Monday, September 18, 2006

images of bottles and breasts

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in Mothering magazine calling for a breastfeeding culture. Unfortunately the article isn't available online but there is a press release that gives the gist. The article spoke of how bottefeeding imagery has normative power and how ubiquitous those images are in advertising, baby gift wrap, on tv, and more. Although I found the article enlightening, I also found it problematic because I know women who couldn't breastfeed and still feel guilty and hurt about that. And I think we have enough maternal guilt to deal with just being a mother, never mind about how we feed our babies.

Then last night I was working my way through Grey's Anatomy Season 2 and there in episode 6 was a woman, the day after giving birth, feeding her newborn with a bottle. I think this is partly a difference between US and Canada. Seems to me that in Canada, on day 1 of a baby's life, the scene would have been a woman with a lactation consultant and a nuse trying to get that baby latched on. Or a baby just happily nursing. So I'm thinking the author of that article had a point.

I am not a militant breastfeeder. I do occasionally leave a room full of people to nurse my son, although it's more just to have a quiet moment with him and to reduce distractions than for any concern about what they might think. But I decided when he was born that I would never ever nurse him in a bathroom (except at Sears because the couches are comfortable and it's not near the toilets). I also decided I wasn't going to bother with a blanket over the shoulder thing either. So I think I may be just a bit political about breastfeeding. I have nursed him sitting at tables in restaurants, and often people didn't even notice. And I continue to believe that if someone feels uncomfortable around a nursing baby, it's their problem, not the mum's and not the baby's. Just look away... it's not that big a deal.

I remember a woman I know (we'll call her P) who breastfed but who was appalled that her friend, also a breastfeeding mother, whipped her boob out to feed her baby (this woman's words, not mine) in front of P's father and father-in-law. Who are old men and old-fashioned. Maybe that woman likes to shock people as P thought, but I also pointed out that it shouldn't matter whether other people in the room might be uncomfortable. It matters if mum and baby are comfortable. P went on, "they had to leave the room," as though this is a horrible thing. Well, I say make people leave the room if they're uncomfortable. Make people recognize that something makes them uncomfortable, and they might take a moment to wonder what's so uncomfortable about it. And maybe one or two people will change their thinking.

Maybe we do need to get out there in the public with our breastfeeding babies a bit more. And maybe some of us breastfeeding mothers need to question why we want to cover our nursing babes with a blanket. Yes, breasts are sexual. But they are also tools for nourishing and nurturing our children and I think maybe all of of us could do with some conscious reminders of that context. Maybe, as breastfeeding mothers, we should make ourselves a bit uncomfortable from time to time, because discomfort can make us question our assumptions and blind spots.


penelopeto said...

I am so right there with you.

Fantastic post - ever since I read that Mothering article, I have been accutely aware of the bottle-feeding imagery out there, and what it says not just to new mothers, but to the world at large. Where are the boobs?
As a mother who pulled it out wherever, whenever, I say Latch On. those who don't like it can Eff Off. We need moms to feel encouraged, feel safe, feel confident and feel great as they feed their children.

p.s. I am also trying to catch up on GA before thursday - can't wait!

penelopeto said...

p.s. just scrolled through the rest of your blog - glad I found you. and that baby! Too too cute. I thought I was the only one that put my child in tie dye (I do it before she is old enough to object - tho, the huz kind of objects.)

bubandpie said...

I love to see women breastfeeding in public - it makes me nostalgic for that time in my own babies' lives. And I really don't care if they're "discreet" or not - I could never make that blanket-over-the-baby thing work either.

I think the U.S./Canada difference testifies to the importance of maternity leave. Sometimes it seems as if psychological pressure is the method of choice for supporting breastfeeding, but the reality is that if women don't have to go back to work after six weeks, they're so much more likely to breastfeed.

Mimi said...

I always found it soooo haaaaard to feed then-Miss-Baby under a blanket: she was really messy and it was actually more discreet to do an open air feed because then there were far fewer puddles of milk and rivers of slobber all over the place ;-)

On the power of normative images? I think this is very true. A reverse image: in my 'hood (gentrifying, educated) and in my peer group (upper middle class left-wing), everyone breastfeeds--and so, when I see scenes like the one from GA, I find it jarring. Bottles in newborns look *weird* because I never see it in real life.

(I make the same caveat as you: nothing against anyone who bottlefeeds for whatever reason they choose, just a comment on how one image or another becomes normal and the other becomes weird.)