I’ve Become a Creepy Mom

by Jessica Martin-Weber

There are so many things I never imagined I would do before becoming a mother. There was a list that I was aware of but I had no idea that there would be things I would do that I never even considered. My list had the typical items: never let child… whatever, doesn’t matter because we all know that was a joke. I thought I would never use my spit to clean my child’s face (ok, but for real, children are dirty and it is gross but my spit IS actually cleaner than some of the crust I’ve cleaned off their faces), never yell in public (but for real, they do run toward the street like it’s a bouncy house), have my kids in matching clothes (now I consider it a success if the clothes are mostly clean, bonus if they fit), not allow screen time (snort), and all the other typical I’ll-be-the-perfect-parent-don’t-have-kids-yet ideology.

What I didn’t anticipate is that I would become a creeper.

I totally have. It snuck up on me. Like reaching out to touch another mom’s hair and admiring that she showered… but it was so clean and it smelled so good. Or seeing a cute baby and saying how I could just eat them up.

Admit it, that is a totally creepy thing to thing… and I’ve actually said it out loud to people.

I was a total creeper in church on Sunday.

We go to a big church downtown, regal and very traditional with a huge pipe organ, robes, and a classical choir. And the coolest red doors. It’s beautiful and reverent.

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One pew back and across the aisle there was a young mom with an adorable chubby little baby girl. She made the cutest coos and happy sounds, taking in the sights and sounds of the service.

I wanted to give her a little nibble.

(Look, before you judge me about that, there’s a scientific reason we feel compelled to bite cute things. It’s real and it is even a good thing!  I’ve never done it… hard.)

But that isn’t the creepiest part of this story.

This adorable little girl finally got tired and somewhere between reading the epistle and singing the hymn before the sermon, she began to fuss. Mom-radar up, I recognized that fuss. She was hungry. I glanced back, because even hungry babies that belong to other people make my boobs ready to leak into action.

Now, I didn’t care if she was given a bottle or given a boob, I just needed to see the adorable baby I wanted to nibble being fed when she was hungry. It was important to me, an almost physical ache. So I was relieved to see this effortlessly beautiful mother (seriously, I knew she was tired but she made tired look good and her hair was a little messy but it was like the perfect sexy messy beach updo and she rocked it) fiddling and in motion to feed the hungry baby I was ready to spring over the pew to feed.

I saw nothing but I knew. No breast came flying out, no milk spraying anywhere, no nipple pointed at anyone, just a suddenly quiet baby making nothing more than happy grunts as her mother cradled her.

She was breastfeeding.

Right there, in our regal church as the Gospel was being read.

In full on creep mode, I kept looking back at the pair. Contented baby at the breast, attentive mother gazing at her.

And as cheesy as it sounds, I felt caught up in the moment of worship. Not of this mother and child, not of breastfeeding, but of the God I believe designed us to be able to do this. As songs were sung, Scripture was read, and a homily shared, I was witnessing love in action and God’s design being celebrated as all designs should be celebrated: through the beauty of their function.

(I believe I would have felt the same if it was bottle-feeding, in fact, I know I would have, I have before.)

Before anyone goes there, though some probably already have and probably will no matter what, this isn’t a debate about modesty since we’re talking about feeding a baby. If you wouldn’t bring modesty to the discussion of giving a baby a bottle, it has no business being a part of the discussion at all. To debate that point, head over here.

To complete my creepiness, following the service I went up to the mother and thanked her. THANKED HER for bringing her baby into the service and caring for her as she worshiped. What an act of worship, to show love, to embrace the body she has been blessed with, to nurture her child. I thanked her too for feeding her baby how she feeds her baby and that my daughters saw this act as well. Thank you, I told her, for helping change the culture so maybe our daughters won’t be nervous about their bodies feeding their babies in church some day as well.

We chatted a bit, her mother was with her and they both thanked me for saying something. She had been nervous about breastfeeding in worship and it was good to hear that it was ok.

I can’t imagine a place where it should be more ok, I told her. According to our faith, God made her, and acting as she is designed isn’t a flaw, it isn’t shameful, it isn’t inappropriate. Pretty sure God can handle breasts being used to feed babies even in the place of worship.

Not everyone is going to be comfortable breastfeeding in public with or without a cover and many who are fine with it in most settings aren’t in their place of worship. That’s ok, the most reverent and sacrificial act of worship any parent can do is to care for their child(ren) no matter how it is done.

