and your friends. Surrounding yourself with people who understand your nursing goals will not only help you succeed, but will enlighten those individuals who may not have experienced a first-person look at breastfeeding any other way.
It's also vital that breastfeeding women become champions for the companies that support breastfeeding initiatives. If you couldn't do it without your pump, or you can't imagine breastfeeding without a particular nursing bra, tell those companies (and other breastfeeding women!) and advocate for them. Not only are you supporting businesses that support nursing women, but you're creating a real, honest dialogue about breastfeeding and how difficult it can be. No new mother should feel as though she has to do this nursing thing all by herself.
Believe it or not, breastfeeding is completely normal and natural. No, that doesn't mean it's easy, but it does mean that it shouldn't be frowned upon as this "gross" thing that needs to be hidden.
So it's important to teach your children that a woman's body isn't to be judged or shamed, especially when it's doing something it's designed to do. If you don't want your children to grow up shaming other moms who breastfeed in public, learn to be comfortable feeding in front of them and talking about how nursing nourishes the baby. Your positive message will combat the media's problematic one.
The only concrete way to shut down breastfeeding shame is by doing it often, speaking as much as possible about it, and never folding to the societal pressure that tells you it's not OK. Because it is.
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