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The Battle of the Boob

This week is World
Breastfeeding Week
  and the subject seems to be everywhere. The
morning shows, the evening news, nighttime newsmagazines, all seem to be
talking about breastfeeding.

Granted, there are a few hot items
to cover right now. Babytalk, a magazine for parents, ran a
picture on the cover of a mother nursing and had 25% of its readers,
mostly parents, complain and call the cover offensive. CNN ran an article 
about it, if you’re interested, or you can simply hit pretty much any
parenting blog – try Dot
 or Daddytypes 
to read a couple takes on it – and get a good summary. One magazine
subscriber was so offended she ran the cover through a shredder, lest
her 12-year-old son see it and be inflamed with lust.

This, of
course, is coming hard on the heels of the national ad campaign that
likened not nursing to riding a mechanical bull while pregnant, so
harmful is formula for your baby. And it’s in the midst, too, of some
pretty high-profile protests by self-styled “Lactivists” staging
nurse-ins to promote breast-feeding in public. There's a great article
profiling the whole "nursing in public" thing; click here to
read more.

And as the battle of the boob heats up, I can’t help
but feel sorry for the people caught in the cross-fire: the new mommies.
On the one hand you’ve got moms telling you it’s going to cause your
child irreparable harm if you don’t nurse, and that you should be proud
of nursing and willing to flaunt it in public; on the other, you’ve got
people with the legitimate complaint that the recent baby boom in major
metropolitan areas like New York has resulted in the takeover of, well,
everywhere by new families; it’s not enough now to have a kid-friendly
space – it has to be kid-centered. (Click here 
to read a good article on that tangent). Stroller Manifestos banning
babies from bars at 2 a.m. are being posted in local clubs (well, duh, I
say) while defiant mommies are sitting down in the middle of Victoria’s
Secret to protest the removal a couple months ago of a nursing mother
from a store. 

Meanwhile, as I said, new moms feel like they’re either bad moms for not
being able to nurse, or blatant exhibitionists for nursing in public.
The government is telling us to breastfeed, but has few laws protecting
it in public space. So in essence, “You better breastfeed, but we don’t
wanna see it. And of course, you better do it on your own time, and by
the way, insurance won’t pay for that breast pump so you can go back to
work and still breastfeed. And could you please pump in the bathroom so
it doesn’t offend anyone?”

You know me, and you know
this site. I’m all for supporting every woman as she tries to be the
best mom she can be, and know motherhood isn’t a one-size-fits-all
thing. But for the record here’s where I stand –

believe you should breastfeed. I believe that if it’s at all possible,
you should exclusively breastfeed for at least six months, which is the
AAP’s recommendation. My daughter is almost 14 months and still nurses 3
times a day, though in theory we’re working on weaning. I also believe
that if you can’t breastfeed you are not a bad mother, and your child
will not end up a serial killer because of it. I think that if you’re
not willing to try to breastfeed because it will make your boobs look
older or because you don’t want to be tied to the kid, perhaps you
should re-evaluate (if you’re not already pregnant) if motherhood is for
you right now, because motherhood’s about sacrifices. Plus, hate to
break it to you, but the damage to the boobs is done during pregnancy,
not nursing.

So try the breastfeeding thing, but don’t beat
yourself up if you can’t or if you need to stop because it makes you
really really resent your child. Believe me, there are lots more things
to make you feel like a Bad Mommy – breastfeeding’s just the tip of the
iceberg. And I have friends who have gone through hell trying to
breastfeed, been unable to, and then go through another hell all over
again every time they pull out a bottle of formula and a “Lactivist”
spots it.

As far as nursing in public goes, I fall on the private
side. If it’s anyone but me and my husband or a girlfriend, I’ll cover
up. I’m not ashamed of nursing, but if I didn’t give you a free show
before I had a baby, I’m not going to give you one now. Plus, it makes
other people uncomfortable, and since those other people are my friends,
I’m going to do what I can to make them comfortable. It doesn’t put me
out any to wear a nursing shawl, or to go sit in Maddie’s room for a few
minutes while she eats. And truth be told, it’s nice to have an excuse
to drop out of the room, put your feet up, and have some quiet time for
a few minutes!

Yes, nursing is a totally natural thing, and
nothing to be ashamed of. Yes, the breast is beautiful. Pooping is
natural, too, but I don’t see people smiling indulgently when a kid
drives by in the car and moons them. Not a perfect analogy, I know, but
. . .

I’m not saying moms should be relegated to nursing in dirty
bathrooms. I’m saying, if you need to feed your child, by all means you
should be able to. My girlfriend Bev is a pro at nursing in public with
nary a glimpse of skin to be seen, a technique I never mastered. I’ve
nursed in public while wearing Maddie in a sling 
and I’ve nursed her while wearing a nursing shawl. I found one 
I love (see previous
) and I’ve heard good things about the Lila
 if you’re interested. But the right to go naked from the
waist up in a Starbucks while your 2-year-old snacks is not in our Bill
of Rights, and we need to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone
needs to see that.

So nurse, be proud, know you’re doing a good
thing for your child. Nursing moms are not freaks, and we should be able
to feed our kids. But let’s think of the comfort of others around us, as


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