Transcription of a Facebook conversation, begun Nov. 9, 2014. The text has been edited; it has been condensed and corrected. The opinions expressed below belong to each individual writing, and do not represent the personal views of the artist.

Amy Lyn Brand: What bothers us (let’s say that “us” means Americans for now) about breastfeeding, especially in public? A lot of people I talk to support breastfeeding, but are quick to add guidelines and limits about its practice. I think a lot of us are uncomfortable with it on some level, even if we don’t think we “should” feel that way. Why? Is the discomfort about sex, modesty, the sinfulness of bodies, our Puritan history, the purpose of breasts and who controls them, our animal natures being revealed? What is it? Have you/do you ever feel uncomfortable with breastfeeding?

Amy Lyn:  I’ll go first on that last bit… Before I had kids, I considered myself to be open minded and totally pro breastfeeding. But I read an article about breastfeeding rights at one point that mentioned breastfeeding on an airplane. Suddenly, I imagined a stranger sitting next to me, touching me, revealing her breast inches from my face to feed her baby. And that made me squeamish. Theoretically, I wanted to be ok with it, and logically I supported her need and “right” to feed her baby. But I wasn’t so sure I wanted her to do it next to me on an airplane, while I was trapped in a window seat and couldn’t get away. Hmmmmm… What’s that about?

Lynn Tullis Force:  My inner negative thoughts on breast feeding is when someone is still doing it with a child 3 and older. At a camp once, I saw a child a boy age 4 or 5 inform his mom he was hungry and unbuttoned moms shirt and unlatched the nursing bra, that made me very uncomfortable…

Lucia Patrone: Personally I was only able to nurse for a short time due to no milk production, stress of having a preemie and on top of Nick being in the NICU my father was in the hospital. I hated the looks of pity, shame whatever you want to call it from people who thought you were less of a mother because you didn’t nurse. I would have loved to but nature wouldn’t let me. Not to mention, Nick had to be supplemented with preemie formula on top of the breast milk. So it was just a big mess. My personal feelings aside, if woman want to do it in public that’s fine but be discrete. It does make others uncomfortable whether that’s right or wrong is up for debate. I just don’t like the mothers who say how wonderful they are and above the rest for breastfeeding. Sorry for my total diatribe!!!

Kaitlyn Kenney: I’ll agree with Lynn on breastfeeding past a certain age. If your child can walk over, say they’re hungry, then unbutton your shirt and start munching I have a problem with that. I could give a crap about the fact that you’re exposing your breasts in public. The reason is…at that point, why are you still breastfeeding, anyway? What is the benefit to your child? It’s definitely not food, or an immunity boost. So, what is it?

Judy Bower Wetzel: My perspective is that it’s about modesty. Our society (media?) flaunts women’s breasts to a great degree. Breastfeeding a child, for me, was a much more, almost sacred, gift we, as women, are given to nurse our children, connect & bond with them in that way. I don’t see any reason to do it in any way but with modesty. I nursed our children in public but with a small blanket to cover anything that would make others uncomfortable and appreciate when others do the same.

Amy Lyn: Judy Bower Wetzel, I’m excited that you’re mentioning a “sacred” aspect to breastfeeding, because I feel that way too, even though I don’t adhere to traditional religious beliefs. I’d be very interested to talk more about that in an interview by phone or in person or you’d be up for it. You’re the first person I’ve met (outside of reading that I’ve done) who has mentioned that idea.

Amy Lyn: Lucia Patrone,  I have empathy for what you’re saying about judgement from others regarding *not* breastfeeding, in your case for medical reasons which caused you sadness. While I started this project with the idea of breastfeeding advocacy, I quickly decided to switch its thrust once I realized that, perhaps due to misplaced advocacy, many women were being persecuted for *not* breastfeeding. I feel strongly about what breastfeeding meant to me, but the more I learn the more I have respect for others’ choices, motivated by a variety of reasons. I want to learn more about why women and families make those choices, especially when they are different from my own. And I want to learn more about *why* people feel differently than I do about breastfeeding – that it’s an excruciating experience (emotionally and/or physically), or that it needs to be hidden in some form.

Amy Lyn: Judy Bower Wetzel, so you’re saying that being modest about breastfeeding is a sign of respect for the act of breastfeeding and for women’s bodies, in a way that has some relation to sacredness. That is a new thought for me. It reminds me of what I understand about Muslim women who *choose* to wear the hijab head scarf. It completely reverses my own assumptions about covering being related to feelings of shame and sinfulness regarding bodies (women’s bodies in particular), and the idea that the merest suggestion of sex is dirty and something to fear. This is a big aha moment for me! THANKS!

