Breastfeeding can be an affordable way to feed your baby, and it can help with bonding. It should always be legally protected and socially accepted as one healthy choice. Most parents who breastfeed their children are women and mothers, so language throughout will reflect that. I will however mention here that trans fathers and nonbinary parents also breastfeed, and some parents who don’t produce milk comfort nurse.
In a world that uses mammaries to advertise every conceivable product, where breast cancer campaigns like “Save the Tatas” prioritize breasts over the women who bear them, it can be aggravating in the extreme to be told to cover up or to have your breastfeeding photo censored on social media. Here you are, sharing a sweet picture of your baby, and Facebook is calling you obscene.
Censorship and harassment while trying to nurse create an impulse to push back. The push back is sometimes anti-woman slut-shaming, “Don’t tell me to cover up; tell her!” More often it’s an appeal to nature, “Feeding babies are what breasts are for! I’m using my breasts as nature intended!”
I have problems with both defenses, while sympathizing with their origins. The sexualization of female breasts for adult male gaze absolutely plays a part in society seeing breastfeeding as obscene and sexual, without a doubt. The question is, how do we combat this? Do we police the clothes of other women? Do we demand changes in advertising standards? Do we hold men accountable for declaring our shirtless bodies as titillating and perverse while declaring theirs inoffensive and normal?
The appeal to nature was much more tempting to me, as a slut-turned-mother who was trying to breastfeed. I truly did feel that, at last, my breasts finally found their purpose. They weren’t just in the way every time I put on a seat belt, or preventing me from running with their tenderness. I could feed my baby with them!
Except I couldn’t, not entirely. I had to supplement with formula to adequately satiate my child. My as-nature-intended breasts could not do the job on their own. I started to question myself. Was I real woman? Was I unnatural? Why couldn’t my breasts do what they were intended for without serious help from Similac?
I now think breasts are “for” whatever their owner wants. That could mean breastfeeding or posing topless for money or having them filled with silicone. We live in our bodies; they are our homes to furnish and decorate as we see fit. We give our bodies purpose, not the other way around.
Breastfeeding and bottle feeding should both be protected for the sake of babies. We should also enact and protect women’s right to be topless publicly, whether a baby is nearby or not. If men’s nipples haven’t destroyed society or our children, women’s nipples should be safe enough to carry without a special permit or cover-up. There are more states that would let me open carry a high powered rifle than openly expose my breasts. Our concern “for the children” is misplaced.
Breastfeeding is awesome if you can do it and don’t hate it (some do and that doesn’t make them unnatural). Bottle feeding is awesome if you can afford it and don’t hate it. Feeding hungry babies is a good thing. Support for nursing mothers should never come at the cost of support to other moms and their babies. Support for public breastfeeding should not shame other women for their breasts, covered or uncovered, full of milk or dry.