Does my breast offend you? Is the problem my breast or are you the problem?
I am a breastfeeding mother. So as a breastfeeding mother, it is a concern to me that I am made to feel uncomfortable every time I have to breastfeed my baby in public. In the past, I would even get anxious every time I would be out in public and she would try to wiggle her little body downwards towards my breast for a feed. After some introspection, I found that this anxiety stems from the anticipation of how others around me would react to my bare breast, especially total strangers. Maybe it’s because of the looks of disapproval and the whispering (why is she not covering) that I had experienced previously. Guess I had internalized the negativity. So I would cover my child with a small blanket, I mean that worked for like the first 4 months. Once she could, she waved her little arms around frantically to get rid of the cover, now that she is 8 months old, she will not feed with anything covering her. It is as if she is making her own little statement“You will see me”. So I have come to a point that I’m deciding to put my child first. I will subject myself to looks of disapproval on peoples faces when I breastfeed my child in public. I will risk ridicule and embarrassment, because they are not worth my babies discomfort and tears. I have decided to take a stance due to the fact that my child is not a problem. My breastfeeding is not a problem. My breasts were created to nurse (well that amongst other things).So why is my nursing offending other people’s sensibilities?
The problem is the negative and sexual perceptions tied around women’s breasts. There is a narrative around breastfeeding, that a naked breast of a breastfeeding woman is offensive. What has led to this perception and why are we as women, aiding our perpetrators to continue sexualising our bodies to the peril of our young by hiding what is completely natural? So I’m stepping out to redefine this narrative, by publicly breastfeeding and becoming aloof to anything or anyone surrounding us, by choosing to nourish my child over every and anything.
Challenges impacting on breastfeeding
Not enough awareness
The WHO speaks highly on breastfeeding; they even recommend that it be practised exclusively for up to 6 months. Clinics and hospitals conduct numerous awareness campaigns, educating mothers on the benefits of breastfeeding-which are numerous. Breastfeeding obviously has financial, psychological and health benefits, no wonder it is an obvious best source of feed for babies less than 6 months. But unfortunately social factors are excluded in the campaigns. While those very social factors play a role in how long women choose to breastfeed. Therein lies the problem. Government and other stakeholders’ campaign for breastfeeding but fail to campaign for an environment that is conducive for women to breast feed. An atmosphere conducive for breastfeeding will deter numbers of women from stopping breastfeeding too soon. I am by no means saying that this is the only reason women choose to wean early but it certainly plays a role. Campaigns dealing with the social factors around breastfeeding will prepare women to deal with the side eye and negative comments they might receive from the public. They will also send a message to the public that there is nothing wrong with a breastfeeding mother, that it is a natural act of nurturing and love. The result will be that women will not be ashamed to breastfeed and will end up breastfeed longer due to an environment that is supportive of maternal issues.
Sexualisation of the breasts
Women’s bodies have been sexualised to a point where context does not matter. Breasts are perceived as objects of male satisfaction. This has resulted in breastfeeding women being made to feel like they are exposing themselves sexually when breastfeeding. Objectification and sexualisation of women’s bodies by men has a narrative. The unspoken narrative that our bodies are for male satisfaction, they (men) determine when and how we use certain parts of our bodies. Anything outside of that makes them uncomfortable because those parts are not being used in their interest. Surprisingly though, it is not just some men who are uncomfortable with women breastfeeding in public. Women as well have been known to frown upon breastfeeding mothers for the same reason. By allowing this to continue, we as woman become willing victims of such negative views.
It begins with me saying no more. No more will I cover my breast for the sake of unfounded and sexist judgements. It begins with women in general taking charge of their own bodies, feeding their children and not bothering themselves on the negative perceptions. Recognising that the act of breastfeeding is not shameful and does not need to change. Nobody has a right to deter you from feeding your baby with their comments. It is the people who see breastfeeding negatively that have a problem-they are the ones who have to change.
It begins with mothers rallying behind each other, in all sorts of platforms, to name and shame restaurants that do not allow breastfeeding. For mothers to boycott those same restaurants that have policy’s that seek to undermine our right and our children’s rights to feed.
So I take a stand, whether it will make a difference or not-I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is that my baby is happier and calmer in public for the decision and stance I have decided to take.
Remember mommy, your baby is precious.