Amy Lyn: So breastfeeding older children, that is a definite hot button topic for Americans, even though I’ve heard repeatedly that it is fairly common in other cultures.Why does it offend us so much? Kaitlyn Kinney, you’re getting close to something when you ask those questions, “The reason is…at that point, why are you still breastfeeding, anyway? What is the benefit to your child? It’s definitely not food, or an immunity boost. So, what is it?” Those are important questions, and they are suggesting some reason I had not considered before…

Colleen Wampole: Does any of this relate to the tendency to consider women’s bodily workings as grosser than men’s fit in here? I’ve been thinking about how menstruation is pathologized and therefore anything related to it becomes impolite to talk about. (aka I am changing my normal behaviors in such-and-such way because I am in pain, but heaven forbid I be honest about it.) I also just read that recent Jezebel about Comedy Central no longer bleeping out the word pussy. In the comments, people got to rating words for women’s genitalia on the basis of how disgusting they are (and with the occasional contention that words and euphemisms for men’s are less shocking across the board). I know this is all a deviation from your real topic, but I wondered if the taboos linked.

Shara Donohue: As someone who encountered a lot of public nudity in my youth, I am mystified by the taboo. I mean, I guess I can see the at-the-restaurant-table discomfort for other folks because that falls under “no bodily fluids at the dinner table” and presumably there’s a possibility of slurpy noises, so I can understand the squick factor there. but I don’t think that it would bug me personally… Apart from that, I dunno.

Lissa Wohltmann: Women are geared from birth to feel bad about our bodies; this translates to others thinking that women’s bodies are used (can I bold that please) for sex and that’s about it. Our gender is considered the weaker and least necessary one (weird, I know). We don’t get paid equally, when you say you run like a girl that is considered a put down. Hence, we are “not as good” as our brethren and should cover up as much skin as possible. How do you account for ALL the verbal “slips” that spewed out of the mouths of certain politicians about women’s sexuality? One guy said that with rape, we should just sit back and enjoy it while others talk about “legitimate” rape. I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift.

Kaitlyn Kenney:  I am interested in what the benefit may be when considering breastfeeding older children, as nobody has ever been able to give an answer other than “I just love it sooooooo much. There’s a bond that happens that isn’t replaced by anything else. It’s so special…” So, essentially the message is that there’s a special bond formed between a woman and her breastfeeding 5-year-old that women who don’t breastfeed don’t have? Please enlighten when you come across information on this topic. I’m not attached to my opinion about this if there’s information out there that will inspire me to change it.

Amy Lyn: I don’t know, Kaitlyn Kenney, but I’ll let you know if I discover anything. What I was interested in regarding your comment and questions was that they were geared toward the health benefit to the child, rather than “benefits” to the mother. I think we’re very uncomfortable with the idea that the mother may get something, non-health related out of breastfeeding at that age. The way you phrased it made me realize that we’re actually uncomfortable with *any* focus on a mother’s needs or desires period. Breastfeeding at an older age suggests a motivation that is not purely about the “baby”, and that may be a source of unease. And then there’s sexuality, which I see as a big source of our discomfort with breastfeeding. Not that I’m suggesting it is sexual, but the fact that in most contexts we see breasts as sexual objects in our culture makes us uncomfortable with breastfeeding and/or public breastfeeding. So put our anxieties about sexuality ad bf in general together with bfing an older child, combined with the revelation that the mother might be getting something out of it… and WHOA! That’s an uncomfortable idea. (Again, I don’t think there is anything sexual there. But perhaps that is the unconscious anxiety that motivates our severe discomfort with this topic.)

Kaitlyn Kenney: My interest about the topic of breastfeeding older children would be the physiological/psychological implications for both the child and mother. What are the benefits either of them are getting from prolonged breastfeeding? Are there negative implications? Why is there an age that doctors support as the “recommended” time that a mother and child breastfeed? (But perhaps that isn’t relevant to your artistic endeavors! LOL)

Maggie Buckwalter: Ok I’ll never understand the bodily fluids at a table thing, since saliva is on all dinners glasses and cutlery, and that has many more potentially harmful germs in it

Maggie Buckwalter: WHO – “Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. Review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.” – Amer Acad of Ped: “The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.” Amer Acad of Breastfeeding Medicine – supports WHO Code. Amer Acad of Family Physicians: “Breastfeeding is the physiological norm for both mothers and their children. Breastmilk offers medical and psychological benefits not available from human milk substitutes. The AAFP recommends that all babies, with rare exceptions, be breastfed and/or receive expressed human milk exclusively for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding should continue with the addition of complementary foods throughout the second half of the first year. Breastfeeding beyond the first year offers considerable benefits to both mother and child, and should continue as long as mutually desired. Family physicians should have the knowledge to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding. (1989) (2012 COD)”

