Breastfeeding Discrimination and Mountain Home Air Force Base- Interview with Breastfeeding In Combat Boots

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Every day we see evidence that parents feeding their babies is in being more and more accepted with less judgment, discrimination, and hostility from the world around them. Though we may hear more about the discrimination and public shaming of babies being fed, the truth is, there are more stories where such feedings either go unnoticed or even outright supported. We see better policies, laws, and even health care being put into place that encourages and facilitates moms in reaching their breastfeeding goals. It’s encouraging to know that we’re making progress.

Which is why it is so incredibly disappointing and discouraging when we encounter discrimination and barriers in that progress, even more so from those who are in leadership and positions of influence.
On April 16, 2015, Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho released a memorandum regarding the official breastfeeding in public base policy by Commander David Iverson. On April 21, 2015 Breastfeeding in Combat Boot’s Facebook community posted the memorandum they had received from a member impacted by this new policy on their page, which you can see here and below.
Mountain Home Air Force Base Breastfeeding policy memorandum
For some this was at least sounding supportive of breastfeeding and trying to be sensitive to everyone. For others though, this was quite a blow. For US Navy veteran and IBCLC Robyn Roche-Paull, author of the book Breastfeeding in Combat Boots and owner of the website and social media communities of the same name, this was particularly disappointing to see. The mom 3 wrote her book and launched her website inspired by her own struggles with breastfeeding in the military with a desire to support other families and help see change happen that would better support military moms.  In short order word of this new policy on MHAFB spread like wild-fire on social media and an informal campaign was launched to voice concerns regarding the policy. At the time of publishing this article, the base had release a revised statement rescinding the policy until further notice in response to the efforts of those supporting breastfed babies. Still, it is clear in the the new statement that this may not be entirely resolved.
As a civilian, I wanted to better understand the situation before reacting and reached out to Robyn. She graciously agreed to answer my questions and I’m happy to share the conversation here with you. Robyn explains what all this means, why it matters, and what we can do about it.
TLB: What exactly is this? For those of us unfamiliar with military procedures, could you explain what this memorandum is and how this impacts the lives of those who work and live on Mountain Home Air Force Base?

Robyn: A memorandum is how the military puts out new policies that affect personnel (military and civilian alike that work and live onboard the installation).  Memorandums are generally reviewed by the base legal department and signed off by the Commander of the installation.  They are to be followed and obeyed by those who live and work on the installation, and should they not be obeyed, those persons can be subject to disciplinary action.  In the case of civil service personnel they can lose their jobs over an infraction if severe enough, and for civilians married to military personnel, the military person (or sponsor) would be subject to the disciplinary action since the military person (sponsor) is responsible for their spouse/children (dependent) actions.

TLB: The memorandum for Mountain Home Air Force Base personnel from Colonel David R. Iverson, Commander of the base has 5 main points. At first glance it would seem these points are positive and in support of breastfeeding with language that expresses respecting the rights of nursing mothers in accordance with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. Is this actually supportive of breastfeeding and protecting the rights of babies to be fed or is there something else going on here?

Robyn: At first glance it does seem to be supportive of breastfeeding since they are providing an office or room for the breastfeeding mom to use.  But reading further it is stipulated that should the mother not wish to use the room, she then MUST use a breastfeeding cover. If she refuses to cover herself then she will asked to leave the premises.    This applies to individuals in “customer service” areas, which on most military installations means anyplace where administrative tasks are completed such as in or out-processing, housing offices, Personnel Support Departments, Medical/Dental waiting areas, etc.  Places where the mother is most likely waiting in line or has a number to be called to be seen.  If she leaves to the area to go breastfeed her child, she now has lost her place in line or misses hearing her number called and has to start the process over again.

The memo goes on to state that this “sort of accommodation supports nursing mothers while also respecting the ‘sensitivities’ of other base personnel and preserves the good order of the military”.  This is anything but supportive of breastfeeding mothers, and is in every way looking out for the possibility of offending other people who might come in contact with the breastfeeding mother, and more importantly, it is putting the needs of the military’s good order and discipline ahead the needs of a hungry infant.  I can only assume that the many twenty-something young Airmen will not be able to control themselves when confronted with a breastfeeding baby and so they need to be protected from witnessing the act lest they attack the mother for being sexually provocative because they caught sight of a little side boob?  I don’t know….
TLB: It seems it is worth noting that only babies and children that are breastfed are impacted in this ruling, is that correct? Bottle-fed infants and children would be permitted to be fed in the same settings that breastfed children will be asked to move to a private room or cover?
Robyn: Yes, it would seem that the policy, as written, only affects breastfed babies and children.  They will be asked to cover or leave while bottle-fed babies and children will not be required to cover or leave.  This fact alone makes the policy discriminatory towards breastfeeding dyads, and introduces the whole concept that there is something inherently wrong or sexual about breastfeeding that requires removal from the area or covering up.
TLB:Is there a precedence set for this kind of discrimination against breastfed infants and children at other bases? Are there other military facilities that have instituted similar policies? Are there any that have taken a more supportive position in regards to infants and children that are fed at the breast of their mothers?

Robyn: There is precedence for this type of discrimination at other military bases.  In 2007 Ft. Bragg had an incident at the BX (Base Exchange, a military only store that carries everything…much like a Walmart) where a worker was told she could not breastfeed her infant on her break because the Exchange had a policy forbidding it. And again in 2011 an Army spouse and breastfeeding mother was asked to leave the housing office at Ft. Bragg because she was breastfeeding her daughter.  In March of 2013, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii had an incident at the out-processing facility with a mother breastfeeding while waiting in line to have her paperwork processed, she was accused of indecent exposure and asked to leave, her active duty husband was threatened with legal action if she didn’t comply.  Later that month, at Schofield Barracks, also in Hawaii, an incident at the Commissary (a grocery store for military personnel) mothers were asked to leave when breastfeeding their infants, and then a policy was put in place requiring breastfeeding mothers to be ‘discreet’ and cover themselves or leave if they were breastfeeding in order to protect the other patrons from having to see the act going on.   In some cases, public outrage and the power of social media, along with education made it possible to rescind the policies and have better ones that were breastfeeding friendly put in place instead, but not in all cases. See my Blog post here regarding another incident.

TLB: Are there any military facilities that have instituted policies that are truly supportive of breastfeeding in public? Could you share with us examples of what such support looks like in policy? Is there a military base that Mountain Home Air Force Base could learn from in supporting breastfeeding children and their families?
Robyn: There are no specific policies that I am aware of at this time that are supportive of Breastfeeding in public.  There are a few that have it included within another breastfeeding policy (like the one at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth which includes a statement that breastfeeding is allowed anywhere within the hospital, but a room can be provided if the mother chooses). I know that the Commanding Officer at Naval Base Ventura County in California made a public statement in the base newspaper that breastfeeding women could do so anywhere and anytime in accordance with California law. But there is no formal policy stating that.
TLB: The memorandum mentions concerns of exposure in public settings, what does this stem from and is there something uniquely particular about this concern on a military base? Is there a reason that this policy would be necessary on base when there are laws protecting breastfeeding babies (and their mothers) on a federal level?

