My good friend Kira commented to me a while back about how she wasn’t a fan of public breastfeeding and I was so struck by her perspective that I asked her to write a brief essay for my blog explaining her thinking. Here it is:
Some years ago, I attended a college reunion and hooked up with some friends for an afternoon of board games. A couple of my friends brought their infant daughter. In the midst of a game of Pandemic, the mother suddenly picked up her baby, opened her shirt and unbuttoned her bra to nurse. Sitting right across from her as I was, I got an unobstructed – and very much unwanted – view. I looked away abruptly, so I didn’t catch the reaction of the others at the gaming table, but later, several of them admitted feeling uncomfortable. We just didn’t know what to say without offending our friend.
In the years since, breastfeeding in public has become an increasingly controversial topic, and I’ve heard many arguments for and against (and participated in several). And in each debate, there seems to be a missing element: the issue of intimacy.
For many of us who object to public breast feeding, the issue is not breasts exposed in public. Walk into any mall or spend five minutes on the Internet and you’ll get your fill of boobs. In fact, most women breast feeding are more discrete than your average Victoria’s Secret ad.
What I and many others don’t want to see is the ACTION of breast feeding. It’s an intimate act. NOT sexual, intimate – a very deep form of connection between two human beings. As an artist, I have seen many, many nude women, and even posed nude myself for figure drawing sessions. If I see a boob in public, it’s not going to shake the foundations of my world. But when my friend exposed herself to feed her baby, I felt suddenly as if I’d intruded on something private, and I couldn’t unsee it. I respect her for giving her baby the best nourishment and a healthy start in life, but had I been in her shoes, I would have excused myself for a few minutes.
In many of the breast feeding in public debates, proponents argue that it’s just eating, and babies need to eat a lot. Well, at that gaming table, nearly all of us were munching on something, but we weren’t sucking our chips or soda out of another human being’s body. Face it, breast feeding is not the same as grabbing a cheeseburger when your stomach is growling. It has another level of connection – a natural, special connection – and it deserves a bit of discretion.
Now before you leap in to the debate, can I ask that you spend a few minutes thinking about what she’s shared here? I have to say that I’m a strong supporter of breast feeding for at least the first year after birth, but concur that I don’t really want to see women’s breasts as they nurse a baby in a restaurant, at a mall, a coffee shop, etc. A quick flip of a baby blanket over the shoulder and it’s all much more discrete. So why the big deal?
But that’s just Kira’s perspective and my own additional two cents. What’s your take?