“Breastfeeding creepy” screamed a headline on the front page of The Age Online. I wish I could say it came as a surprise, but sadly this attitude is all too common. I was recently representing Breastfeeding Friendly Workplaces at a large Human Resources conference, and over 50% of attendees went red, looked shocked, and scuttled past our stand as though expecting us to whip out a breast and offer them a squirt at any moment.
I have dealt with large, reputable companies where senior management could not bring themselves to meet with me (sending a female representative to keep me at arms length) because they weren’t “comfortable” with the whole issue. Scared of the breast woman. The same managers put endless barriers and legalistic hurdles in front of attempts to transform workplaces into family friendly, breastfeeding friendly workplaces.
Breasts sell newspapers – never mind the fact that the headline above was, in fact, attached to an article about how appalling it was that someone had written that breasts were sexual objects and that breastfeeding ruins that (which, incidentally, is news to me, but I won’t go into detail, even though it would apparently be much less controversial to talk about using my breasts for sexual pleasure than about breastfeeding my daughters past the age of 2).
In 2008 I wrote an article about breastfeeding past the age of 12 months, and titled “Yes, Actually, Breast is Best” it was the most viewed (not to say read) article on the online WA Today site for days on end. Breasts sell. Breasts are “fun bags”. Breasts are about sex.
There are still people who are happier about babies drinking cow’s milk (straight from a cow’s breast, people, how creepy is that?) than about babies being breastfed. It’s time to face facts – our society has completely lost the plot when it comes to breasts. How do we regain the plot? There is only one way to normalise breastfeeding, and that’s to bring it out into the open. Do it in public. Do it at work. Do it in restaurants. Do it in parks. Do it on the train. Talk about it and write about it, in all its complicated glory. Yes, it sometimes hurts. Yes, it can be difficult. Yes, it can be an incredibly wonderful experience, even while hurting and being difficult. It doesn’t have to hurt – getting the right advice and support can change trauma to transcendent glory within days, but it is hard to seek advice while the taboo remains.
Breastfeeding remains something that is often easier not to do – because we don’t talk about it, we don’t see people doing it, and we don’t cope with having breastfeeding mentioned, because it contains “the b word” – rejected by spam filters and society alike. New mums often have not seen anyone breastfeeding up close. They’re shy about feeding in public because the prevailing opinion is still, in 2010, that it is an embarrassing and shameful act that should happen behind closed doors.
We still have companies telling their employees to breastfeed or express in the toilets. Would you want to eat lunch, or have your lunch prepared in the toilet? I am happy to say that I breastfed anywhere and everywhere – if my girls were hungry, or simply wanted a feed, they got one. On ferries. In trains. In restaurants. In shopping centres. In the street. In school. At work. And that should be normal. No-one should be made to feel embarrassed, ashamed or awkward about breastfeeding anywhere.
Breast, breast, breast, breast, breast. Get used to it!