From the creepy mom in the pew over, thank you for doing so.


Jessica Martin-Weber Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.
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Infant and Child Feeding Advocacy- Why I Continue

by Jessica Martin-Weber
 

Recently in a Facebook group for people of faith who are interested in egalitarian theology, I ran across a thread that surprised me. Not because there was debate, debate is common in that group and usually inspires quality conversations promoting reflection. No, what was surprising about this to me was that in a group that at least believes in the equality of the sexes and the cultural conditioning of controlling women, breastfeeding in public and how exposed a woman’s chest should be while feeding her baby was somehow debated with the same old arguments I’ve heard against breastfeeding in public and how women should be covered when feeding their babies in other settings.

It had never occurred to me that this would be an issue in that setting.

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I’ve moved beyond the debates, the arguments are tired as far as I’m concerned. Five and a half years into running The Leaky Boob I’ve heard all the arguments and not just online. People will say they never experience any negativity except online, as though it must not exist because they haven’t encountered it personally. But I have, I’ve heard all the arguments in person, to my face. Every day I hear from women who’ve been criticized and shamed by a family member, lost friends for breastfeeding in front of their husband, and been isolated for feeding in public. I actually had a business owner of a brand that makes nursing covers tell me, to my face, that he feels breastfeeding covers are important for society and women that breastfeed in public without a cover, whipping their breast out in front of others to feed their baby (his words, not mine) are just “selfish bitches, no offense.”

Yes, he said that even as I stood there with a name tag that read “The Leaky Boob.” And yes, offense taken. I walked out and will never work with his company.

I don’t engage in the infant/toddler feeding debates often but I do continue showing up for them. Not because I enjoy it, believe me I don’t. I hate it and I feel burned out. But I will be the voice for those reading or overhearing saying what needs to be said. For that mom reading or listening and heartbroken to hear the harsh words someone she loved said to her echoed in the words of a stranger, shaming her further. It is assumed I must not understand the reasons why this is an issue but the fact is, I do understand them. I get it. I’ve processed them. At one point in time I may have agreed and argued that position myself.

It’s just that they are wrong. Be the arguments and shaming debates about breastfeeding, breastfeeding in public, bottle feeding, pumping, formula feeding, donor breastmilk, or even introducing solids, often the arguments are short-sighted, limited, and full of vitriol. The arguments are full of fallacies and more often than not are missing the real point.

Babies are being fed.

When it comes to feeding support and advocacy (and really, anything else), you don’t get to control women. Not even if you’re another woman.

But why do I keep fighting this fight?

Because I believe that every parent should be able to parent with confidence, free of harassment and shaming from others. Because parenting is hard enough. And because women get enough shit about their bodies as it is.

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Why be a parenting and feeding advocate? The biggest reason I continue fighting this fight is because I have daughters and I want better for them.

Every day I facilitate online support for thousands and thousands of women who are breastfeeding, planning to breastfeed, or have finished breastfeeding. I travel and speak all around the country on breastfeeding and parenting and sit with women as they share, in tears, the agony they have felt in being rejected by people who have told them that they “don’t want to see that.” Every single day I hear from women who find themselves struggling with confidence in feeding their babies, something that may shake them to their core because, after all, feeding your child is one of the most basic aspects of parenting.

For a parent, struggling with feeding their baby can easily lead to self-doubt in their parenting capabilities at all.

Often, it does.

These parents, for obvious reasons, mostly female, regularly express anxiety about feeding in public. That they may attract unwanted negative attention, fear someone being upset at them for what they may be exposing or even for the act of breastfeeding itself, dread that they may be asked to cover up or leave- maybe a waiter, a relative, a pastor, another woman at church, a mall security guard, an angry bus passenger, etc.- humiliating her and anyone she is with. In the quest to feed their children the best way, as society loves to claim but fails to back up with genuine support offering instead isolating platitudes that it is best but must be “discreet” or “with tact”.

Worse, so often these mothers, in a very vulnerable place as they embark on a new life stage with a new tiny human, hear they are somehow not only responsible for feeding their child the “best way” but also to be respectful of anyone else around them, to be sure grown men aren’t caused to stumble in her attempts to care for her child and that grown women aren’t threatened by her body.

