Introduction “A baby nursing at a mother’sbreast.
.. is an undeniable affirmation of our rootedness in nature” -DavidSuzuki. Breastfeeding is an act in which a woman feeds a child with milk fromher breast. It is a natural occurrence that has been done since the 11thcentury. There are pictures and artifacts of women from earlier timesdemonstrating this, glorifying the bond between mother and child. Even inChristianity, during the Medieval times those who witnessed Mary nursing Christviewed it as a blessing rather than a carnal act.
Today, the topic ofbreastfeeding is rather a controversial one. There are strong opinions onwhether mothers should nurse their newborn infants naturally or through the useof artificial formula. Research has shown that breastfeeding naturally offersnumerous benefits for both the mother and child. For a child, breastfeeding cangreatly lower the risks of various cancers, diabetes, respiratory illnesses andbacterial and viral infections. For mothers, it can reduce the risk of postpartumdepression, hemorrhaging and ovarian and breast cancer.
Therefore, if onechooses to use formula it can be viewed negatively for as a mother may beignoring all of the nutritional benefits for her child. However, if a motherchooses to nurse naturally from her breast, there are strong opinions on theacceptable locations for a mother to feed her child. By this, I am referring towomen breastfeeding in public. The term “public” is broad. Accordingto this paper, the definition of the word “public” is any socialspace outside of one’s home, that is accessible to people. This can be atmalls, restaurants, workplace, park and public transportation. Although publicbreastfeeding is slowly becoming more accepted now, most people do not favorwomen breastfeeding in public. Most people would prefer women to use some typeof cover-up method or relocate to a more private setting if they do choose tonurse in public.
But why is this? Why do people react negatively towardssomething that is natural? Through my research, I have learned that there areseveral explanations why people are uncomfortable with women pulling out theirbreast to nurse in public. One reason being that breastfeeding in public is notsomething you typically see people do in a social setting, the lack offamiliarity causes uneasy feelings. The second reason is that throughout theyear’s women’s breast have become sexualized through the media and are nolonger viewed as a means of nurturing and caring for an infant. Lastly, somepeople may have an “erotophobia” personality, meaning that theiropenness to sexuality is limited; causing negative views towards bodily fluids.This paper will provide further explanations the negative feedback of publicbreastfeeding and analyze how it coincides with a mother’s identity.
Lackof FamiliarityOne reason why breastfeeding in publiccauses others to feel uncomfortable is that it is something a person may not beused to seeing. Most mothers breastfeed in the privacy of their own home.Because it is not a common thing to see in a social setting, people often feeluncomfortable when they do see public breastfeeding. According to a currentstudy, “People dislike the image of the woman breastfeeding in publicbecause it is an unusual behavior to see, whether in person, on television, orin photographs” (Acker 2009). We generally like things less if they arenot seen very often and, inversely, like things more when we do see them often(Acker 2009). This is an example of “systematic desensitization”, abehaviorist approach to changing personality.
First introduced by John B.Watson and Rosalie Rayner in efforts to counter-condition fear in the babyAlbert experiment; it is the process of disestablishing an existing phobia bycausing the feared stimulus to become dissociated from the feared response(Friedman 2016). Although seeing exposed breasts may not be a phobia for allpeople, it does cause some type of psychological discomfort in some. Thistheory suggests that even really strong emotional aspects of personality candiminish over a course of time if consistently exposed to it. Thus reinforcingthe idea that increased exposure to public breastfeeding will normalize thisbehavior, which will encourage more women to breastfeed. The media also plays a role in the lackof familiarity with public breastfeeding. There is not much media promotingwomen breastfeeding in public areas.
Most people are aware of this issue but ithas grabbed little attention in the media and is often talked about only whenmentioned in passing. In a study done in Malaysia, they saw that newspapersshowed little interest in advocating a mother’s right to breastfeeding inpublic. Although the did not directly object to public breastfeeding, they didmake it subtly known that it should be done in private (Mohamad 2013). In adifferent study, an analysis was taken of magazines and articles in the UnitedStates and Canada and results showed that the images portrayed in these oftenemphasize the private realm of a mother’s life (Acker 2009).
For example,displaying mothers breastfeeding in nightgowns rather in daily attire;enforcing the idea that nursing should be done in private. Both of thesestudies are not only examples of how the media represents breastfeeding mothersbut it supports the negative stigmas put on them as well. The lack of education on publicbreastfeeding also is a contributing factor to the unfamiliarity of thiscurrent issue. From the time a baby is born health professionals encouragemothers to breastfeed for the first six to twelve months of their newborn’slife.
