Breastfeeding and Public Opinion

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Creative Commons License photo credit: moppet65535

The United States government officially approves of it. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially approves of it. The government if nearly every civilized (and some not so civilized) country on the planet approves of it. So why is the general public so slow to understand and accept the importance of breastfeeding?

Most of us can quote the mantra by heart these days. Women are told (and rightly so) from the time they learn they are carrying a child that they should breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months and should continue to breastfeed (interspersed with solid foods) for the first eighteen months to two years.

So Why Are So Many Uncomfortable with It?

Like it or not, whether there’s any real logic to it or not, women’s breasts are seen in most western societies as sexual objects. Never mind that their obvious main purpose is for feeding babies.

As long as that perception persists, some are going to be uncomfortable with breastfeeding, at least in public. And unfortunately, it’s a perception that doesn’t appear to be going away.

So What Can We Do About It?

We can’t change people’s perceptions, but we can be sensitive to them. We’re not suggesting-even for a minute- that anyone should back off breastfeeding because some people can’t get comfortable with Biology 101.

When your baby needs to eat, she needs to eat, regardless of public opinion. However, truth be told, with a little forethought, we can generally be discreet in most situations. And in the end, maybe that’s best for everyone involved. Not only does it help allay the discomfort of others, but it also helps us avoid being stared at (a situation which can be as uncomfortable for us as it is for them).

While you can’t change other people’s perceptions, here are some things you can do:

  • Prepare yourself before you go out. Simply having things on hand like a blanket to cover yourself with while breastfeeding can make the experience easier for you and others.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people. No one can spend 100% of the time surrounded by friends, family, and breastfeeding support groups, but you can make it a point to spend more time with those who support your decision to breastfeed and less time with those who don’t.
  • Recognize that some people are going to be uncomfortable when you breastfeed, regardless of any efforts you make. They’ll get over it. Don’t take it personally (it isn’t) and don’t let their problem discourage you from the healthy choices you’re making for yourself and your baby.

How do the people around you react to breastfeeding? Do they understand its importance and support you?

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