And then the baby needs all her attention and lots of room to latch properly and not cause excruciating pain and damage to her nipple, or they overheat under a cover, or their personality causes them to experience anxiety under the cover, and it is impossible to manage without “whipping” it out and “flashing” the whole world.

All she wants to do is feed her baby.

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Instead of being able to focus just on that she knows that some are demanding that she focus on their comfort about what they see of her body as well. As if the worst thing wouldn’t be a baby going hungry but that they may see the skin of her breasts, her stretch marks, the fact that a child is attached to her nipple.

Eventually they either think they can’t do it or they aren’t cut out for it or that they should just never leave the house. A few get angry that this is how our society treats them and their fellow mothers. And they muscle through and turn off a part of themselves that had hoped their would have at least been solidarity from other women. They have had enough and decide to keep feeding their child as if they were doing nothing wrong- because they are doing nothing wrong- and eventually they start to believe it. So to show other women who may be struggling too, they keep going. They know they are being judged but if it helps ONE other mother to not feel isolated, judged, and fighting off shame, it is worth it. And it is the hope that it will help lead to a gradual shift in our society,  and someday every new mom will feel confident in their parenting, their bodies, their personhood and it will no longer be considered brave to feed your baby however you feed your baby.

Because we must believe that some day our bodies won’t be scandalous and feeding our children won’t be shameful and discussed with outrage.

Until that day, this is an issue I will help wrestle with. Because I know what it like to support mom after mom who feels like maybe she’s not good enough to be a mother because she couldn’t handle the stress of feeding her baby the best way while making sure nobody ever knew that it was happening. I know what it is like to hold them as they weep over the shame they have felt when someone said to them to be more discreet as if feeding their baby was something shameful and their bodies something dirty.

For those women and the ones to come, I will continue on.

 

_______________________

Jessica Martin-Weber Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.
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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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Breastfeeding and thinking of others

By Jessica Martin-Weber

human decency and breastfeeding

I try to avoid reading comments on just about any articles that have to do with infant nutrition, particularly on breastfeeding in public, except on those sites where I’ve come to trust the atmosphere is conducive to healthy dialogue and engaging conversation. Sometimes I can’t help it though and I get momentarily sucked into the train wreck of society’s most opinionated who found a platform to spew vitriol laced with unverified “facts” and self appointed expertise. I’ve read enough of these comments over the years that I have come to expect a certain set of responses, each presented as though it is the first time anyone has ever thought of it. From the comparisons of breastfeeding to human waste or sex to implying the mother must be an exhibitionist or even pedophile, the “enlightened” arguments, most often lay blame on the breastfeeding woman as to how her feeding her baby is damaging society.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Hundreds of thousands feel empowered by the anonymity of the internet to say that women feeding their babies the biologically normal way are damaging society. And of course, because moms can’t win, still other mothers are blamed for damaging society for not feeding their child the biologically normal way and using bottles and/or formula.

Something is wrong with society? Blame the mothers! It simply must be because of the female portion of the parenting population!

I can think of a lot of practices that are damaging society but for the life of me I can’t see how a woman feeding her child could even be fathomed as one, let alone worth commenting on anywhere at all.

One of my cynical favorites are the comments that talk about human decency and pride. How could a woman be so selfish? Some people are uncomfortable with witnessing breastfeeding, why in the world should they have to suffer so badly when a woman uses her breast in their presence to feed her child? What about human decency? Does she have no pride and self respect? It’s not that hard to show a little courtesy to others and cover yourself while you do that. Can’t she think of others and stop being SO SELFISH and just be DISCREET? What is wrong with these women that think it’s just fine to FEED their babies right there where everyone can see it? For goodness sake, WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO?

All over a woman feeding her child.

I wish I was joking. I’m not. In fact, I avoid reading these comments usually because it makes me want to say bad words. All the bad words.

Then there’s the fact that I don’t only come across this in comment sections of online news or blogs, nope, people say it to my face.

You’re worried about human decency and damaging society? What about the children going to bed hungry every night in your community? The lack of health care for many in the world today? What about the dangerous, polluted water millions of people drink daily and the children who get sick from it? How about the corporations ruining the environment often in already compromised areas and successfully lobbying so they aren’t held accountable? And the million other human rights violations destroying lives, destroying children?

