The Politics of Breastfeeding

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hmirio05's picture
Joined: 09/08/2008
The Politics of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding has been known to provide both the infant and the mother with amazing benefits.  A child retains immunities to certain illnesses for longer after birth, gains weight at an appropriate speed, and some studies have even shown that the IQ of breastfed individuals is higher than that of formula-reared babies.  For the mother, among many other benefits, breastfeeding burns calories (helping to shed post-partum pounds), saves money, and further develops the bond between mothers and their infants.  Also, according to an article outlining the benefits of breastfeeding on, breastfeeding can have societal benefits as well, as it cuts down on health care costs and the lack of product waste is good for the environment.

Why, then, does this clearly advantageous behavior (and biologically ‘natural’ [as a gender minor I have a hard time deeming anything natural]) modernly evoke feelings of nausea and disgust from the general population?  Why has public breastfeeding drawn so much attention, especially in the United States, and been socially restricted to the private

A 2006 article on describes the public’s discontent towards a magazine cover that depicted a child suckling on a breast.  According to the article one woman was concerned about her adolescent son seeing the cover:

"I shredded it," said Gayle Ash, of Belton, Texas, in a telephone interview. "A breast is a breast — it's a sexual thing. He didn't need to see that."

Another woman, a self-proclaimed ‘lactavist’ (she advocates a woman’s right to breastfeed in public), even displays her apprehension on seeing a woman’s breast in public:

"I'm totally supportive of it — I just don't like the flashing," she says. "I don't want my son or husband to accidentally see a breast they didn't want to see."

From what I have gathered from the other responses in this article, and others on the same issues, the disgust and general distain for this practice in public can be attributed to three categories of reasons:

1.    Seeing a female’s breast in public is inappropriate, because breasts are inherently sexual body parts and should be hidden away until times of sexual intimacy.

2.    Breast milk is a bodily secretion, and much like urine or menstrual blood, it evokes feelings of nausea (both in other women and men).

3.    Breastfeeding is a primitive practice, as it is reminiscent of other ‘less evolved’ members of the animal kingdom.

 Am I the only one who finds these reasons to be problematic?  Through the power of social norms, have we driven women even deeper into the private sphere and added to the ideology of the female body as pathological?