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Breastfeeding Backlash

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We covered a story this week about a young mother booted off a bus for breastfeeding. It happened in Michigan, where I used to live and work. I do remember covering other stories there about Moms trying to feed their babies being asked to leave malls and restaurants…even though Michigan law should protect them. As it happens, just last weekend, I was sharing some of these stories with a friend of mine who had never experienced any backlash against her breastfeeding and a had a hard time imagining such a thing happening. Talk about timing.

In the story we just aired, the Mom (a 32-year-old woman named Afrykayn Moon) said the female bus driver refused to budge until she stopped feeding her hungry infant. Moon, we learned, belongs to an organization for breastfeeding black mothers. Groups like these help nursing Moms support each other. Now, when I was nursing, I admit to having mixed feelings about some of these organizations. I sincerely appreciated their support when, exhausted, I felt my resolve beginning to waver. They offered words of encouragement and recommendations that helped me stick with my breastfeeding goals. But I never wanted to nurse past a year and felt some of the groups could get a little pushy with parents like me who stopped “early”.

It is crystal clear, though, that organizations (like La Leche ) are needed, because some people seem to think feeding a baby in public is akin to a parent being pornographic. There’s even an online site for Moms who feel the need to report breastfeeding discrimination. Heaven forbid anyone get a glimpse of a nipple as mothers fight with modesty to feed their hungry children. Just this spring a Georgia town tried banning nursing toddlers in public, in an effort to be “proactive” about public nudity. The ban was dropped. But the bias remains and for the life of me, I find it mystifying.

The American Academy of Pediatrics points out breastfeeding protects babies and mothers against a host of health problems including respiratory infections and diabetes. In fact, the organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, even though (according to the Department of Health and Human Services) only 13 percent of mothers manage that. A recent British study even suggested breastfed babies end up with bigger brains! There seems to be no strong argument against nursing’s health benefits. So why the prudishness? Why, in our culture, where people feel they really can “let it all hang out”, is a Mom feeding a baby something from which our eyes should be shielded? Are we that far removed from reality?

I frankly find it offensive that people react to breastfeeding in public as if it were something suggestive. I’d rather see that than push-up bras on teenagers in tiny tank tops! Believe me, a mother giving milk is not trying to (dare I say it?) titillate. Instead, she’s trying to serve a life-giving, nourishing, natural, nurturing and healthy purpose. It seems only right and natural to support it.

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