Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Food for thought for those who find breastfeeding indecent

Recently Timmi Toler of the Daily News in Jacksonwille wrote a column with some food for thought for breastfeeding moms. She claims that nursing in public is shocking and makes people uncomfortable, so mothers would do better to breastfeed their children in closets or restrooms rather than in public.

Much of the controversy surrounding nursing in public is about standards of decency, which are actually quite flexible, changing with both time and place. Not all humans, as Toler claims, "freak out" when they see a mother nursing. All over the world, women breastfeed in public and the people around them don't freak out and suggest they find a toilet. People here in the US freak out not because they are human, but because they have been taught that there's something indecent, even disgusting about breast exposure and babies suckling. We live in a hypersexualized culture in which even non-sexual acts have become sexualized and live a Puritanical legacy that makes some of us so squeamish about sexuality that we blame perfectly decent mothers of doing something nasty when feeding their children. Just a hundred years ago, a decent woman wouldn't have exposed her ankle in public. Today, the idea seems absolutely ludicrous. Standards of decency can change and it is long past time for the idea that there's something indecent about breasts exposed in the act of nourishing children to change.

While I couldn't agree more with Toler that breastfeeding can be a special moment with one's baby, it's also just the act of feeding a baby. I do it a dozen or more times a day. Just because I don't find a closet or restroom to nurse doesn't mean that I haven't adjusted my life to accommodate the needs of my children. In so many respects, my life revolves around my children, and indeed much of the time we are out in public, it is in service of their needs for socialization, exercise, food, clothing, medical care, and so forth. Since I breastfeed my son on demand, as all the experts say is best for him, there are many times during the week that he enjoys his meals in public. Because I have learned that he's easily distracted, I do find quiet places for him to nurse when I can, but I certainly don't feed him while sitting on a toilet or hiding in a closet. I honestly feel sorry for Toler and her children that she felt she needed to hide when breastfeeding. How very sad for them all.

I'm completely confused about this statement in Toler's column: "These folks are also entitled to certain rights when they visit the mall and seeing an exposed breast isn’t one of them." Okay, the sentence itself doesn't make any sense, but ignoring the lack of editorial oversight at the Daily News, what right is she talking about exactly and where is it described in the US or any state Constitution, other statute, or court ruling? Because if we're talking about this issue in terms of rights, the fact is that most states in the Union have statutes that specifically protect the rights of mothers to nurse in public, exempting them from whatever indecency laws might otherwise apply to public breast exposure. I believe the 5th circuit court in California said it best:
Nourishment is necessary to maintain the child's life, and the parent may choose to believe that breastfeeding will enhance the child's psychological as well as physical health. In light of the spectrum of interests that the Supreme Court has held specially protected we conclude that the Constitution protects from excessive state interference a woman's decision respecting breastfeeding her child. (650 F.2d at 787)

States shouldn't interfere with mothers decisions about breastfeeding and neither should folks like Timmi Toler. Breastfeeding is such an important public health issue, it is appalling to me that people continue to say on the one hand that they support breastfeeding, but on the other shame mothers and suggest they hide themselves in closets when they feed their babies. So many babies in the United States spend critical developmental periods being sick thanks to formula that they cannot easily digest. So many of them never reach their full potential as adults because their IQs are lower than they would have been had they been breastfed. So many health dollars are spent on people with pneumonia, botulism, bronchitis, staphylococcal infections, influenza, ear infections, German measles, Crohn's disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Hodgkins disease, leukemia, osteoporosis, allergies, and asthma, who may never have become ill if they'd been breastfed. So many babies die of SIDS who may have lived had they been kept close to mom at night and breastfed. So many families whose budgets are already stretched would have a $100 or more a month to spend on food, clothing, and rent if they didn't feed their babies formula. So many of our world's finite natural resources would not be wasted on making and washing bottles and artifical nipples if more mothers breastfed. So many hardworking mothers and fathers could spend more quality time with their children, rather than mixing formula and sterilizing bottles, if their babies were breastfed. We need to do so much more to encourage mothers to breastfeed. Telling them to stay in the closet, literally, can be nothing but discouraging.

Shame on you Timmi Toler. You're the one who desecrates breastfeeding by continuing to espouse the notion that there is something indecent about it, not those of us who feed our babies when they're hungry, wherever we happen to be. We who nurse in public are are not making an "in your face" point, we're just taking care of our children. Stop trying to shame us and leave us in peace.


Jenni said...

My letter to her:

I am most definately NOT nude when I breast feed my child in public. (First of all.) Someone might see a bit of my breast, but that is the most they can see, and that is not often.

I, personally, am much more offended by people wearing all the skimpy clothes that people wear nowadays. However, I understand that it is an opinion I have, and I have no right to approach these people. I don't go to the mall and have to see some girl showing her whole belly, most of her leg and her thong. However, I realize that it is her right to do so. I just look away.