Robyn: I think this stems from concerns about anything that might be considered sexual (even though we know breastfeeding is about feeding a child, not sex!) within the military environment and to also maintain good order and discipline. Its complicated in the military. There is a running and deep-seated fear about sexuality, sexual assault, and sexual harassment that has everyone on point and scared to do or say anything that might be construed as sexual.  I think too that the military in many ways is very conservative and old-fashioned and also still a very male-dominated workplace (only 15% of all military personnel are women), so ANYTHING that might be seen as sexual, i.e. breasts are off-limits and cannot be seen, even if they are just being used to feed a child.  There are bans on girly magazines now at military exchanges (they used to be out where anyone could see the covers) and many installations DO have dress codes and policies concerning what individuals can and cannot wear at the gym, pool, Commissary, Exchange (such as booty shorts, saggy shorts, midriffs, etc.) This unfortunately is an extension of that, without taking into account that the baby or child needs to or is being fed.  (See also my answer above! )  With that said, as a military veteran and spouse, and an IBCLC and advocate for breastfeeding in the military…. I just cant see a reason for this policy to be in place when there are federal laws to protect breastfeeding mothers and babies while on federal property.  I just don’t understand where this came from.  I might have more understanding of the ’need’ for a policy if there had been an ‘incident’ that prompted this policy.  But so far it seems as though it sprang up out of nowhere.

TLB: Speaking of laws, though the state of Idaho has no laws regarding breastfeeding, there is a federal law in place protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed, how can the Commander Iverson institute policies and procedures that are in violation of that law? Are breastfeeding children and their mothers protected by that federal law? What do they risk in refusing to comply with this new base policy?
Robyn: This is where it gets tricky.  There are State laws and Federal laws and then there are Military laws.  Federal trumps State and in some cases Military trumps Federal. However this particular policy only applies to civilian personnel, so it would seem that Federal law wins and breastfeeding mothers and children ARE protected.  I have spoken with a couple of Judge Advocate General (JAG) officers (military lawyers) who basically have stated that Federal law does not apply to UNIFORMED MILITARY personnel, especially if it is an Executive Order (i.e. from the President, otherwise known as the Commander-in-Chief of the military).  But where the law is silent the DOD can make policy, and where the DOD is silent, each branch can make policy and so on down the line to the installation Commander.  However those policies cannot be in conflict with any higher order law or policy.  This applies to State and Local laws and policies as well.  In the case of this policy, again…it applies to civilians and civil-service employees so they are automatically covered by the Federal law.
(See my answer above in regards to not complying with policy.)
TLB: Why does this situation matter both for military personnel and for civilians? Why should we be concerned about this?

Robyn: This sets a precedent for other military installations to create policies that are similar which would be horrible.  Many, many military personnel have families and will be or are breastfeeding, polices of this type could affect a large segment of the population. This could also be used to draft policies that limit when and where active duty military women can breastfeed or pump while in uniform, and that would cause massive amounts of hardship since many of those women already face challenges to keep their milk supplies up. Throw in a policy stating that they cant breastfeed their infant on base while in uniform (such as at Medical) and they may very well just wean.  This policy goes against Federal law, it even goes against the Air Force’s very own fantastically supportive breastfeeding policy that allows military women time and place to breastfeed/pump during the duty day.  So on the one hand the Air Force is supportive of breastfeeding but just don’t do it in front of anybody?  Finally our military families sacrifice a lot of freedoms so that everyone can have the rights afforded to them by living in the United States….and now you are going to tell the very people who live and work and sometimes die for their country, that they cant breastfeed their child whenever and wherever they might be while on US Government property?  Not going to fly folks!

TLB: With all that in mind, what can we do? How can we use our voice regarding this issue and what difference can we make? Are there steps military personnel can take to protest this without threatening their career? What can the civilian population do as well?

Robyn: You can help by being supportive of our military personnel for starters!  You can use your voice by emailing/writing and/or posting to the social media site of Mountain Home Air Force base with your thoughts and concerns about this issue (and any others that come up).  You can write to your Congressmen and women to have them enact better breastfeeding polices for our active duty breastfeeding mothers in the military and also have the Federal breastfeeding law amended to specifically state that it covers military installations as well.  Military personnel pretty much have their hands tied, which is why I have posted the memo and other information anonymously as it is a very real possibility that they can have action taken against them for speaking up about the issue.  These are the very people fighting for your right TO breastfeed when and wherever you choose, but they cant voice that opinion themselves.

___________________
As I stated earlier, before publishing but following our conversation, the Mountain Home Air Force Base released a new statement rescinding the policy, linked here.
Mountain Home Air Force Base rescinds breastfeeding policy
I touched base with Robyn for her take on this statement rescinding the policy and she shared this:
Thanks to Social Media and the power of many moms writing in and voicing their concerns the policy has been rescinded (give the link).  Let’s hope that Commander Iverson will receive some much-needed education on the topic and a revised policy will be fully supportive of breastfeeding mothers.

I agree, I’m grateful for the global village raising their voice against the discrimination of breastfed babies. Together we have influence and can make positive change. Though the rescinding of the policy is encouraging, there is still a bit of a “sorry not sorry” passive aggressive feel to the apology and the line: “I will revoke this policy while we look for a better way to accommodate and be respectful of all individuals in our community” (emphasis mine) leaves quite a bit of room for amending the policy in a way that could still discriminate against breastfeeding children and their mothers.

If you would still like to voice your concern regarding the breastfeeding policy of the base and express support for policies in keeping with the federal law which supports breastfeeding in public, you can send a respectful email (please communicate with respect, no name calling or belittling of the commander) to the Commander’s hotline at 366FW/PA.Public.Affairs@us.af.mil.

My thanks to Robyn for her help in understanding this situation.


