Bringing Up Baby: Ew, Breastfeeding is Gross! Or Is It Sexy? Sexy-Gross?

a woman breastfeedingDuring the past year, opinion within the scientific community that breastfeeding is healthy for mom and baby has reached what I would consider an absolute and enthusiastic consensus. Armed with proliferating studies about the myriad health benefits, in January 2011 Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin released “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding,” a comprehensive report on the institutional barriers to breastfeeding. Around the same time, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign took up the cause and brought breastfeeding to the headlines. Officially, the federal government recommends that moms breastfeed for at least one year, including exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.

This is great! Two problems though. One, the same federal government that “recommends” breastfeeding for one year has failed to mandate paid maternal leave for even one day. It’s impossible for some women to follow these recommendations (unless they want to lose their jobs). Yet the media failed to grasp this nuance, and heaps of articles and blog posts told moms to breastfeed for one year without also mentioning that moms might not have the freedom to do so. And thus women were again assaulted with friendly reminders that the nation’s health is in their hands (or breasts, as it were), while the finger-waggers in the media don’t seem the least bit concerned about family-friendly workplace policies. (Not to mention lack of access to breastfeeding education, lack of access to healthcare that enables breastfeeding, and so on.)

These highfaluting accolades for breastfeeding also stand in awkward contrast to portrayals of breastfeeding in TV and the movies. Bitch has previously covered our media’s (read: men in our media’s) sophomoric attitude toward breastfeeding, and in honor of Halloween, I offer you some more ghoulish portrayals.

In this scene from HBO’s Game of Thrones, Lysa Arryn breastfeeds her sickly six-year-old son before a group of dismayed and horrified onlookers. (Notes: According to YouTube commentators, the boy was aged six in the book, yet the actor looks much older. Also, in the book this scene was a private conversation between two sisters. This is not the first time the TV series Game of Thrones toyed with the book’s material in ways that make me squeamish as a woman. For example, they turned a love scene into a rape scene that was meant to be a “tender” rape scene. More on that later.)

Here’s another gross-out scene of mom breastfeeding a post-toddler in the unfortunate flick Grown Ups. How much are you willing to wager this scene was not written by a woman?

And in The Hangover, Heather Graham plays a stripper who casually breastfeeds her infant. There’s nothing gross about the scene itself, but in this video, Graham inexplicably calls the scene “raunchy” and “weird.” I don’t think it was raunchy, but it does sexualize breastfeeding, what with Graham playing a stripper and the three men gaping at her. YouTube wouldn’t let me embed this video, but here’s the link.

These and many other scenes treat breastfeeding as either: 1) sexual, 2) gross, or 3) simultaneously sexual and gross. I applaud any portrayal that lies outside this framework, such as a recent scene from The Office. Celebrity moms, I think, have done a lot lately to normalize breastfeeding.

Hopefully more positive portrayals will move us in the direction of policies that make breastfeeding possible for all women who want to breastfeed. Our current laws are pathetic: federal law requires that “nonexempt employees” be allowed “reasonable break time” and a “non-bathroom place” for women to “express breast milk.” (Express means pump. I think we need a better word for this.) There’s now a bill under consideration, The Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2011, that would ensure job protection for breastfeeding (errr, pumping) women and extend rights to “exempt employees,” who turn out to be just about everyone. Click here to support this bill.

Hey, here’s an outrageous thought: Why can’t women bring their infants with them to work and breastfeed them there? Whoah, I know, that’s a scary thought. Happy Halloween!

by Katherine Don
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13 Comments Have Been Posted

Completely agree with this

Completely agree with this article. Supporting the bill now!

Well said!

As annoyed as I get with my workplace, they are one of the few places I know of that are truly accommodating of breastfeeding--they have a designated room and two back-up spaces, subsidize the cost of a pump, pay for 6 months of online and phone support from a lactation consultant, and I did not get any flack from my managers and got kudos from my HR rep when I pumped for the full year. Even at that, I'm one of the only women in the office who made it that long. If we are supposed to nurse for a year, we need to be able to stay home at FULL PAY for a year.

It's interesting to read this

It's interesting to read this article on my iPhone as I sit nursing my 9 day old daughter. I've gotten a lot of support for my choice to breast feed (really the only choice in my mind) but people also seem to be waiting for me to fail. My husband keeps giving me knowing looks everytime I wince in pain when she latches on and he's fascinated/repelled by my extremely engorged breasts. I hadn't realized what it would be like to carry societal expectations and opinions around on my body...

Why is everything so complicated....sigh

"to carry societal expectations and opinions around on my body..."
Yep. On it, in it, above below and all around, ain't it grand.

And now we are finally getting positive messages about breastfeeding from the print media and health care but the culture at large hasn't gotten the memo. I see it all the time in husbands/partners, mothers in-law, sisters, neighbors whoever- they expect you to fail. For many women of older generations I think there is guilt that they didn't get to breastfeed their children- they weren't encouraged to or were shamed out of it and now it's too late. The same goes for many younger women who stopped at 3 weeks or 6 weeks for lack of support, having to work or whatever, there is a voice inside that says "if I couldn't do it you won't be able to either." Parents can be the pettiest of creatures at times.

And we have quite enough thank you of talking heads saying how great breastfeeding is (it is) but not nearly enough actual experienced, successful breastfeeding mothers to pass on knowledge and experience in a normal context.. We have to build that up, pure percentages. Most of us having children now grew up with "bottles and formula" as the norm. How do you go to your mom or sister for advice when she never breastfed? So we have to kind of start from scratch and seek out the sages.