Mothers are given classes, pamphlets and medical advice on the importanceof breastfeeding. However, there is a lack of education on the issue ofbreastfeeding to the public. Campaigns such as, “Breast is best”exist to promote the benefits of breastfeeding but there are none that promotea mother’s right to breastfeed in public. Perhaps if these campaigns switchedtheir focus to something such as “In public is here Breast is best”maybe we would see different outcomes. The general public’s lack of knowledgecan reflect their attitudes on breastfeeding in public areas. If we made them moreaware of this issue, it can possibly desensitize these stigmas.Sexualization of Women’s BreastsA second explanation as to why breastfeedingin public receives a lot of negative feedback is due to the sexualization ofwomen’s breast. Today, especially in western culture, the primary purpose of abreast is for sexual stimulation.
Breasts are no longer viewed as a means ofnurturing for an infant. Examples of this can be seen in pornographic films,advertising, magazines, and music videos. In the media, female models are oftenused to promote products by exploiting their body parts. Since the majority ofthe advertisements that are broadcasted to the world are presented in thismanner, this has now become the social norm. It is not unusual to see a womanwearing a tight top, exposing skin and cleavage. However, it is highly unusualto see a woman with her breast out to feed a baby. The way women’s breasts areportrayed in this manner is far more influential than the importance ofnurturing.
Differences in culture is a contributingfactor to the sexualization of woman’s breasts, particularly in WesternSociety. In the United States, breasts are typically viewed in a sexual manner.Most would agree that breasts have become especially hypersexualized in thiscountry. This has shaped many American’s perceptions of not only breastthemselves but also breastfeeding. Breastfeeding in public may bring forthimages of sexuality simultaneously with motherhood (Boyer 2017). Thiscombination is likely to cause a mixture of emotional responses from onlookers.What is interesting, is that even though the United States has hypersexualizedwomen and their breasts, they also place very harsh criticisms towards thosewho expose themselves in that manner. Celebrities the embrace their femininequalities and promote them through the media, often receive harsh feedbackoften describing them as promiscuous or inappropriate role models.
Someexamples famous female icon figures are Madonna and Beyoncé. These peopleembrace both their natural beauty and motherhood but get criticized for beingtoo “sexual”. In other countries, women who embrace their bodies andsexuality are often praised. This type of behavior is viewed as normal becausesex is less of a taboo.
Since it is more sex is more openly talked about,people in other countries outside the United States are more supportive ofwomen nursing in public (Russell 2017). There have been several incidents ofmothers being asked to vacate the premises of restaurants, aircrafts andwaiting rooms, for nursing their child. Stating that exposing their breasts tothe public in that way, is something you would see in a pornographic film. Itis mind-boggling to think that breastfeeding, a once biological act necessaryfor the survival of mankind is now viewed as a promiscuous act.Erotophobia PersonalitiesThis leads me to my final explanation fornegative feedback of public breastfeeding; “erotophillia”.Erotophillia is an aspect of personality used to describe an individual’sopenness to sex and sexuality.
If one responds negatively towards sexual stimuli,they are demonstrating personality traits of “erotophobia” (Forbes2005). These are the type of people who perceive sex and sexual acts asinappropriate, pornographic, disgusting and avoid anything of this nature. Ifone responds positively to sexual stimuli, they are demonstrating traits of”erotophilia” (Forbes 2005). These people are attracted to this typeof behavior. They are comfortable with topics related to sex, sexuality andembrace sexual behaviors. According to Gordon Forbes, the negative emotional responselinked to breastfeeding in public is likely due to the sexualization of femalebreast and how the individual general attitude towards sexuality (Forbes 2005).This can explain why those who are not comfortable with sexuality are lesslikely to support a breastfeeding mother in public. Whereas, those who arecomfortable with sexuality, are more likely to show support (Forbes 2005).
It is also known that people are veryuncomfortable with bodily fluids, especially those associated withreproduction. These fluids include sweat, urine, sperm, discharge, and blood.Most people are not comfortable talking about these and even experiencing themfrom their own bodies. Some people experience embarrassment or shame with thesefluids, causing one to feel self-conscious at a young age. These anxieties canfurther develop into phobias that relate anything in that manner later on inlife. In the case of breastfeeding, breast milk is also considered to be abodily fluid associated with reproduction. With the already sexualized view ofbreasts, it likely for one to associate the same feelings of disgust whenexposed to breastfeeding. That is why most people believe that restrooms aremore appropriate settings for mothers to perform their nursing duties sincethat is where most people eliminate their bodily fluids.