How is my reaction to this any different than someone's reaction to me feeding my baby? Don't I have the right to nurse in public? If I were to go to the bathroom, where do you suggest I sit - on the toilet??? What if there is a line, should I sit there for the full 20 minutes I nurse while people need to use the bathroom? That doesn't seem fair to the people who have to pee. By the way, while I am in the bathroom nursing my daughter, where do my older boys go if I am in public. They certainly can't come in the bathroom with me?!?!

Most nursing mothers aren't anxious to expose any part of thier body. They just want to be somewhat comfortable while thier baby is nursing. This is not a selfish act, by the way. When the mother is comfortable, the baby knows it, and is comforted by that.

I am sure that after writing this article, you have gotten quite a few emails on both sides of this hotly-contested debate, but I would appreciate it if you could take the time to answer some if not all of these questions. I am not suggesting you answer me specifically, but if in a month or so, you could read through your replies, and pick a few with questions, and write a follow-up article, that would be very nice to see.


evil cake lady said...

Chris, nicely written. Bravo.

caramaena said...

Oh good grief - she suggests that since the baby isn't having a 7 course meal in there, the toilet is fine to feed in!

So is she saying she wouldn't eat her evening meal in there but would be fine with a small snack?

That is just gross

I just don't get all the double standards about it being ok to show a bit of breast in public - but not if they're used for their main biological purpose.

What do some people have against working boobs??

MomToTracyNSheri said...

Thanks as always Chris for tipping the rest of us off to what idiots like Timmi are saying.

Anonymous said...

Kudos from another reluctant lactivist. Thanks for publishing your two cents in such a concise, well-organized and non-fanatical way.

knittinmom said...

This is awesome. I do hope you've submitted it to the Daily News as a letter to the editor...

Sunda said...

I am dismayed, to say the least. Thank you, Reluctant Lactivist, for putting together this webiste and offering a voice of reason. A copy of my letter to the editor:

This type of commentary is unhelpful; in fact, it is actively harmful to the health of women and children in this country.

The scientific and medical data is in, and, here’s a piece of news for your publication: the evidence is overwhelming that breastfeeding is the very best possible nutritional choice a mother can make for her child. It significantly decreases lifelong risks of all manner of illness for the child, increases IQ scores, and provides for positive bonding experiences. In addition, it provides some nice health benefits for mom, too, a fact which medical data also strongly supports.

However, this type of attitude makes breastfeeding a very difficult choice for new moms to make. A social pariah is something nobody wants to be; this is what you are asking new moms to do. Moms should not have to be confined to their homes in order to make healthy choices for their children. Moms can and should make valuable ongoing contributions to society; we can’t do this if we have to hide in closets and bathrooms, or be shamed back into the house. We are not engaging in obscene or inappropriate behavior. In fact, we are engaged in behavior that is already physically and psychologically draining in many ways.

We need your support, not your shaming, tsk-tsking finger pointing, and so do the children of this country. It is this very type of commentary that leads the majority of the women in this country to choose formula and bottle feeding for their infants in very short time after birth, so that they can participate in life actively, rather than as moribund, house-bound recluses who are doing shameful things.

Shame on you for this archaic type of divisive nonsense. Perhaps in the future we will see some commentary that thoughtfully examines the double-edged messages sent to the mothers of this country which, on the one hand provide us with very clear information extolling the virtues of breastfeeding and condemning those who don’t make this choice, and, on the other hand, make it politically, culturally, and socially inexpedient — shameful, even — to do so.

Kim said...

A closet? Is she nuts? Great Post and thank you! Did everyone see the cover of the August issue of BabyTalk? Check out my blog if you haven't!

Anonymous said...

Excellent article...kudos to Timmi!!

Jenny said...

Yeah! Everything you said... I could not have put it better myself!

Mrs Blackberry said...

My nursing days are over but I have memories of "those looks" and comments that babies should be nursed out of sight. Six years later I see it hasn't changed much. Good for you, being another voice advocating for nursing moms and babies. The comments by critics are so ludicrous! I'll be watching the letters to the Oregonian in response to the article today (8/2). Hey, maybe I should write one myself!

Anonymous said...

People like you are disgusting. You need to keep your blue veined, saggy titties out of plain sight of people and demonstrate some decency for once. There are MANY of us out there who have NO desire to see you boob or your brat sucking on it, and quite honestly you'd be doing the rest of the general public a favor by showing some respect to the rest of us who don't want to see it.

I've read through a few of your posts, and I applaud both the manager of the fred meyer for asking you, or your friend, to put the boob away. It is a PLACE OF BUSINESS, not a feeding trough for your little poop factory.

One can only hope that the laws change and go back to how they were, regarding letting kids suck on your tit in public. The rest of us want to go back to living in a decent society.

Velcromom said...

I thank anonymous and his revealing comments, for bringing to our attention just how important it is to prevent the upcoming generations from developing such skewed attitudes about breasts and breastfeeding.

While the depth of misunderstanding and the intensity of anger is dismaying and seems bizarre, it's a perfect example of why we need lactivism. So, regroup, take the information and carry on, Lactivists, carry on!!