Ask any mother who’s tried to nurse her child in public and she’ll likely tell you a harrowing tale about receiving a catty remark or being asked to stop. Some store owners and restaurant managers have insisted that nursing mothers step into a public bathroom so patrons won’t feel uncomfortable. Who are these prudes? Would THEY be willing to eat in a public bathroom themselves? Or how about eating their next meal while being smothered in a blanket?
Back in 2005, Barbara Walters mentioned on “The View” that seeing a woman breast-feeding next to her on a plane made her uncomfortable. I’ll let that one slide because Barbara Walters will be 70 this year. But about 200 lactivists (breast-feeding activists) gathered outside ABC headquarters in New York to protest her comment by staging a nurse-in. Last December, lactivists held a nurse-in outside Facebook headquarters in California to protest the social networking site’s decision to remove photos of women nursing their children, labelling the pictures “obscene.” 95,000 Facebook users joined a group called “Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not Obscene.” The site compromised, promising not to delete any more users’ photos unless they show nipple.
You may think these Facebook moms are being hysterical, but I feel Americans’ attitudes about breast-feeding must change, and social networking sites are the perfect place for enlightened ideas to catch on. This isn’t just a debate about societal squeamishness, but about public health. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization urge women to breast-feed exclusively for six months at a minimum and continue for six more months, if possible. Why? Breast milk is a complete form of nutrition for infants. Breast-fed babies grow up with stronger immune systems and less likely to be overweight. They even score slightly higher on IQ tests than bottle fed babies.
I’m not a mother, so I’ve never had to deal with this sort of intolerance myself. But when I see a woman feeding her child in public, I avert my eyes and think to myself, “How sweet!” People who try to sexualize this issue should be ashamed of themselves. They’re the ones who can’t simply look away. What did they eat when they were babies?