_________________

Robyn Roche-Paull

Robyn Roche-Paull

Robyn Roche-Paull, BSN, RN, IBCLC, LLLL
Robyn Roche-Paull, is the award-winning author of the comprehensive book Breastfeeding in Combat Boots: A Survival Guide to the Successful Breastfeeding While Serving in the Military, and the Founder of the website ‘Breastfeeding in Combat Boots’.  She is a Registered Nurse and IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) as well as a US Navy Veteran.  She began her breastfeeding career while still on active duty in the US Navy.  She served six years as an aircraft mechanic on F/A-18 Hornets and A-6 Intruders on deployment overseas and stateside.  During that time she gave birth to breastfed her son for well over a year before separating from the military with an Honorable discharge.  Robyn wrote her book due to the difficulties she experienced breastfeeding her son while on active duty, and her desire to help other military mothers be successful at breastfeeding so that they do NOT have to experience those difficulties; but instead can enjoy all that breastfeeding has to offer both mother and child.
Robyn has been working with breastfeeding mothers for over 14 years and has been an IBCLC since 2006. She holds Bachelors degrees in both Maternal Child Health and Nursing. Currently Robyn works as both a Labor & Delivery and Postpartum RN. In addition, Robyn is the Past Area Professional Liaison for La Leche League of Virginia/West Virginia,  is a Board member of MiLCA (Military Lactation Consultants Association), and she is the Secretary for TALCA (Tidewater Area Lactation Consultant Association).  She maintains her website and Facebook page, writes for various blogs and magazines and helps active duty military mothers worldwide via email and Skype.  Robyn lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband of 20 years, who is a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy, and her three (long-term breastfed) children.  

www.breastfeedingincombatboots.com

www.facebook.com/breastfeedingincombatboots

www.twitter.com/BFinCB

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LBL Wednesday- Boob Out Fashion: Leakies Vote!

So this week on The Leaky Boob Facebook Community, I put it to your vote: Choose YOUR favorite look and I’ll do a #flatlay collection featuring a boob-friendly look based on that theme!

Bohemian/Hippie Mama and Beach Mama came in First and Second by a landslide with Portlandia Mama a close Third! So without further adieu, I give you Leaky Boob Looks: Leakies Edition.

Leaky Look #1: Bohemian Hippie Mama

 

Breastfeeding friendly fashions

I found this A-MAZ-ING paisley bohemian dress that functions as a wrap-style dress (I need this. In all of the colors.).  The bodice and skirt hit all the right spots and give a flowing freestyle look while the neckline is perfect for easy feeding access! I paired this up with the Glamour Mom Nursing Bra Full Bust Long Top. Sleek, comfortable, crafted to celebrate your beautiful curves! I added in a Luv My Bag in Namaste Poppins and some bangled gladiator sandals (it’s like they were MADE for this dress!) and finished it off with some coordinating Chewbeads bangles and necklace. Because teething. And distractions.

 

Leaky Look #2: Beach Mama

Ergo baby breastfeeding beach ready

 

I wanted this Beachy look to be comfortable and easy to throw on and go! Stripes for this loose cotton shirt and the cut is longer so it can work over fitted jeans OR shorts. I added the Bella Materna Anytime Nursing Bralette both for its comparable range of sizes but also for its all-day comfort! I had to include the Ju-Ju-Be “The Admiral” bag (because ANCHORS, Leakies! Seriously. Cute.) and the Ergo Original Carrier in Marine. (Whales. Beach. Follow me? :D). Finished off the look with easy on-easy off Birks. Because no one wants to get sand in their shoes!

 

Leaky Look #3: Portlandia Mama

Breastfeeding friendly fashion

 

This look was so fun to put together! I am a PDX mum myself (disclaimer I live in Vancouver. I love it. We locals affectionately call it either Vantucky or the Suburb of Portland. But Portland is basically my second skin. And just a 3 minute drive away! Long live Vantucky!) I confess that I have these particular boots and I live in them. And they make me feel like a badass mom. Amazing how shoes can do that. Ok. Moving On :D  I centered this look around one of my favorite sweatshirts from Sly Fox Threads over a Naked Nursing Tank. We Portlanders are pretty laid back, eclectic and a little particular, but we really value our comfort. Boyfriend jeans are super “in”, flatter nearly every body shape and go with just about any kind of boot, shoe, sandal or loafer that you put with it! AND they don’t look like mom jeans. WIN. We are really conscious of our choice in natural and organic anything. Hence the Alexa Organics teething necklace! Finished off this look with a great wool Fedora and a low-profile diaper handbag and now YOU can rock the Portlandia look!

 

Show us how YOU rock your Leaky Look! Tag us on Facebook or Instagram and use hashtags #booboutfashion     #LBLWednesday

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Not Your Typical 10 Tips for Surviving Traveling with Children

by Jessica Martin-Weber
This post was made possible by the generous sponsorship of Mamava Lactation Stations.
who-needs-vacation

When you do both without a partner you’ll find yourself peeing in a public restroom with a baby strapped to your back and everyone’s luggage in there with you.

 

Traveling with children, I don’t understand how there isn’t a reality show based on this yet. There would be plenty of drama, melt-downs (and not just coming from the kids), arguments, ridiculous situations, questionable wardrobe opportunities, and oh-no-she-didn’t moments.

While some families go for goody bags and apologizing-in-advance notes explaining that their children may act like the juvenile members of society they are, others just hope to make it through the experience with their yoga pants and spit-up embellished shirt intact. Thank you overachiever-extra-considerate parents for making the rest of us look like loser slackers. Board an airplane with a child in tow these days and I swear you’ll see looks of horror, fear, and then annoyance if you don’t have goody bags with drink coupons, ear plugs, and candy for them. As if they could possibly need a goody bag more than the parents do. If I am buying anyone chocolate for when I travel with my children, it’s going to be me. How dare I take my child in public without compensating those who must endure her presence. Hold up, I may have a smushed piece of chocolate in the bottom of the diaper bag if you really feel you deserve a participation award for me traveling with my children.

I’ve had a lot of experience traveling with children over the years. Of course, I now consider leaving the house with children to be “traveling with children.” Over the past 16 years I’ve been forced to develop some serious survival skills for this near daily endeavor. This isn’t your typical Pinterest style tips, here, in no particular order are my 10 tips for slacker parents like myself to survive traveling with children:

1. Dress for comfort. It’s likely you’re going to find yourself lugging too much stuff (and wondering why you didn’t get a Uhaul for it), chasing after someone or something, wearing someone’s meal and probably someone’s body fluid (admit it, either one could be yours), and possibly wrestling an octopus at any given moment. If you’re breastfeeding, comfort and boob accessibility can make the difference between going crazy and just looking like you are. Road trip (all the way to the grocery store!), plane, train, or the mall carousel, comfort is of the essence, you simply can’t dash after a kid in anything more trendy than yoga pants.

2. Have extra. Of everything. Since I have 6 kids, everyone seems to think I even bring extra children. Though it may seem as though you already have brought the entire Baby’s R Us, guaranteed there is something you have forgotten or foolishly didn’t bring enough extras of and that one item is the only one you will need. Just packed 6 diapers in that diaper bag? You’ll need 7 for sure then. You have an extra outfit for baby in your right pocket and for yourself in the left, right? No? There will be a poopsplosion on the airplane and you’ll have been the terrorist with the bomb, the evidence all over you and your baby. You are traveling with a weapon of massive poopstruction, you don’t want to be underprepared. So just go ahead and rent that Uhaul, stuff the glove compartment, or pack that obnoxiously large carry-on, whatever you do, don’t come up short on the 1,239,845,123,020,934 baby “essentials.”