Holly Giampolo: With nursing an older child, the mother is “still” breastfeeding for the exact same reasons she was breastfeeding in the previous month, or year! An apple doesn’t lose it’s nutritional value for a person as we age, why does breastmilk have to? There are still nutritional benefits and our bodies are programmed to provide this. Maybe the lack of necessity for nursing in our culture (we live in a world of abundance in comparison to many others) plays a big role in the cut off we’ve made up. Obviously there is a comfort in nursing for the child, many nursing mom’s talk about how they can instantly calm their hurt child with a quick nursing session. That comfort sometimes seems belittled because we’ve been so confused into thinking that a women’s only value is in her appeal to a man. Therefore her breasts are meant for sex.The idea that they can serve several, separate functions seems to shock people. We have mouths and hands too, those may also serve a sexual purpose, but we seem to respect that we can use them separately, for doing things completely unrelated, like eating, and there is no sexual underlying relation. Maybe because men can do this too? It’s rare that a man walking around with his nipples exposed (for no reason other than his comfort) bothers anyone, but a women’s out for feeding a child is somehow offensive because of some extra fatty tissue? I find that a little baffling! 

A little unrelated, but I think that, in the US especially, there is a lot of pressure to succeed and the parents get focused on these fast track milestones (sleeping through the night, getting rid of a binky, potty training, walking, counting, etc.) that somehow implicate success. Of course we throw in deadlines with feeding too, when to stop a bottle, when to switch from formula to milk, when to stop nursing, when to introduce solids, etc. and not being the “norm” can make some people uncomfortable. This is just something I’ve noticed when traveling or interacting with parents from other cultures. Apologies for any big grammer mistakes and run ons. I just saw the discussion and wanted to jump in! I’ve got two small people reminding me that I agreed to head to the park if they gave me a 10 minute Facebook break! I’m off!

Denise Philipbar:  I just learned about something called cultural anchors and the organization of differences. I think we are working with such a cultural anchor with the sexualization of women’s breasts and the taboo of female sexualization.

Kaitlyn Kenney: But “still breastfeeding an older child for the exact same reasons she was previously” just isn’t the case. If the child is consuming their nutrition outside of the breastmilk they’re receiving, then the breastmilk isn’t adding nutritional value to their diet anymore, which is why all of the world’s organizations have guidelines in place for it. It’s just excess at that point, which is eliminated from the body. So, what is the benefit, except psychological? And what are the psychological benefits? Are they the mother’s, child’s, or both? Most of us are familiar with the recommendations/benefits up to the age of 2, but beyond that where are those recommendations besides “should continue as long as mutually desired”, which is a gentle way of saying that they can’t document benefits to the mother and child beyond those age recommendations, but go ahead and continue if you want to because we don’t want to start a war with the prolonged breastfeeding moms of the world, or make anyone miserable because it just doesn’t matter at that point.

Holly Giampolo: But it does have nutrition still, it doesn’t magically turn to water because a child hits two. Would it be less confusing if the child was drinking breastmilk from a cup at 3 or 4, or so? Most children drink some form of milk, or at least water.

Kaitlyn Kenney: It doesn’t matter if the child is drinking it from a cup or breast, just like it doesn’t matter if the child is drinking from a bottle or breast at a younger age. If the child is receiving the nutrition from other resources, then there’s no reason to be getting it from breastmilk.

Holly Giampolo: That just doesn’t make sense to me. It sounds like “just because I eat broccoli I will stop having spinach, even though spinach rocks”.  Prematurely forcing the non consumption of something that is biologically programmed to be available during such a short, but huge growth time, just because there are replacement options available, doesn’t make sense. Why would we completely cut out a form of great nutrition just because other, quite arguably lesser, forms are available? From 12-24 months we are okay with the variety of a balanced diet (to include the nutrient rich breastmilk), but then all of the sudden at two everything changes. I don’t think so. I’m especially curious of this when a replacement is involved such as cow’s milk. If biology makes it so breastmilk is available, why should we choose milk from another mammal? I definitely don’t agree that the “up to two years or beyond” and “as long as mutually desired” was put out to prevent starting a war with advocates at all. It’s wild how different a view we woman can have over this, but I appreciate the discussion.

Kaitlyn Kenney: I appreciate the discussion, as well, though I’m not one to follow anecdotal evidence over scientific evidence. There is no scientific evidence (I’m aware of) that shows prolonged breastfeeding, assuming the child is eating a well-balanced, healthy diet of course, produces healthier children. 

I feel like this has ridden somewhat off Amy’s topic at this point, though it does show how strongly people feel about it in one direction or the other. Personally, I don’t have a problem with prolonged breastfeeding if that’s one’s choice, assuming it isn’t causing any psychological problems for the participants. I just have yet to see evidence of a need for it in healthy children, and if there’s no need I see no reason for it.

Why do we, as Americans, put limitations on breastfeeding? | 2015 | Uncategorized | Comments (1)

One Response to “Why do we, as Americans, put limitations on breastfeeding?”

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