In this country, we want our breasts to be large, full, and barely covered by skin-tight Hooters' t-shirts. What we DON'T want, apparently, is to see pictures of babies doing what babies have done since the dawning of mankind: nursing at the nipple of their mother. The outrage over a cover shot on BabyTalk magazine for an article on breastfeeding is hysterically ironic.
For the affront, the magazine received anguished comments such as:
"I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine."
"I immediately turned the magazine face down."
And, of course, the obvious, "Gross."
A society obsessed with erectile dysfunction, desperate housewives, coin slots, and camel toes can't seem to handle the basic function of the human milk delivery system. While no one is advocating breasts flopping in the breeze and milk squirting willy-nilly a la A Clockwork Orange's Korova Milkbar, this whole shock and awe over nursing infants is beyond ridiculous. What's most appalling about this overreaction is that those who are expressing the most outrage are primarily women and mothers themselves.
Excuse me while I roll my eyes completely in the back of my skull and dislodge them from their retinal nerve endings.
Only in the United States is it considered a "sexual" thing to see a breast performing as it was designed to perform. Babies don't consider it sexual, and any mentally stable lactating mother certainly doesn't find it sexual. Who finds it sexual? The prudish, sexually repressed mentally ill, that's who. There are even mothers who breastfeed who find public nursing "uncomfortable." This really is, perhaps, the most disturbing notion of all. If anyone should understand the fundamental nature of breastfeeding and its health function, it should be those who actually engage in it.
As with many bad things in our society, I blame the religious fundamentalists. And Mel Gibson.
Sadly, the downside of this self-inflicted concern over modesty merely makes women who might otherwise want to do the healthiest thing in the world for their newborn that much more reluctant to do so. Just as the American Academy of Pediatrics is in the process of pro-actively promoting breastfeeding as the healthiest choice for infants under one year (though many experts suggest the benefits continue well past the first year), we are still saddled with the subconscious baggage of our forefathers.
The statistics of breastfeeding are overwhelmingly in its favor, as for example, these from the FDA website on breastfeeding:
"Human milk contains just the right amount of fatty acids, lactose, water, and amino acids for human digestion, brain development, and growth.
"Breast-fed babies have fewer illnesses because human milk transfers to the infant a mother's antibodies to disease.
"Breast-fed babies are protected, in varying degrees, from a number of illnesses, including pneumonia, botulism, bronchitis, staphylococcal infections, influenza, ear infections, and German measles.
"Mothers produce antibodies to whatever disease is present in their environment, making their milk custom-designed to fight the diseases their babies are exposed to as well. "
Breastfeeding can also likely help prevent obesity, certain cancers, and facilitate mother/child bonding.
Interestingly, and perhaps perversely, these days, the educated and relatively well-off breastfeed at a much higher rate than those who are not. College-educated mothers breastfed at a rate of 52%, compared to 28% for those with high school degrees. Only 30% of women below the poverty line breastfeed, compared to 46% above the poverty line – and this despite the fact that infant formula is costly ($1200 to $2300 per year).
Breastfeeding, of course, is FREE.
How does the U.S. 70% breastfeeding-at-birth rate stack up against its developed peers? Scandinavia, maybe the happiest and healthiest people in the world, hover at 98% collectively as newborn breast feeders; the UK goes 69%, Germany 86%, Italy 85%, Australia 87%, and trailing the list is France at 50%. Those statistics speak volumes: the French are half-assed.
Celebrities and their babies have tried to make breastfeeding chic – one would think it would rub off on the regular folk. I mean, all the cool kids are doing it.
Only Britney Spears seems too dumb to figure out how to do the right thing for her children. Need more be said?