3. Rations. You can Pinterest the living daylights out of this point, I did. A clever little box of snacks including fruit and other healthyish munchies. It was cute and put together. In the end though, you’ll just start throwing food at them and hoping some makes it in and satisfies them for 10 minutes. They say don’t eat when you’re bored but travel is totally the exception to that rule. Why? Because snacks mean silence and if you’re lucky, maybe eventually even a nap. Eat all the goldfish, Honey, I got the big box from Costco just for this trip, you can eat them all day long.

4. Put those kids to work. Once they demonstrate some competent walking skills (with my kids that seems to kick in around 6 years old) it’s time to put them to work. Even toddlers can sort of do it if getting places with any kind of urgency isn’t on your list. Each member of your caravan can carry a backpack, don’t let them slack. You want to eat on this journey, kid? Well then you better carry that food so you don’t go hungry. Want your special blankie or plushie? I got a spot for that right on your back. Activites so you don’t get bored? If you’re ready to carry the weight, you’re going to be entertained for hours.

5. Accessorize. You know what’s hot these days? Babies. They’re like a furnace. So strap one on, ditch the stroller, and strut like the hottest fashion model as you bolt to your gate. Strollers are great for certain settings but for travel can be cumbersome and take up a lot of space. Leave it at home if you can and try babywearing instead. Of course, if you have more than one baby or a baby and a toddler or otherwise think it would be good to have a baby tank handy for your excursions, you can always turn the stroller into a bulldozer to get people out of your way.

6. Find your backbone and don’t be afraid to use it. Since you may encounter people who resent you bringing your children into a public space or may be so happy to see your baby they border on affectionate assault, you may need your spine. When we traveled to India, a culture that loves young children and a fair skinned red head was a bit of an anomaly, our introverted 2 year old learned that everything could go much smoother for her if she just automatically started yelling “go away, don’t touch!” from the moment we opened the car door anywhere. Speak up for what you need and speak up when the boundaries of you or your child(ren) aren’t being respected. I must say “go away, don’t touch” at the top of your lungs does seem to be effective.

7. Sleep. Just kidding, you’re probably not going to get any sleep when you travel with kids, silly.

8.  Have an escape plan. You’ll probably need it. An escape plan when traveling with children can look like anything, not just the exit that the little lights along the aisle lead to, which, unless there are more than just your kids screaming and hysterical, probably isn’t a good idea to utilize. The most effective escape options include a door and a lock, a containment facility for those that like to run and to block everything else out. Even better if there was a foot massage but unless you can get a kid to help you with that, it’s likely trying to have that experience with kids along for the ride will include you saying something like “stop licking the vibrating chair” or “those pretty colored bottles aren’t candy sweetie.” If you have a baby to feed, breastfeeding or otherwise, this can be the perfect built-in escape plan especially if you have an adult travel companion. If breastfeeding is going well for you, breastfeeding while traveling is super easy AND you get a shot of oxytocin each time you feed your kid. Instant stress relief. Nobody needs to hide to feed their child unless they are more comfortable doing so. Still, it’s the perfect excuse, you need to feed the baby, you have identified an escape plan facility (like the Mamava pods!), you hand the other child(ren) off to your partner, you go into escape facility, you lock door, and you revel in the comparative quiet stillness that is just one child and actually sitting down in more than 2 inches of space. And if you have to pump, you can maybe even go alone! Of course, if you’re not traveling with an adult who can wander around airport shops herding cats, I mean kids, then your escape may just mean a spot where they can’t run too far while you feed the baby. When you’re traveling with children you take what you can get. If you magically find yourself with spare time in advance, you can even plan out those spots while looking like a bad mom by daring to tear your eyes of your children (you might miss her twirl for the 4,253,649th time!) and check out this app for finding such havens.

Who is "vacationing" at Target today?

Who is “vacationing” at Target today?

9. Breathe. Impossible, right? But important. There’s a reason they tell you on flights to put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else with their’s: if you don’t get yours on and you pass out from lack of oxygen, you’re not going to be much help. You need to make sure you’re getting air or you’re no good to anyone. Don’t rush and don’t forget to take care of yourself even if it’s just in little ways. For kids, the scent of stress is like the scent of blood for sharks, one little whiff and there will be a feeding frenzy. So breathe. Breathe deep. And for 5 minutes try to ignore the fact that every breath reminds you there’s a diaper that needs changing.

10. Plug in. We get it screens aren’t great for little kids and we miss out on so much when we’re plugged in and out of touch with the world around us. Which is why using technology to entertain kids while traveling is absolutely brilliant. We try to limit screen time at home in our family, so there’s room for many other activities that inspire creativity, physical movement, and adventure. Plus, that denial makes it a huge treat that they get to overindulge in screen time when we travel. At the start of any trip we avoid using screens but it doesn’t really take long before I’m saying “here sweetie, some headphones and digital candies you can crush for the next hour.” Survival of the techiest.

In all seriousness though, I love traveling with children. Seeing the world (or the grocery store), friends, and family is worth the difficulties we plunge ourselves and our children into. It isn’t always easy (why do we say that when what we mean is “95% of the time this is as pleasant as a pap smear but lasts a lot longer”?) but it is always rewarding. What are your realistic tips for traveling with kids?

Happy travels!

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MiLK Conference Call for Speakers

breastfeeding and formula feeding conference

Call for speakers

MILK: An Infant Feeding Conference,

2015

 

Calling for submissions from clinicians, scholars, students, artists, mothers, fathers, researchers, and others familiar with infant feeding from clinical and social perspectives. Submissions of a wide variety are welcome, including research presentations, theoretical papers, academic papers, creative submissions including personal essays, social commentary, literature, and performance art.

We are looking for presentations on topics related to infant feeding and maternal health including but not limited to: continuity of care and infant nutrition, the diagnoses and care of physiological barriers to breastfeeding, sociological barriers involved in infant feeding, anthropological perspectives of infant nutrition, analysis of marketing in the maternal baby industry, conscientious marketing, exploration of infant feeding and child nutrition controversies, policies in the workplace for family support and breastfeeding, politics of infant feeding and policy making, postpartum depression and mental health research related to infant feeding, infant feeding practices in subsequent children, sociological family support and infant and child nutrition, infant feeding education, infant nutrition in public health, feeding multiples, managing maternal health issues through breastfeeding, nonviolent communication strategies for supporting infant feeding, developing infant feeding support products, immediate postpartum infant feeding support, the impact of birth interventions on maternal breastfeeding goals, maternal and pediatric allergies and infant nutrition, premature infants and nutrition, feminism and infant feeding, natural duration breastfeeding, weaning, infant nutrition and sleep, partner support and education, breastfeeding after breast reduction, socioeconomic and racial disparities in infant feeding support, breastmilk pumping, inducing lactation and relactation, the role of infant nutrition in relation to dental care, and the future of infant nutrition support.

Submissions accepted through February 28, 1015 and close March 1, 2015.

Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference, is a MommyCon conference envisioned by The Leaky Boob with the support of Ergobaby. Designed to bridge professional conferences for clinicians, health care providers, academics, and researchers, with consumer conferences for parents, Milk aims to educate, inspire, and support parents in feeding their children, as well as the people that support them including nutrition, lactation, maternal, and pediatric health care providers.

To submit to speak at Milk 2015, please use this form.

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How to Wean Your Teenager

by Jessica Martin-Weber with Ophélia and Lavinia Martin-Weber

How to wean a teenager

It is a well known fact that if you don’t make sure you get a baby off the boob by the end of their first year or definitely by the time they are two, they will never, ever stop breastfeeding and you’ll have to go to college with them. This is a fact known by every Tom, Dick, and Harry, Cindy, Karen, and Amanda. If you’re not aware of this, don’t worry, any conversation about breastfeeding beyond infancy in person, on an online article, blog posts, and of course, social media, will eventually become about this very fact. It is an inescapable truth: if you breastfeed past infancy your child will never wean and you will find yourself breastfeeding a teenager or young adult some day. Once they can ask for it you have to cut them off or they will never stop. Clearly breastfeeding is more addictive than chocolate, alcohol, crack, speed, shopping, and independence.

Because everyone knows that 3 and 13 are pretty much the same thing, you just stick a one in front of that 3. Teens are, according to most people, really just toddlers in bigger bodies, with raging hormones, pimples, and a slightly larger vocabulary. The temper tantrums are pretty much the same. Childhood goes so fast, don’t blink because you’ll miss it if you do and the next thing you know your 6’ 1” teenage boy will be folding himself onto your lap and tugging at your shirt saying “nene please mama.” Fact.

*Disclaimer: I have teenagers, they were breastfed as babies and toddlers but they never breastfed beyond early childhood so I can’t say I have any experience with this fact myself, nor have I ever encountered a breastfeeding teenager and unless my friends are lying, neither have they. But thousands of people say it is true. I know, I read it online.

But let’s say you’ve done it, ignored all the warnings and breastfed your child after their 1st birthday and then even after their 2nd and 3rd and 4th birthdays, now what? If you haven’t already, you’re headed straight to meeting them at lunch in high school so they can have mama milk. And if you have more than one child, you really are in big trouble. Juggling all those schedules to get your kids their babas is going to get really challenging.

It’s true, I guess, you’re just going to HAVE to cut them off at some point unless you really are ok following them to college and then some day on their honeymoon. There could be bonding moments in the future as you breastfeed your grown son while his wife breastfeeds their son. If that just won’t work for you though, how are you ever going to get that teenager to stop breastfeeding? When is it really time to wean and how do you do it?

I turned to my resident experts on teens: Earth Baby, 16, and Storyteller, 13. They were a bit shocked when I initially brought it up to them:

Me: “How should a mom wean their teenager from breastfeeding?”

EB: “Wait, WHAT?”

Storyteller: “That’s a thing? I don’t think that’s a thing.”

Me: “It’s totes a thing, I read it online.”

*At this point I got “the look” from Storyteller.

Storyteller: “You should never say ‘totes again’ and now I know that’s not a thing.”

EB: “Wait, WHAT? Are you really asking what I think you are asking?”

Me: “What’s wrong with me saying ‘totes’? And yes, I’m really asking.”

EB: “I don’t think any of my friends have conversations like this with their moms…”

Storyteller: “OMG, I know mine don’t. They also don’t breastfeed. Or say ‘totes.’ People saying teenagers breastfeed are severely lacking in intelligence. You can’t say ‘totes’ because you’re too old.”

EB: “Our family is weird, isn’t it?”

Me: “They either don’t breastfeed because their mom weaned them when they were young enough or they do breastfeed in secret. Some of them have to because I read it on the internet. Why am I too old to say ‘totes’?”

Storyteller: “You do know you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, right? It’s just dumb to think that kids that don’t stop breastfeeding when they are little will end up wanting to breastfeed as teenagers. Saying ‘totes’ is dumb too. What is wrong with people?”

Me: “I write on the internet, of course you can believe everything you read on the internet!

Earth Baby: “This is ridiculous.”

Earth Baby and Storyteller how to wean teenagers

Storyteller (left) and Earth Baby (right).

It took a while to get them to just go with me on this but that was an excellent example of just how hard it could be to wean a teenager. They’re stubborn creatures and smart too, they can argue until you’re blue in the face and they’ll still continue. Weaning a breastfed teenager could be intensely difficult! I can see why there are so many warnings to wean while they are still young.

Besides, can you imagine breastfeeding through the dreaded wisdom teeth stage?

After bribing them, they came up with some ideas. I shot down a few, such as the suggestion that you just tell them no, that it’s all done. Oh puh-lease, teenagers and “no” go about as well together as oil and water. I’m not so great at taking a direct “no” either so I know it’s best to save them for the big things such as “no, you absolutely can not surf on the hood of a truck going down the highway.” They agreed that “no” wouldn’t work given our family’s own personal experience with how well “no” is an effective strategy for a teenager. #itsnoteffectiveatall

Here are the ones we all thought might be most effective though, all approved by the teenagers in my house:

Gentle conversation. According to my 13 year old, teenagers are reasonable.

BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Moving on.

Bribe them with cake. That’s right, offer cake and tell them if they give up “bobbies” they can have cake. Also acceptable would be cake pops, frappuccinos, mini doughnuts, and iTunes gift cards.

Wean to drive. They can’t drive or get a drivers license until they give up the mama milks for good. No exceptions. It would be so important for mom to hold strong when the whining starts after they’ve started driving and start whining about how badly they need their nene.

Entertainment options. If you’re trying to wean a younger teen or maybe a tween, you could try saying no PG 13 movies because those movies are for big kids and big kids don’t get to breastfeed any more. This will work because all their friends will be talking about the next Pitch Perfect movie and they’ll totally be left out which would even be worse than weaning.

Smart phone. Like breastfeeding, all the teens are smartphoning these days. It’s simple though, mom will have to get another job to afford the bill so she can’t breastfeed any more. If they want a smartphone to fit in with their friends, they’ll be more than willing for mom to hang up her nursing bras and go to work.

Dating. Explain that any possible dates will be a little horrified if they found out they were still breastfeeding. It could really hurt their chances of finding a date… ever. But since embarrassment is worse than death for teens, simply posting a breastfeeding selfie and tagging them on social media would possibly do it. Also, would take care of the whole talking to you thing.

Prom. There’s just no way you could find an on trend yet age appropriate prom dress that has easy boob access. Show them what you’d have to wear to prom so they had mama milks when they needed it. They’ll never want to breastfeed again.

Charge. Teenagers are the largest demographic with a disposable income. Use it to your advantage, my 13yo thought that $1/1 minute sounded about fair if a teen wanted to continue breastfeeding. That would encourage them to wean real quick: buy a new outfit or get some “bob bob” and the decision would be pretty simple.