Not a baby being safely fed. That is not an issue of lack of human decency. Making it one and overlooking real concerns is. News flash: a mother’s first responsibility is to think of her children, that is her thinking of others. And because thinking of her children involves thinking of the good of society and making well informed decisions in her care of her children, feeding her children and meeting their needs is part of caring for society as well. Thinking of what others in society may think of how she is feeding her child? Yeah, that doesn’t really help anyone and if you think so, your privilege has blinded you. Should she choose to cover or not, how she feeds her child is her decision and whatever makes her and her child comfortable. Not anyone else. Think of others? Ok. When I’m breastfeeding I’m thinking of my child, it’s not about anyone else. Doing it in public doesn’t make it anyone else’s business either.

I have to believe that in a generation people will be shocked that this was an issue, embarrassed that it was. Like other topics that have made society uncomfortable at times, a woman feeding her baby in public will some day no longer be a topic of scrutiny, debate, or attack. I hope. Just like civil rights issues, formerly taboo health issues, and environmental concerns that used to be dismissed, eventually infant nutrition will no longer be confused with real issues of human decency. Except for where infants and their families don’t have access to nutrition. Want to get up in arms about something? Find something worthy.

There is one point these commenters sometimes make that I do agree with, what has happened to human decency? Only I wonder if we ever had it and have instead confused human decency with privilege. Because too often we turn blind eyes to the real battles moms face and focus on demeaning and petty “mommy wars.”

Let’s fight the real battles and let’s not worry about being discreet about it. Let’s really think of others.

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I can’t wait to stop writing about breastfeeding in public

Some day I won’t write another thing about breastfeeding in public.  Because I won’t have to.  Eventually, some day, everyone will have grown weary of the debate and realize just how silly it is.  Mothers feeding their babies will be left alone, in peace to care for their children by meeting their needs for food and comfort.  In time the fact that message boards and news broadcasts filled up with comments arguing about the “appropriateness” of feeding babies in public will seem ridiculous and celebrities that dissed women that breastfeed in public will be dismissed as ignorant and intolerant.  In a lesser but similar way that we feel looking back at other civil justice issues and wonder how in the world anyone could ever have had any question about where people sit on a bus or what water fountains they drink from, breastfeeding in public debates will be an embarrassing mark on our social history.  As a society we won’t bat a collective eyelash at a woman breastfeeding in public whether she’s using a cover or not.  The idea that a women is permitted or not permitted to feed her child in public will seem as archaic as women not being permitted to vote.  There won’t be polls posted on news affiliate sites and Facebook pages won’t explode with heated arguments that resort to name calling to prove one’s point about how inappropriate/appropriate it is to breastfeed in public.  Instead, it will just be normal and nobody will even care any more and maybe they’ll take up some more important issue to pour their passionate energy into.  Some day.  Apparently, not today.

Please don’t tell me it could all be avoided if women just had some “decency” and used a cover or went some place private.  That’s not the issue nor is it the solution, women should not be ostracized from society for feeding their babies and covering is a personal choice much like clothing choices.  Not that it helps, plenty of women are harassed for breastfeeding even when they choose to cover.

The comments in those online threads often quickly turn to comparing breastfeeding to some other bodily function that people find disgusting and “nobody wants to see.”  Comments like:  “If breastfeeding in public is acceptable then I should be able to just piss anywhere I need to!”  “That’s disgusting, why can’t they just pump and use a bottle?  I don’t want to see someone getting a blow job while I’m shopping and I don’t want to see breastfeeding.”  “We go to the bathroom to take a dump and don’t just crap on the sidewalk, women can go to the bathroom to pull out their boob, we don’t have to see it.”  “If a woman can just whip out her boob and stick it in a baby’s mouth, I should be able to just whip out my dick and jerk off.”  And more, so many more.  I usually roll my eyes and move on dismissing the writer as someone that doesn’t understand some very basic and crucial differences that flaw their comparison rendering it completely invalid and not worth my time.  Moving on is also to keep me from commenting “well, when you’re ready to prepare a bottle of piss or serve up some human shit in a beautiful dish for your dinner guests and when grocery store shelves are stocked with products claiming to be ‘as good as human urine/feces’ then I might hear your point.”  But then it happened in real life and I couldn’t bite my tongue and roll my eyes in time to not decidedly educate the poor individual that would dare to compare breastfeeding in public to taking a dump in public in my presence.  As it turns out, maybe people really are confused on some of these basic differences.  I decided to see what a larger sample size thought of the issue and how breastfeeding in public compared to these body functions commonly argued as being equally as disgusting (their words, not mine) as breastfeeding in public.  To gather some admittedly biased information considering my poll group consists of fans of The Leaky Boob  (and some got very confused that I’d even ask such a question, a few were a bit upset, they didn’t expect to see that kind of question there and I can’t blame them) I asked the followers of TLB FB, Jessica The Leaky Boob Facebook page, and my own personal friends to vote which was the most disgusting: urinating in public, defecating in public, sex in public, blow job/masturbation in public, and breastfeeding in public.  The results:

In case you’re wondering, breastfeeding didn’t make it on the graph.  Nobody in our unscientific and poorly constructed poll voted for breastfeeding as being the most disgusting option of the 5.  But since not everyone followed the directions (to only pick one that was most disgusting) we ended up with another pie chart illustrating how many of those polled think  urinating in public, defecating in public, sex in public, and blow job/masturbation in public is more disgusting than breastfeeding in public.

 

 While it could be argued that this sample is biased and not indicative of the general population given that they were drawn from a breastfeeding support community, I still would argue that they all make a good point that even those not in favor of breastfeeding would find valid.  However, in case some have yet to understand how it could possibly be that breastfeeding in public is considered less gross than defecating, urinating, masturbating, oral sex, or intercourse in public I created two tables and some notes in order to help clarify.  You can find those here.  It would make me very happy if you went and checked those out, I actually made myself sick doing the research for those puppies.  Reading that much about poop while pregnant and dealing with HG is asking for trouble.

Some day my dream will be a reality and I will stop writing about breastfeeding in public.  Nurse-ins will be a thing of the past and idiotic celebrities won’t be concerned about the PR nightmare they create for themselves simply because we’ll have all moved on and they won’t be saying stupid comments about breastfeeding in public.  Kasey Kahne and Kim Kardashian (what’s with the Ks?) will be cited as examples of ignorance regarding breastfeeding and society’s attempts to control and shame women for their bodies and mothering for future generations.  For now though, I’ll keep talking about it even though I’m tired of saying the same things and I’ll be grateful for moments of sanity in rational mainstream media articles like this.  But to keep it interesting I’m going to have to start making fun of the people ignorant enough to be serious about certain comparisons.  I just can’t help it, when someone confuses urine or feces for breastmilk or thinks there’s something similar with breastfeeding and masturbating in public, I have to laugh at the absurdity or I’ll go crazy.

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Exploring the “body fluids” debate about breastfeeding in public

As a culture we give so much lip service to breastfeeding being “best,” “natural,” etcetera but the reality is that is still not the cultural norm.  Sure, women are judged for not breastfeeding all the time but our culture isn’t actually supporting breastfeeding beyond using it as fodder for flaming mommy wars.  This reality is never more tangible than when a breastfeeding mother gets asked to move, leave, or otherwise change how she’s breastfeeding her child in a public setting.  When the media takes up the story before you know it further proof that understanding and support of breastfeeding is lacking culturally exhibits itself boldly with comparisons of bodily functions or sex acts done in public to breastfeeding in public.  Their point being that breastfeeding in public is just as unacceptable in our culture (according to that individual anyway) as any of those other acts.

Right, because feeding your baby and pooping/peeing or any sex act are so alike.

While it may seem obvious to most that there isn’t really any social, cultural, or medical similarities between breastfeeding and defecating in public, urinating in public, masturbation or oral sex in public, or even sex in public, some individuals insist on drawing the comparison.  A lot, actually.  Why?  I’m not sure but my best guess is shock value, as though they can prove their argument against breastfeeding in public merely by shocking people into silence.

I conducted a highly unscientific poll as to what people actually thought was more disgusting and shared the results here.  It’s very biased, seeing as the participants polled were all from either The Leaky Boob Facebook page, Jessica The Leaky Boob Facebook page, or my own personal Facebook page.  Still, the results are demonstrated in 2 fun little graphs.

But my site is called “The Leaky Boob,” I’m not exactly the type to be shocked or silenced.  Just ask Facebook.  Recently media attention on a variety of breastfeeding related stories (Target nurse-in, Kasey Kahne, etc.) seemed to have brought a rise of individuals that actually believe this is a valid argument.   I decided I needed to see if they had a point.

