If You Never See Breastfeeding…

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If you never see breastfeeding, you’re missing awareness of a few things, or a true understanding of the whole thing — just like I was before I eventually saw it.

This way of child nurturing is so natural it can easily blend in with everything else we attend to in our domestic, professional, and social lives. But blending in is not equal to disappearing.

If you never see it, you may not know it’s how many women learn to become mothers. You may not know it’s how they continue to learn about who they are as mothers. So we must make a point to not let the image and act of breastfeeding disappear.

If you never see breastfeeding…

…you assume breastfeeding is easy and automatic. You believe there’s no learning curve, no window of trial and error, no lifetime of observation necessary for its success. Even though humans are higher-order primates, for which breastfeeding is a learned behavior instead of a reflexive one.

…you end up with a stiff back and neck when you yourself start breastfeeding. You rely only upon traditional bottle-feeding positions to nurse (sitting up straight in a chair, holding baby up) as you’re unaware of the possibility of laid-back feeding (like”Natural Breastfeeding” — laying down with baby nursing belly-to-belly).

…you assume a bottle is the normal, standard tool for infant feeding. Baby dolls come with a toy bottle attached, not a breast. In movies and television, new parents feed their babies with bottles without mention of why they deferred to the alternative choice. The bottle-feeding baby appears in close-up shots. You never see a breastfeeding close-up. That would be problematic, not normal.

…you never see a nipple shield, a breast pump, a nursing pad, an SNS, or a nursing bra. Or maybe you do but they all look kind of like medieval torture devices next to the more familiar formula-making apparatus. You’re primed to direct your money toward infant formula and liquified baby purees because cash registers spit out coupons for these things during the entirety of your child-bearing years. You’re not primed with any knowledge of the breastfeeding lifestyle because, well, you have to see it to believe it.

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If you never see breastfeeding…

…you think a breastfed baby only expresses hunger within the perimeter of his home address. If he does get hungry elsewhere, he drinks from a bottle because bottles are for public feedings.

…your understanding is that breastfeeding in public is illegal. Why else would breastfeeding mothers refuse to feed their babies in public? They probably aren’t allowed. And they aren’t allowed because…

…you know “whipping out a boob” accurately describes public breastfeeding. Who wants whiplash from any body part of a stranger, whether or not it makes nature’s perfect food? You never see breastfeeding so you can’t confirm this whippage theory, but it’s what everyone says. So you take their word for it.

…you know female breasts are made to be shown. But only in order to sell lots of things and buy plenty of sexual interest.

…you also know female areolas and nipples must NOT be shown at any time. Otherwise it’s pornographic, because female nipples are for sex. Unless they’re feeding a baby of course, but when they’re done they go right back to quietly engaging in sex acts in their neutral state.

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If you never see breastfeeding…

…you say it’s a fact, not just your opinion, that breast milk is gross. You haven’t forgotten that Friends episode “The One With The Breast Milk,” where Ross says Carol’s breast milk is gross and Rachel says with disgust that it’s “juice squeezed from a person.” You’re not even sure what it looks like, really. But definitively and objectively, gross and icky it is. You imagine maybe it smells sour and is full of diseases and probably lumps of stringy things… You are not weird. Breast milk is weird.

…you believe cow milk is better for human babies than human milk. Cows make milk for people. Cows are big and strong and so cow milk makes humans big and strong, like cows, but better because we’re humans. Human milk is good for a while but it can’t be that good because all the kids you see drink cow milk-based formula and then they switch to sipping whole cow milk with straws. And they’re all doing fine.

…you insist it’s just something “other animals” do. Modernity is upon us and let’s be honest, breastfeeding is for cave people and goats and dogs and uncivilized, nudist aboriginals and third world families who can’t afford formula and Mother Mary who nursed Jesus a long, long, long time ago.

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If you never see breastfeeding…

…you imagine children always lay quiet and still when breastfeeding. You’ve never watched a Gymnurstics performance (see below). So you’ll be very surprised when your child starts crawling, cruising, bopping, and bouncing… in your arms while nursing.

…you believe children don’t breastfeed after babyhood. All the children you see are eating only table foods with utensils, and they’re too old for bottles, which is the way you see nursing babies being fed in public, so you know they’re not breastfeeding at home. Mothers who claim they’re “extended breastfeeding” must be making it up.

…you presume “still-breastfeeding” toddlers are demanding brats. They do jumping jacks on their mothers while asking for her breasts in plain English (they’re talking now) and these mothers let them walk all over her (they’re walking now). This is what you think you know: the mother must certainly be (should be) embarrassed that she can’t “control” her big baby. You think if she wasn’t ashamed, you’d see toddlers breastfeeding in public. But you don’t see it, so this is what you think.

…you don’t consider the benefits of doing so. Because really, breastfeeding a baby under the age of one is just for the baby. Nursing mothers sacrifice their time, their bodies, their sanity — they get nothing out of it. Surely not anything as important as greatly reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, or reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol and rheumatoid arthritis and unwanted pregnancies due to delayed ovulation, plus the regular release of oxytocin (the “love hormone”)…

And then, really, breastfeeding a child over the age of one is just for the mother’s selfish emotional neediness and ego — the child gets nothing out of it except mother’s approval.

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If you never see breastfeeding, you never see freshly-nursed babies’ happy, milky smiles.

If you never see breastfeeding, you can’t know about this vital building block for humanity, this natural prevention and cure for colds and viruses working in action… this inimitable thing beyond love that’s generated between mothers and their children. You can’t know what that is like, or how to get there yourself when it’s time to breastfeed your own babies for the first time.

So we need to see mothers breastfeeding. We need to notice the children who are breastfeeding.

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