Just say no. My teenagers maintain that saying “my body, my choice” would be a firm boundary no teenager would cross. Specially if you’re already teaching them to respect themselves and others.

So, tell us, what are your tips for weaning teenagers?

 

*Please note: this is intended to be humorous with a bit of satire.
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Tips From The Leakies for Breastfeeding and Babywearing

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Breastfeeding in a Beco Baby Carrier Soliel video demonstrating how to position and adjust the carrier, baby, and breast for hands-free breastfeeding:

The Leakies on the Facebook page had some tips to share for breastfeeding and babywearing, no matter your breast size:

  • Don’t wait for baby to be super hungry and upset, it’s easier when everyone is calm.
  • If your carrier has a hood, put the hood up for privacy.
  • Use a lightweight baby blanket rolled up under your breast for support and positioning help.
  • For small breasts, be sure not to drop the waist band too low and don’t be afraid to tighten the straps for better support.
  • If you need baby higher, a rolled up baby blanket under their bum can help.
  • Practice at home before trying to do it in public.
  • Talk to your baby while you position them to help you both keep calm.
  • Stretchy necklines are your friend!
  • It’s important to get comfortable, don’t end up sore or awkward, practice positioning until it works for both of you.
  • Try to have babies head tilted a bit so nose is clear to breath safely.
  • Hip carry options can be easier for large breasts.
  • Baby’s mouth height should be just at/above nipple.
  • Hold your breast for the latch.

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What tips would you add?

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We’re In Public and My Breastfed Baby is Hungry, Now What?!

by Jessica Martin-Weber
This post made possible by the generous sponsorship of Bebe au Lait.

 

Breastfeeding in public, at once a basic concept (feed the baby when the baby is hungry and no, moms can’t and shouldn’t just never leave the house) and somehow a complex and controversial issue. As mammals who happen to be higher thinking and social creatures, it’s also unavoidable. Often I am asked by moms how to breastfeed in public or how I became comfortable with doing so. At the time I wasn’t really aware of my journey, I just had to feed my baby. Initially I went some place private and covered (just in case someone came in) but as time went on that not only became impractical for my life realities, the isolation I experienced with a frequently feeding baby made me decide I didn’t care what other people thought. With my second baby I ditched my cover as well and just went about my business of feeding her after a male nurse that played in the worship band I was leading told me that I should just feed my baby and stop fighting with her to keep the cover on because “it’s just boobs, we’ll all live. Just feed her.” It was a progression and with each of my children I became more comfortable and more skilled with feeding in general, feeding in public in particular. What do you do when your breastfed baby gets hungry and you’re out in public? Is there anything that can make this easier for anxious breastfeeding moms? If I had to break it down into the most important tips though, it would be something like this:

Don’t rush yourself. If you’re worried or anxious it may be best to wait until you’re really ready.  Your baby picks up on your stress and you both deserve a relaxed feeding time. 

Get familiar with what breastfeeding actually looks like. Look at images of other moms Breastfeeding.  If you’ve never seen anyone else breastfeed it can be intimidating to feel like a pioneer in your area. But you’re not alone, millions of women all around the world breastfeed in public. Check out the hashtag #BeautifulBfing on Instagram for a stream of breastfeeding photos.

A Leaky breastfeeding in public at a beach.

A Leaky breastfeeding in public at a beach.

There is no should. Whatever makes you and your baby comfortable and helps you accomplish your breastfeeding goals and not being stuck at home is what you should do.  Covered with a pretty Bébé au Lait or a lightweight baby blanket, without a cover at all, finding a private spot, using a bottles of expressed milk, or mixing up a bottle of formula; this isn’t a pass/fail in mothering, it’s just another progression in the parenting journey. Do what works for you and your baby and helps you reach the goals you’ve established for yourself.

Breastfeeding in public with a breastfeeding cover. When you're a model family at an adorable cafe. Thanks to Bebe au Lait for this image.

Breastfeeding in public with a breastfeeding cover. When you’re a model family at an adorable cafe. Thanks to Bebe au Lait for this image.


Dress for success. If you find yourself needing to practically strip to feed your baby, your breastfeeding in public experience could be greatly inhibited not to mention stressful. A form fitting dress with a high neckline, non stretchy fabric, and a zipper up the back isn’t going to work out so well when your baby is hungry. Dress how you are comfortable but make sure you can get a boob out when necessary. Breastfeeding tops or dresses specially designed to make it simple are super easy (see Amamante, A Mother’s Boutique) or try layering a tank- either a regular one with a stretchy neckline or some kind of nursing tank (I’m a fan of Undercover Mama, the Naked Nursing Tank, Rumina, The Dairy Fairy nursing tank, and Melinda G‘s nursing tank) so you can pull your top up and the bottom layer down (demo video here), and necklines that stretch enough to pull a breast out are all good options. If you’re not sure then check and try it at home before you head out the door. 

Practice makes easier.  Like everything else about parenting, there is no “perfect” in breastfeeding so practice won’t make anything perfect but it will make it easier. If you’re uneasy about breastfeeding in public but really want to, practice with a cover in front if a mirror, then without a cover in front of a mirror. See what it really looks like and how much of your body actually shows. Then branch out and take a few selfies of you breastfeeding from several different angles and don’t worry about posting them on social media unless you want to. After that, try breastfeeding while attending your local breastfeeding support group or other gathering where there will be other breastfeeding pairs. From there expand to Breastfeeding in front of trusted friends within your own home, their home, and finally in the general public.

Be informed. Know your legal rights. Find out for sure what the law is where you will be and have it written down and with you. It’s highly unlikely you will be approached but it can help you relax to know your rights and be prepared with that information. And as silly as it may seem, understand the difference between feeding a baby in public vs. taking a dump in public, urinating in public, or sex acts in public.

Be confident. Feeding your child and meeting their needs is not wrong. Even if you have to pretend to overcome nervousness, having a confident air can go a long way in developing your own confidence and could just make anyone that would think twice before messing with you. Don’t be looking for trouble, be all eyes for your baby or cheerfully smile at people you see notice you. If you seem comfortable and relaxed then it’s likely the people around you will be as well.

Get comfortable. Remember that to take care of someone else you have to be taken care of too. If you need support for your arms or your breast while breastfeeding at home, you’ll be more comfortable in public with that too. A diaper bag can double as a pillow, so can a baby blanket or baby carrier and there are some neat portable nursing pillows on the market. Have a bottle of water and a little snack for you and if possible, find a spot with some back support. If you use a nipple shield or must hold your breast as you feed your baby, the more you focus on getting you and your baby comfortable, the quicker you will be through any awkward stage of the latch so try not to worry about what others may see.

If you're comfortable like this at home, you may want to take the pillow with you for out in public.

If you’re comfortable like this at home, you may want to take the pillow with you for out in public.