I talked with a pediatrician friend of mine and learned that the only special handling instructions they were given about breastmilk when she was doing rotations in the NICU was to ensure the milk was not contaminated before it was fed to the fragile neonates in their care.  It was considered a food and was treated as such, not as waste nor a biohazard.  An RN friend echoed these same experiences.  Hmmmmm, doesn’t sound like they thought of breastmilk as potentially dangerous body fluid or waste that needed to be carefully disposed of for health safety reasons.  Pretty major distinction there.

To help anyone still confused, anyone who may be thinking breastfeeding in public is like defecating in public, urinating in public, masturbation/oral sex in public, or sex in public, I’ve put together a couple of tables to break it down.

Breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding in public is legal and protected in the majority of the world.  In the states there are laws in 45 states that expressly allow women breastfeeding in public or private areas.  Twenty-eight states have specific clauses that exempt breastfeeding mothers from public indecency exposure laws.

Breastfeeding in public does not pose a public health threat.  While breastmilk can carry HIV and hepatitis if the mother is infected, breastfeeding in public does not carry an increased risk of spread of the disease and the CDC even cites that a bottle of infected milk given on accident to the wrong baby is unlikely to lead to transmission of the disease in a healthy infant.

Breastfeeding a human infant is encouraged by recognized health organizations globally.

Breastfeeding in public is based on a mother responding to the need of her child for nourishment or comfort.  A small infant or child’s hunger can not be postponed.

Breastfeeding is not a sex act, it is an act of nourishment and comfort for a child.  A small portion of women may experience some level of sexual arousal by breastfeeding but that is secondary to the primary purpose of meeting her child’s nutritional and comfort needs and women are able to distinguish the difference.

Breastfeeding has been essential to the survival of the species for centuries and today is still the biologically normal way to feed a human infant.  Further, public breastfeeding provides a model for future mother/baby dyads to be familiar with normal means of infant feeding, we learn by seeing.

 

Defecating in public:

In all 1st world countries public defecation is illegal.

Human feces is recognized as a very serious health hazard that can contaminate water and food sources.

With the exception of those with special needs, public elimination of feces is considered deviant.

*Yes- if the individual is unable to control their bowels due to physical or mental disabilities.

*No- if it is from a fully functioning healthy adult.  The need can be postponed until a suitable toilet receptacle can be located.

Public defecation is a public health hazard and threatens the entire species including the young.

 

Urinating in public:

In all 1st world countries public urination without an acceptable receptacle is illegal.

Though sterile and not toxic in a healthy person, urine is known to carry pathogens and possible disease and can contaminate water and food sources as it is a human waste product.

In some cultures it is considered acceptable to urinate in public, while others have find it socially unacceptable.  However, all public health organizations warn of the dangers related to urinating in public.

*Yes- if the individual is unable to control their bladder due to physical or mental disabilities.

* No- if it is from a fully functioning healthy adult.  The need can be postponed until a suitable toilet receptacle can be located.

Public urination without proper sewage disposal is a potential public health hazard and as it is a human waste product threatens the entire species including the young.

 

Public masturbation/oral sex:

In all 1st world countries public masturbation and oral sex is illegal.

Semen and vaginal fluid can carry known pathogens though the spread would likely be contained, casual and unprotected sex is recognized in furthering the spread of disease.

Masturbation and oral sex are not acceptable public acts in most cultures and public display of them is consider sexual deviancy and is punishable by law.

*If it is from a fully functioning healthy adult, the need for sexual gratification can be postponed until a suitably private area is located.

Public masturbation and oral sex do not protect or care for the young of the species.

 

Public sex:

In all 1st world countries public sex is illegal.

Semen and vaginal fluid can carry known pathogens though the spread would likely be contained, casual and unprotected sex is recognized in furthering the spread of disease.

Sex is not considered an acceptable public act in most cultures and public display of sex is consider sexual deviancy and is punishable by law.

The need for sexual gratification can be postponed until a suitably private area is located.

While sex is necessary for the procreation of the species, public sex acts are not essential for caring or protecting the young of the species.