Breastfeeding and IdentityBreastfeedingis highly associated with the identity of being a mother. It is a symbol ofnurturing and wellbeing. It is an act that only females can identify with andit is closely tied to the ideals of motherhood. Mothers who breastfeed oftenfeel a sense of belonging to a community (Acker 2009). There are manybreastfeeding support groups and social networks created by nursing mothers. Itis a common place where mothers can go to feel supported, if not by theirfamily and friends. Because breastfeeding is an important time to bond with ababy, it reinforces a mother identity.
If mothers are able to successfullylatch their baby and nurse for the recommended length of time, it can make amother feel very accomplished. This can boost their confidence and strengthentheir identity as a good mother.However,some mothers feel that breastfeeding will actually distant them from theirself-identity. Making the decision to naturally breastfeed a child is a hugecommitment. It is very time to consume, almost like a second job. Majority ofyour day is devoted to providing food for your child. This may require droppingold habits and adapt to a new lifestyle, for some this can be difficult.
According to one study, their results showed that most mothers indicated a lossof independence result of breastfeeding (Andrew 2010). Breastfeeding put a lotof constraints on a mother’s social life due to inability to be apart from herbaby for a long period of time. It has also been reported that some individualwho wished to re-establish their identities are more than a “stay athome” mother and wanted to get back into the workplace as soon aspossible. But having to meet the demands of both work and breastfeeding provedto be quite difficult. Mothers stating that “they would not be able tocontinue providing breast milk at work because it is inconvenient andembarrassing” (Andrew 2010). As mentioned in chapter six in the Krogertextbook, one of the challenges of identity in early adulthood is having tofind the right balance between one’s own identity needs and those ofsignificant others or children (Kroger 2007).
When breastfeeding there are manythings a mother can and cannot do. Since mother’s physical health needs to bein optimal shape in order to produce healthy milk for her child, this may meanmoms will change their diet, exercise more or giving up alcohol. Fist timemothers who valued their self-identity and wished to preserve it viewedbreastfeeding as a detrimental threat (Andrew 2010). Anotherbarrier from breastfeeding that was often reported from mothers, was the fearof embarrassment or isolation due to the lack of support the felt from theircommunities, partners, and family members. It is not easy for a nursing mom toexpose their body in public in order to feed their child. Most women aresensitive about their physical appearance, so when people stare or makecomments, it does make them feel self-conscious. Also, women are concerned moreabout the negative responses they may receive from the male counterparts (Boyer2016). They are worried that their partners and other males may not find themphysically attractive because they are nursing.
ConclusionIn conclusion, breastfeeding in publicareas is a very controversial subject. Although it is slowly becoming moreaccepted now, most people do not favor women breastfeeding in public. Whenpeople do see a woman pull out her breast to nurse in public, it can causepsychological discomfort. Although it isnot completed rejected by society, most people would prefer women to use sometype of cover-up method or relocate to a more private setting if they do chooseto nurse in public.
There are several explanations that provide answers tothese reactions. One is that lack familiarity with this act. Because not manywomen breastfeed outside of their homes it is unfamiliar to many when seen outin public. The second explanation is the sexualization of women’s breast,particularly in western culture. Breast are viewed as a means for sexualstimulation rather than for nursing babies. Lastly, the development oferotophilia within the personalities of others.
Those whose share positiveoutlook on sexuality will embrace and support breastfeeding in public. Whereasthose who view sex and sexuality negatively, will show a lack of support andview breastfeeding as inappropriate if done in public. Breastfeeding coincideshighly with the identity of motherhood because it also reinforces the ideals ofwhat it means to be a mom. However, the negative feedback mothers receive fromonlookers can cause them to feel embarrassed and excluded from society. Thereare no laws that prohibit women from breastfeeding in public, but we do notpromote these mother’s rights enough.
I believe if mothers came together andbreastfed their children in public more often, people would become desensitizedand the negative outlooks would slowly diminish over time. It is very importantthat society comes together on this issue, in order to provide the support theneeds of nursing mothers. Being a mom is one of the toughest jobs in the worldand they should never feel like isolated or shamed just for providing the bestpossible future for their baby.