Focus on what is important. Look at your baby, see how much they need and enjoy being fed. Taking a moment to remember why you’re doing this can help take the pressure of on how to do it and everyone else will think and puts it on why. Your baby is the best reason there is. 

Just do it. While you don’t need to rush and force yourself, at some point you just need to jump in and do it. You may be surprised at the confidence boost you have when you realize it’s no big deal. 

Share the experience. You’re not alone and most people want to see you reach your goals, even goals for breastfeeding and being comfortable feeding your baby while out and about. Talk about it, in person and online, maybe even with photos. You’ll end up getting cheered on, hearing support, and probably encouraging someone else who has been anxious about leaving the house with their baby too. Yes, there may be nay-sayers but they aren’t as common or as loud as it seems, specially not when you can remember all you’ve gone through to get this far for your baby.

Happy breastfeeding wherever you feed your baby!

This and other breastfeeding support and information can be found at theleakyboob.com

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Why I breastfed my 2 year old on a crowded public transit train

by Jessica Martin-Weber

This isn’t a statement, it’s not even as significant as a photo op. It’s just a moment. An average, regular, normal moment for my daughter and me. In 2 years of breastfeeding, she and I have had thousands like it. Taking public transportation on our way for a day downtown with the family, she got tired, wanted a cuddle, and a little mama milk. And I snapped a few breastfeeding selfies because this regular, normal moment is important to me and a big part of my life. A life I share with my online community and when something is important pretending it doesn’t exist and never happens is lonely.

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Would you, could you, on a train?

At first I distracted her and put her off. I didn’t want to breastfeed my 2 year old in public and face possible harassment for doing so. Though I know the law protects me, I also know many people are uncomfortable with breastfeeding babies in public let alone toddlers. I didn’t want to be the source of the discomfort of others or worse, possible conflict. At 2 she’s old enough to wait and can have other food and drink for snack.

But I had just returned that morning from a three day trip and my littlest missed her mama. Being close, having mama milk, was all a part of our reconnecting. Could I really place the possible discomfort of others above the need my little girl had for comfort and closeness? Yes, we could have comfort, connectedness, and closeness in other ways but breastfeeding was still her favorite, should my 2 year old forgo what she enjoyed the most because some strangers may not understand what a woman’s breasts are really for?

I decided no, I would not do that to her and my daughter would come first. And I breastfed her. On a packed train headed downtown on a Sunday afternoon. There was no agenda, no ulterior motive. In that normal moment with my daughter, though I had a pinch of anxiety that someone may take issue with me feeding and comforting my daughter at my breast, my focus was on her, not normalizing breastfeeding. Because that’s not why I breastfeed.

It isn’t normal to see breastfeeding still in most western societies. Though breastfeeding is elevated and preached, it’s hardly visible enough to be considered normal. We’ve allowed ourselves to accept a definition of the female breasts limited to just the sexual nature the mature mammary glands can have. With that we’ve lost sight of the biological and anthropological norm. Something I write and speak about often. Working to change such perceptions is part of why I do The Leaky Boob at all.

But still, that’s not why I breastfed my daughter that day. Or any day. I fed her because she needed it. Because I’m her mommy and feeding and comforting our children is just what moms do.

And that’s just… Normal.

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Oh! The Places You Go! World Breastfeeding Week/World Breastfeeding Month 2014

by Jessica Martin-Weber

#BFingPlaces

Oh the places you go!  Families are busy, on the go in their daily life be it at the grocery store, the park, school, the museum, parents’ work, church, community activities, you name it.  And then there are special events such as vacations at the beach, mountain top weddings, saying goodbye to a loved one, excursions to historical sites, and theme parks.  And along the way, we’re doing what we do, caring for our children, like normal.

It’s about to be World Breastfeeding Week/Month.  I confess, for the last several years I’ve really struggled with this month.  It seems like it should be my favorite, certainly as an outspoken breastfeeding supporter World Breastfeeding Week/Month has a lot of meaning and significance, yet still, I have been increasingly uncomfortable with it.  There are major world wide events bringing breastfeeding moms together, thousands of blog posts sharing personal stories of breastfeeding, mainstream media coverage on the importance of breastfeeding, thousands of brands offering promotions on breastfeeding related products, memes of breastfeeding sayings, giveaways galore, and informative posts as to the virtues of breastfeeding.  Overall, this sounds like a good thing, so why was I uncomfortable

Because somehow, I felt the focus was off (at least my own was) and the audience, well, the audience was mostly the choir.  World Breastfeeding Week/Month was preaching to the choir.  And sometimes the not so thinly veiled, if unintentional message was “breastfeeding moms are better than non-breastfeeding moms.”

I considered not participating, considered taking a position that every single day is World Breastfeeding Day at TLB and just continue on as normal with nothing special for the month.  There was conversation about ignoring it completely but that seemed impractical and kind of weird. Since I see the need for awareness and supportive conversation about breastfeeding, I do believe World Breastfeeding Week/Month has a lot of value, we just needed to figure out what that was in our context and how that fit TLB’s mission. As The Leaky Boob team started discussing how we could celebrate World Breastfeeding Week/World Breastfeeding Month, we knew we wanted it to focus on the moms first and then families. Instead of announcing to the world that breastfeeding is awesome (it is awesome, it’s also really just normal) and jumping in on the megaphone that ends up just going back to the moms that are already aware, we wanted to do something a little more intentional.  Though it makes me feel a little ridiculous to say, we have lost something when it comes to breastfeeding, we have lost it being normally accepted by society.  Plenty of people seem aware of breastfeeding, maybe even too aware, and I know very few people will even debate that breastfeeding is good for babies yet it hardly seems normal.  As absurd as it may sounds, breastfeeding still desperately needs to be (re)normalized.  Since we’re mammals though, that’s like saying breathing isn’t normal, or walking needs to be normalized.

Ultimately though, regardless of how absurd it sounds, women are harassed for feeding their babies, asked to leave restaurants, fear meeting their child’s needs in public due to public shaming, face judgment for how they feed their children, and feel pressured to feed a certain way but be invisible. Weirdly enough though, women that don’t feed their baby directly at their breast or with breastmilk, face much of the same. And those women experience World Breastfeeding Week/Month too but without the cheering support that breastfeeding moms receive.

Feed your baby way up high,

Or way down low?

In the sun

Or in the snow?

By the water

At the bay?

Feed your baby every day.

Show us the path you take

As your baby eats his steak*

What you see

Or what you do

On your journey

We support you.

*or milk, snack, baby food…

Help us celebrate families and normalize feeding babies without debate or judgment by taking and sharing pictures on social media.  Whether you feed at the breast, with a cover or without, with an at the breast supplementer, or using a bottle, your journey is part of normal infant feeding.  By posting images of the wide diversity there is in infant and toddler feeding, we can help remind ourselves and the rest of the world that we are people with feelings just trying to do our best in the normal act of feeding our children and we can be trusted to make the best decisions about that according to information, our personal circumstances, and our access to resources.  The image can be of you feeding your baby or of what you see as you’re feeding your baby.  Share your journey and together we can support each other with #BFingPlaces and #ISupportYou.  Post your images on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, or whatever social media platform you love to use and use those hashtags.  Be on the look out for some amazing giveaways and remember, every day is a day for support.