And if I may just reveal

And if I may just reveal myself as a total dork- the Game of Thrones book series, (NOT the show) had many positive references to breastfeeding throughout all the books. As a breastfeeding educator I noticed at least 2 or 3 in each book (things like children "must" nurse until 2 "atleast", characters who are "milk brothers", when a mother dies they give the baby goats milk, saying "cows milk is bad for babies" etc.). As I read it I wondered if the author has a partner or friend who is a midwife or IBCLC or something. And yes, Robin Arryn is only 6 in the book, they added 3 years to everyone under 20 in the adaptation. They did make his breastfeeding part of his character's sickly-spoiled-obnoxious-bizarreness in the show. They also used it to make Lysa Arryn look crazy when there were plenty of other things about her character that ACTUALLY made her crazy. Again, some locker-room dude has his hands all over the translation from page to screen.

KikiKierkegaard : so not

KikiKierkegaard : so not true. no guilt here whatsoever. What gets under my skin is the boob nazis telling me what to do with my body. It's my body and I will do so as I please.

No allow me to post a question and I hope someone will answer y question, we all know "you are what you eat" correct?
So if you use deodorant, toothpaste, hair dye/gel/spray, nail polish/remover, makeup/remover/creams/tanner/sunblock, eat at restaurants, drink soda, eat food, drink city water, if you do any of these things and they are not 100% organic you are feeding your baby ALL of those chemicals. Look up what is in those products that gets in your body/milk. So how can we condemn formula so much when these/or more chemicals are inside our bodies/milk?

As nice as it would be to

As nice as it would be to have 1 year paid maternity leave, I don't think this is a practical goal. Bottom line most companies (especially small companies) cannot afford to pay two people to do one job for a year. And what if the mother on maternity leave has another child within 1 year of the first? Or even 18 months? It doesn't make sense fiscally. I think 6 weeks to 3 months of full pay is reasonable, depending on the profession and the size of the business.
On the other hand, companies should accommodate mothers when they return to work. The ideal would be to allow the mother to bring her child to work with her when she returns. Onsite childcare would be excellent when a mother's job doesn't allow the distraction of a child.
When a mother can't directly feed her child upon returning to work, employers should work with the mother to make pumping easy, comfortable, and a realistic goal. The kind of support you have described that your employer provides is great and I wish that all employers would provide this.

Not quite.

Not practical? Then I guess almost 2 dozen countries in other parts of the world are being totally impractical!

I counted TWENTY countries that provide at LEAST a year of paid leave (well, I fib, I counted Canada & they *only* do 50 weeks - but I figured it evened out since some places did 2 years, or several months past a year). The pay rate varied...but for at least a full year...Mothers (and sometimes fathers...and in one case I saw the benefit can be transferred to a grandparent!) get some kind of pay for a year.

Come on...We can't manage what places like Nepal, Azerbaijan, Russia, Lithuania, & Albania manage to do?? REALLY?

THE ONLY SINGLE COUNTRY THAT DID NOT ROUTINELY PROVIDE PAID LEAVE FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME is the United States of America. The US was the only country with a "0" next to their name. Some individual *states* & even companies allow for paid leave...but that's it. If you're not lucky enough to give birth in that state or while working for that company, you get nuttin'.

Even Cuba has more paid leave than the US. Which is zero. ANYTHING is more than zero, right? It seemed like a pretty long list on wiki.

what is with gross

Any behavior that god forbid reminds people that they are animals freaks them out. We are one messed up species.

A breastfeeding mother such

A breastfeeding mother such as myself, I was so upset when I saw that scene from 'Grown Ups'. The fact that the father was so embarrased and upset that his son was still nursing at four years old irritated me to my core!
You bring up another good point about why some mothers stop breastfeeding; some women not having paid maternity leave past six weeks. A lot of the mothers I know stop breastfeeding because of it. As for myself, a 20 year old, full-time working, breastfeeding mama, would never let my baby have a drop of formula. I am a manager at a retail store and cannot afford an efficient working pump. How my baby gets 'mamas milk'? I have my boyfriend (her father) drive a 15 minute drive to my work place, five days a week, on my breaks just so I can breastfeed. If I'm the only manager in the store, you better believe I breastfeed in public ON the sales floor AT my job. If anyone has a problem with it, they can get the f$#% out of the store. :)

I love you. hahah I also

I love you. hahah
I also became a mom in my early 20's and my children's father also drove to my job (at a supermarket) so I could nurse my first. Little did I know, I could have pumped there all along.... had I asked! By the time my second child came along, the store manager felt guilty enough after dozens of moms before me were not able to pump there, that she started letting us use one of their office spaces to do pump (key included). If I had known that all I had to do was ask without fear of causing an uncomfortable situation with my bosses... I would have had done it the first time around...

Can I just say how thankful I

Can I just say how thankful I am to be a Canadian and get a year long maternity leave. It is the government, not my employer that pays my "salary" for the year. I struggled with breAstfeeding but stuck with it and plan to go at least for 1 year. I just love the connivence of it and the bond with my son. The ease of it goes right out the window if you have to pump and bottle feed.

I too have a bond with my

I too have a bond with my son-through formula feeding. BUT your year long maternity leave is nice! I am jealous of that!!!

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