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Aug 10

Breastfeeding in the USA

I was already thinking of doing a piece on breastfeeding when I learned that August 1st to 7th is apparently World Breastfeeding Week 2012. There is literally a day established to represent anything and everything, isn’t there? All kidding aside, it’s great that there is a day to bring recognition to and celebrate the gift that is breastfeeding. The fact that a woman can raise and make strong this tiny little life solely on something that her body produces is pretty powerful.

 

One of the notable points that struck me about was this year’s theme: “Celebrating 10 years of WHO/UNICEF’s Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding,” was the absence of the mother (at least in previous years the mother has been included). It’s important to remember that the mother is just as important in the breastfeeding equation as the baby. Without healthy mothers, there won’t be healthy babies. One of the best aspects of this week’s celebratory activities was the photo contest encouraging photos of women breastfeeding, learning about the benefits of breastfeeding, basically anything breastfeeding related. This contest is important because it represents another way to help reduce the hypersensitivity American society has towards the images of women breastfeeding.

 

A recent example of this is the story of one New Hampshire woman who was breastfeeding her baby at a restaurant when she was asked to cover up (it is legal by state law in New Hampshire to nurse in public), became upset at the request and decided to leave. What happened next to make this so newsworthy? Well, first, the New Hampshire woman and a few of her friends congregated outside of the infamous restaurant to protest. This, in turn, inspired The Great Nurse-In a few days later. The Great Nurse-In in DC was a 600 mother strong breastfeeding demonstration for all those mothers out there who had been harassed in public for nursing. This wasn’t the only large-scale nurse-in; there were hundreds like this around the world.

 

Now, I’ll admit, I used to think it was so taboo for a woman to whip out her breast in public and feed her baby. I am the product of a conservative

One of the photo contest winners for World Breastfeeding Week 2012

country, where nudity was (and still is to a certain extent) taboo, even when it’s not in a sexual context like breastfeeding. But, that changed a long time ago and it no longer fazed me to see a woman breastfeeding a child at the mall, in a store, or at a restaurant. It just didn’t seem wrong anymore. Yes, women can cover up their breast by throwing a towel over it, but if that’s not possible then it should be ok. And, if a woman can’t find a private place to feed the baby, then what do we expect her to do?

 

What we need in the US are more images desensitizing people to the taboo image of women breastfeeding. It’s pretty amazing that already 45 states have breastfeeding laws allowing women to breastfeed publicly or privately. Despite this fact, the US still ranks abysmally on the recent Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers Report for 2012. It’s pretty clear that the US is still greatly lacking in comprehensive breastfeeding policy which in turn affects a mother’s ability to breastfeed her child for the recommended first six months of life and can affect the baby’s health.

 

It’s a shame that only five states have encouraged developing breastfeeding education awareness campaigns. This is what we need more of: national and state-driven efforts to educate the public and parents (let’s not forget the fathers!) about the benefits of breastfeeding. We need to both reduce stigma and increase knowledge on the benefits and how-to of breastfeeding. Expand the use of healthy baby initiatives, like the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, through programs and institutions, like the WIC program and hospitals, which already focus on maternal and child health. More policies must be developed to allow women more time to breastfeed and do so wherever and whenever necessary.

 

And finally, we need more grassroots movements like the Great Nurse-In to help raise the awareness of society to the benefits of breastfeeding. Even if you’re not a mother, but you support the right to breastfeed, show your support by participating in these demonstrations. Maybe once people view it as a beneficial and necessary part of life, it will no longer be seen as something bad; rather it will be viewed as a normal part of life. In all honesty, would you rather hearing a screaming baby or see a boob?

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