This year, World Breastfeeding Week/Month is still going to be celebrated at TLB.  There will be giveaways (one huge prize pack every week for five weeks!) and information sharing, personal stories and memes posted, and events gathering together moms that feed their babies with breastmilk.  But there will also be support for all families regardless of what their journey looks like when it comes to how they feed their children.  We’re celebrating you with the goal to normalize feeding children including breast and bottle feeding.  Free of judgment, full of support, we support you where you are.  Wherever you go.  And Oh!  The places you go.

 

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A 14 year old girl’s thoughts on breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society.

Reposting this article from last year, at a time when there is public outrage and debate about women posting photos online of themselves breastfeeding and arguments rage about how appropriate inappropriate it is to breastfeeding in public,  it seems timely to share the thoughts of a 14 year old girl on what messages she sees in the world of breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society. 
by Ophélia Martin-Weber
Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

I wonder when people started treating boobs as objects used just for sex.  A long time ago did people respect moms and their breasts feeding hungry babies?  Even though they didn’t see women as equal did they know that breastfeeding was the healthiest, easiest, and natural source of nutrients to feed the baby and nothing to shun?  There was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote but could freely pull out their breast and feed their baby and today it seems like we have flipped those.  In some ways we have come so far in how women are treated and viewed in society but in other ways women, particularly mothers, are dismissed as their real value being only in their appeal to the opposite sex.  I wonder if we’ve lost something.  Then I wonder what that means for me and I’m only a 14 year old girl. When I was younger I didn’t know breasts had amazing powers to produce milk even though my mom breastfed my sisters and me.  All that I knew was that I had little boobies and I couldn’t wait for the day when my nipples would transform into breasts.  I don’t remember when the fact that mature breasts can give milk really stuck in my head but when it did I thought humans were related to cows.  Sure, humans and cows are both mammals but when I was a kid I thought maybe women actually were cows.  Today I know that’s not true and I also understand there is a lot of attention given to the sexiness of the female breast and that makes me uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable because now that I have breasts I find myself wanting smaller breasts in part because I’m a ballerina but also because I know that bigger breasts are supposed draw attention from guys, are seen as more sexy, and could decide how I am treated by others.  Part of me feels that if I want to be liked I have to have big breasts.  I want guys to notice me but I don’t want guys to notice me (yes, I know this is a contradiction) and I really don’t want them to think I’m just here to have sex with.  I’m just not ready for that and don’t know if I ever will be.  To me, I’m so much more than my sex appeal.  So I’m careful about what I wear, I don’t want communicate that I want attention based on sex but that frustrates me too.  The clothes I like the best and find most comfortable are more form fitting but if I wear yoga pants that fit my butt well will it be communicating that I want the wrong kind of attention?  Or in a leotard are my breasts speaking louder than my mind or my art?  I hope not.  I want to matter to others for more than just my body.  As a dancer, I work with my body a lot and I work hard to make it strong and healthy but not for attention.  That work is to help me tell stories, to use my body as an artist and an athlete.  Struggling with my body every day is part of my lot as a dancer and I have a love hate relationship with it and I’m ok with that.  What I don’t want is to question my natural biology simply because of how others say it should be.  Sometimes it feels as though society wants to punish those with female body parts yet tell us we’re equal without having to act like we really are.  I don’t get it, I understand that breasts are considered sex things but they don’t seem any more “sexy” than most of the other parts of my body such as my lips, my arms, my shoulders, my legs.  Men may find them sexy (is it that way in every culture or just ours?) but they aren’t sexy to me, they feed babies. Urban ballerina Looking back to what my childish mind was thinking and comparing it to some people’s opinions about moms openly breastfeeding in public, I wonder if they too see breastfeeding moms as cows?  Do breastfeeding mothers need to be fenced and herded together, separate from everyone else?  I know there are people that think about moms that way but not everyone does.  A lot of my adult friends have different opinions about breastfeeding but they don’t think poorly about my mom and they don’t ask her to cover when she’s feeding my little sister.  It doesn’t bother them that part of my mom’s breast is visible.  Pictures of beautiful and sexy women show off breasts at least as much as a mom’s breast is seen when she is breastfeeding.  In our culture, what is the most sexy part about women’s breasts?  The breast that is popping out of a too small shirt or the covered nipple?  Why?  If it’s the nipple, why is it such a big deal about breastfeeding in public if the baby is hiding the nipple?  Maybe it’s understandable because of the messages we get from certain parts of society, they might think it is sexual because a person’s mouth, even if it is a baby is on a woman’s breast but they need to get a grip and review their history lessons.   And also learn how breastfeeding works. Why is it ok for men to show off their mammary glands but women can’t?  Why aren’t women “allowed” to expose their chest as much as men can?  Why is it considered indecent for me to be topless by my neighbor across the street can walk around just in his shorts and nobody has a problem with it?  How is that equal?  How is that not discrimination?  Stop telling me I can be equal to my male counterparts but then tell me I have to hide my body more as if there is something wrong with me. I’m not sure I even want to have babies but if I do I will breastfeed them though I have to admit the idea of breastfeeding in public scares me because I know how people think of breasts, women, and moms.  That kind of attention isn’t what I want for myself.  I don’t know what I will do though because I know too much about breastfeeding to not breastfeed and I don’t think I’d want to just stay home all the time.  How sad is it that anyone would be afraid to feed their baby in public?  I’m a little disappointed in myself for feeling this way, I mean, my mom is The Leaky Boob, I feel like she’s the queen of breastfeeding.  But that’s where I am right now.  Fortunately, I have a long time to figure that out and I know I have a family that will support me along the way. If all this obsession with female breasts didn’t actually happen, what would life be like?  If we could change the attitudes against breastfeeding would we actually change attitudes about women?  I hope we can learn from our mistakes because I think people are being hurt by the accepted cultural attitudes of social norms.  And I’m still young, I have to have hope.

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What do you think?  

Do you feel attitudes about breastfeeding are related in any way to our attitudes about women in general?  

How did you think about breasts, breastfeeding, and your own body when you were a teen?

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Completely unrelated to this post, this video shares the author’s story of dance, her dance aspirations, and her current project.

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teen ballerina Ophélia Martin-Weber is 15 years old, the eldest of six girls.  Ophélia is in 8th grade, homeschooled, and is passionate about dance.  A few years ago Ophélia wrote for The Leaky Boob, sharing her views as an 11 year old on breastfeeding and Jessica recently shared a proud mama moment about Ophélia.  You can see some of Ophélia’s dancing and hear her share her dance story and dreams in this video.
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