 

Our cultural preferences are often born out of deeply held beliefs whether they be religious, anecdotal, circumstantial, a belief about health and bodies, scientific, and more.  A few examples come to mind: the belief that the world was flat, the story of the woman that cut the ends off the roast simply because her mother always did so it would fit in her pan, and the practice of blood letting to name a few.  As our understanding grows we change our practices.  There was a time when washing hands wasn’t standard practice in health care and today we know that basic hand washing reduces illness and the spread of disease.  Culturally we accept hand washing because science has shown that the practice can save lives.  I can’t help but hope that some day the science behind breastfeeding will open our culture to accepting, even welcoming it in public.  Since there are these comparisons made I decided to look at breastmilk, human urine, human feces, vaginal fluid, and semen from more of a health perspective.  I did as much research as I could before my pregnant pukey self had to stop reading simply to spare my stomach any more churning.  As much as possible I included links where I found information.  I wanted to look at a historical and anthropological perspective as well but you know, I had to draw the line somewhere and get to the other things I have to do.

 

 My conclusion is that these comparisons are little more than culturally accepted beliefs rooted in gross misunderstandings of biology and ignorance of normal, healthy human infant feeding.  That and a desire to control women by telling them what they can and can not do with their bodies and shaming them into believing there is something inappropriate with using their body to feed their child.  These issues have nothing to do with whether or not a woman is covered to breastfeed, a personal choice nobody has the right to insist for another person.  It’s time we as a culture trust women with their bodies and their children and leave our ignorant prejudices out of it.

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Telling the good stories


It can be easy to get overwhelmed if you even just dip your toe into the breastfeeding debate. People can feel very strongly about anything related to breast-feeding and passionately express their opinions. Personally, I like passionate people, even people that passionately disagree with me. Living life with passion makes it exciting and hearing about others passionate opinions on any given subject gives me the opportunity to learn and grow. Even if it is to learn and grow more deeply in what I believe.


That said, the clamor of passionate voices can get to be a bit much for a new mom and her family. Even before baby comes everyone is an expert with the right way to care for the new little person. After the little one is taking up residence in the family’s home, all those experts, and then some, come out and start grading. It’s nerve wracking to say the least. When it comes to breast-feeding, it is down right intimidating and can be really scary.

Particularly when baby needs to eat and you’re out and about. Nursing in public, or NIP as it is often referred to, can spark a heated discussion just about anywhere. From the internet, where blogs, forums, facebook groups, and websites fan the flames of in-your-face debate, to mom groups, where not-so-subtle expressions burn branded looks of almost partisan level judgment from all sides. Not to mention everywhere in between: churches, restaurants, media, playgrounds, offices, and pretty much anywhere people talk. The issues? Not as cut and dry as they appear, actually. Is it about modesty? Covering up? Not covering up? Offending someone? What somebody may see? What somebody may not see? Efforts to normalize breastfeeding? A mother meeting her baby’s needs? Indecency? Who gets to define decency? Eating on the toilet? Being discreet? Being rude? And what is rude? Family friendly? And on and on and on. It is enough for a woman to never leave home if she chooses to breastfeed. Or at least, to never leave home without a bottle for the baby because should she need to feed that baby with her breast she could very well experience humiliation at the hands of everyone around her. And seriously, who needs that? Not a new mother, that’s for sure. Because the journey of motherhood doesn’t already redefine a woman to such an extent that her insecurities are sky high. Now let’s add this into the mix. Let’s tell her that breast is best, give her the support and education she needs to succeed at it and then scare the shit out of her so she never leaves the house and ends up depressed. If we know that breast really is best then our behavior towards a breast-feeding mother and her child should not shame or punish her.


If you listen to all the voices out there it would be easy to think that every time a woman puts her child to her breast in response to that child’s hunger TV cameras and nay-sayers immediately appear. Even those that greatly support public breastfeeding end up talking more about the negative experiences than the positive ones in an effort to help educate and defend the rights of moms and babies. Those experiences do need to be talked about, and loudly. We need to shine the light of investigation and outrage, holding companies and individuals accountable when a mother and her child are treated poorly for NIP. The only ones that should be shamed are those that attempt to imply that a NIP mother is some how doing something bad. Education is needed for breast-feeding including NIP. So I don’t want that to stop. But I do want something to start.

