We all want to respect each other's parenting decisions, but what happens when your parenting decisions start affecting mine? I've heard many parents express concern about allowing their children to see someone else breastfeed. They believe that a nursing mother should be sure to cover up and be discreet when other people's kids are around. They call nursing without cover "perverted."
That makes me sad—not for myself or my child as much as for the children who do not get to experience breastfeeding as a natural part of human behavior. Now before you go comparing breastfeeding out in the open to public urination, consider that the other natural bodily functions that we prefer people do in private generally stink and, besides being unpleasant, can be toxic. Some bodily fluids can harm us if they come in contact with our water supply or our food. Urination is a natural body function and nothing to be ashamed of, but there are good reasons that, as a society, we've chosen to keep some natural bodily functions private.
In fact, witnessing breastfeeding gives young children the chance to see the human breast as something more than a sexual object
Breastfeeding, on the other hand, hurts no one. Human milk is healthy and boasts many benefits for all involved. In fact, witnessing breastfeeding gives young children the chance to see the human breast as something more than a sexual object. They get to see the breast as something that gives life and health to another human being. I live in the Midwest, and there is a dairy farm just outside of town. Parents and schools regularly shuttle elementary kids out to the farm to learn first-hand how that gallon of milk winds up in the fridge. I hear no uproar over that. Why? Because we haven't sexualized the bovine teat. Imagine the difference it would make, psychologically, if instead of viewing breasts as something to cover, children first encountered the human breast as something comforting. Something healthy. Something like a favorite blankie or a tousle of the hair or a mother's lullaby.
It's a good and beautiful thing that we should not hide from children. So even if you choose to "shelter" your children from seeing breasts as a beautiful part of our coexistence together, I will not hide my nursing from your children. I respect you, and I respect your choices as a parent. And if you want to cover up your kid's eyes and run away anytime I need to nurse my baby, so be it. But I hope that one day, if my daughter decides to have her own children, my generation will have done our part to normalize breastfeeding so that she doesn't have to deal with the shaming that nursing moms face all too often today.
I hope that, just like her choice to work or stay at home, her choice to marry or not, her choice to breastfeed unashamed uncovered or not will be natural and without pressure. And so I hope your kids see me breastfeeding. I hope they grow up under the impression that nursing a child is nothing to hide, despite your efforts to teach them otherwise. I hope they can see that the breast is not primarily sexual, but the medium through which a mother gives of herself to sustain a child. To know the breast as anything less? That's perverted.