Anyway, I got to thinking about it again today because I ran across this article talking about the Surgeon General encouraging support for breastfeeding. The article offered some extremely interesting facts, like although 75% of American babies start out being breastfed, only 13% remain exclusively breastfed at the end of 6 months. 13%. That's an astoundingly low number. Now, I fully understand that some women run into medical or supply issues that prevent them from breastfeeding. But there's NO way that that accounts for such a drastic drop. There are definitely other issues influencing the widespread success of breastfeeding, which the article touches on, but I had my own thoughts on this too. The sociology major in me is fascinated by this topic and I could probably go on for days about it, but this blog is probably not the best place to do so. The marketing major in me is also itching to offer an opinion on the role of formula advertising and marketing in this drastic drop too.
Going back to my experience, I recognized the fact that I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious about it but I didn't really dedicate the mental energy to understand why. As Anna's gotten older and I've had time to reflect on it, I came to the conclusion that the reason I was struggling with it was the simple fact that I had NEVER been around anybody breastfeeding, I rarely saw it on TV or in movies, and the only references in the news were "lactivists" staging nurse-ins or people kicking nursing mothers out of restaurants. At least in my experience, breastfeeding was just something that wasn't "normalized". And I really don't think I'm alone in this...I get curious stares ALL the time out in public - not anyone being mean about it, you can just tell that a lot of people aren't used to seeing nursing mothers (for the record, it's amazing what a simple smile can do when someone realizes you've caught them staring at you. They usually just smile sheepishly and go back to whatever they were doing).
Once I came to that conclusion, I began to really appreciate seeing breastfeeding incorporated as part of everyday life, whether in real life with moms nursing matter-of-factly on the couch at play group while carrying on their conversation, or in pop culture in the movies, or on my guilty-pleasure celebrity gossip sites. Not references making a big deal about it, not people going out of their way to dramatize it...just realistic depictions. I admire women who are comfortable nursing in public, with or without a cover. I loved the scene in Four Christmases where Kristin Chenoweth's character is nursing in the family game circle. I admire how open and candid Bethenney Frankel is on her show about it, and even willingly nursing and pumping on camera. I even loved whoever that girl was on America's Next Top Model who continued openly pumping on the show in order to keep her supply up for when she got home to her daughter. I loved that they showed Pam struggling with breastfeeding on The Office. I also applaud celebrity images like this being released to the public without scandal or shock:
I can only imagine how much more comfortable I would have been with the practice of breastfeeding if I had started paying attention to these positive images. And believe me, it's not like I'm some crazy person pushing breastfeeding on everybody...I understand that it's not for everybody, and I'm also glad that we have safe, alternative ways to feed infants who aren't able to nurse for whatever reason. It's just become my belief that the more we can normalize breastfeeding in our culture, and especially the more we can stop thinking about it as something dirty, inappropriate or sexual, the better off our babies will be!!