Let’s tell the positive stories too. The funny ones, the heart-warming, encouraging tales that let moms and families everywhere know that lifting your shirt to feed your baby shouldn’t be a nerve inducing experience. There are people that show support for breastfeeding women in public and do so in really wonderful and encouraging ways.


The Leak Boob wants to help tell these positive stories, to start a collection of the good times had NIP. Please share your positive NIP tales with us. We’d love to hear from anyone, moms, dads, family members, and the people supportive of breastfeeding. Share either in the comments below or e-mail us your story to post here. Let’s give moms some encouragement through personal experiences that no matter where they are, if they cover or not, there are people that won’t be freaked out by them doing the best for their baby. We got started here, thanks to our Facebook “leakies.”

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“Is Nursing Bad?”

children familyI have 5 children. Five girls. Yes, five. Yes, they are all girls. Yes we have certainly figured out what causes “that” and I have to say we’re pretty dang good at it. Obviously.

I want many things for my 5 girls when they grow up. In fact, I hope they have leaky boobs themselves one day. I know they may not, for whatever reason but it will not be because they think it is weird or gross or anything else other than normal. As their mother I’m doing everything in my power to hold breast-feeding up as normal and so far, it is working. Last summer I learned that my children didn’t even know what formula was.

“Mommy, why is she giving her baby a bottle? Are her boobies broken?” 6 years old Lolie asked loudly, much to my embarrassment.

I didn’t know the woman in question, she was a stranger feeding her baby at the park.

“Maybe it isn’t her baby and she doesn’t have milk in her boobs yet.” Earth Baby, at 10 years old, was trying to explain before I could jump in to quiet the conversation.

Breast-feeding is important enough that I didn’t want the conversation to halt but I could tell the woman and others at the playground could hear us and I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. Talking softly I encouraged them to lower their voices but immediately regretted it when Lolie asked if talking about nursing was bad. After a short pause I returned my voice to a normal speaking volume, telling the girls there was nothing wrong with talking about breast-feeding. I did explain that I didn’t want to say anything that would make the woman feeding the baby a bottle to feel bad. The conversation that followed continued at a respectful volume level, thankfully.

nursing breastfeeding baby
We discussed the possible reasons why a woman would be giving a baby a bottle instead of her breast. They were immediately sympathetic that perhaps her breasts were, in fact, broken and not able to produce enough milk. It was reasonable to them that maybe this woman was a babysitter, perhaps an aunt or friend and the mom was at work and had left a bottle of pumped milk. Or that the baby was adopted and could be drinking formula because there was nobody to give him breast-milk. This idea was very sad and after I explained what formula was they wondered for a bit as to what could have happened to the biological mother and why there was nobody to donate breast-milk. That conversation gave them a great idea, since I was no longer donating my breast-milk to one of the 3 babies I had been helping to supply they insisted I go up to the woman and offer to nurse the baby or at least give her some pumped milk. Pointing out that I was actually ok not donating any more and that I didn’t know this family or that they would be interested I begged my way out of that potentially awkward situation. But it was my suggestion that maybe that mom never wanted to nurse and was choosing to give formula that got the strongest reaction. I reminded them a few times to lower their voices but by then a distraught Storyteller couldn’t help herself and loudly argued that “every baby should get to have their mommy’s warm sweet milk if they can!” At 8 years old she was already a breast-feeding advocate. I admitted she had a point.

The conversation ended shortly after that outburst and the girls moved on to playing. I noticed a short while later that The Storyteller was assisting Squiggle Bug off the slide and walking her towards me saying, a bit too loudly, “You want to nurse? You want sweet mommy milk? Ok, I’ll take you to mommy so you can have your special boobies. You’re a lucky baby to get to nurse instead of having yucky formula.” No, not passive aggressive at all.

rainbow child
I started out to write a piece about sharing breast-feeding with older children and ended up with this. Breast-feeding, in any amount, is worth encouraging and showing children as normal. In the recent Old Country Buffet incident a breast-feeding mother was told “this is a family friendly restaurant” as though breast-feeding isn’t family friendly. I beg to differ and so would my children. It is about as family friendly as one can get and the more families see it happening the healthier we, our children and our future grandchildren will be.

A year later, I realized just this morning how normal feeding a baby from my breast is for my daughters. I was pumping and Earth Baby asked: “Are you going to nurse her a bottle?” Anything other than nursing just seems strange. I love that.

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