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Breastfeeding Brawl


  When a woman chooses to breastfeed, it seems that everyone has something to say about it. Why are you breastfeeding? Wasn’t formula good enough for you? You know that baby is going to be spoiled. Breast milk will not keep a baby full. You’ll have to stop breastfeeding when you go back to work. That child is too old to still be nursing. Breastfeeding will make your breasts sag. You can’t just “whip” your breasts out when that baby is hungry. 



By Kathi Barber


Oh the breastfeeding wit is endless! 

Here’s some food for thought…why can’t a woman “just whip” out her breasts and feed her baby? How often do you actually see a woman whip out her breasts to nurse a baby? 

One definition of whip is: to beat with a strap, lash, rod, or the like. Hmmm…doesn’t quite fit with any breastfeeding I’ve observed. 

Another definition of whip is: to move or go quickly and suddenly. Now that makes sense! See, when we educate women about breastfeeding, it’s called the RAM: rapid arm movement. This is an actual nursing technique whereby you rapidly move the baby toward the breast for latching on effectively.

In the common vernacular, however, most people define “whipping out the breasts” as something completely inane: a woman roughly grabbing her breast and pulling it out for all the world to see; a mother flashing her breasts in some sort of sex-show for passersby to see before nursing her baby; or a mom simply breastfeeding her baby in public, discreetly.

Why do we as a nation, and as an African American community, get so agitated by women breastfeeding in public? There are a few reasons that on the surface appear silly, but are in fact deep-rooted in fear.


First, there is the fear of exposing breasts in public–as if you have to show your breasts while breastfeeding. As if women don’t show their breasts on the beach, in low cut dresses, shirts and tank tops–go figure! When a woman nurses in public she does not have to expose her breasts. There are nursing clothes that make breastfeeding in public quite discreet. Even the use a basic receiving blanket can make breastfeeding in public discreet, easy and virtually unnoticeable. In fact, you’ve probably walked by dozens of women in the mall and restaurants who were nursing before your very eyes.

Second, many people think breastfeeding, in general, is disgusting. The act of a baby latching onto, or suckling at the breast turns people off. This sentiment tends to resound amongst younger women, however older, even educated women are not exempt from this mindset. Here’s the fact: breastfeeding is a natural continuum to the birth process: you become pregnant; you give birth; you nourish your baby with your body’s own food designed specifically for your baby–breast milk.

So, if people find the act of nursing, disgusting, then seeing it done in public is akin to an x-rated movie. This leads to point 3.

Because of society’s view of the breast as a sex object-only, breastfeeding in public is often viewed as sexual activity. No, most people wouldn’t narrow their views down to that base level, but that’s the real deal. We see breasts modeling bras and other apparel. We hear lewd jokes from men and women on TV, movies, in music and music videos (of all genres). Breasts are as far removed today from breastfeeding as the computer is from the typewriter!

Fourth, all these beliefs about breastfeeding in public are based on fear of the unknown (since breastfeeding is still not the norm today); and lack of education. Until the general population, and medical professionals, become well-versed on the importance of breastfeeding–particularly in the health of African American babies–then these unreasonable fears and beliefs will continue to prevail. Once we have a sense of normalcy, of everydayness, of “Girl, why are you Not breastfeeding,” then breastfeeding in public will still be likened to aliens landing in a field.

Finally, let’s look at another angle. Say there is a woman who is a first time mom. She wholeheartedly supports breastfeeding. She’s read some literature and has even attended one or two breastfeeding support group meetings. She has had a relatively smooth breastfeeding experience–only a few problems here and there–nothing major. Then, it comes time to breastfeed while she’s at the mall or in a doctor’s office. 

Let’s say she’s shy. Heck, she may be confident. Because of the non-breastfeeding culture that we live in though, she is likely to be stared at and frowned upon when she attempts to breastfeed her baby. She will feel the pressure of “doing something wrong” and may end up delaying a feeding because of the stress of what others are thinking. Inevitably, every time she thinks about having to breastfeed away from home, she feels stress and embarrassment. This can have several results: reduced feedings;
lack of confidence in her choice to breastfeed; extreme duress when thinking about breastfeeding, as opposed to the wonderful joys.

Or…she may rise above the pressure of society, become empowered and advocate for other women to breastfeed in public without fear!

It should be a breastfeeding mother’s choice to breastfeed in public, without fear of scrutiny or embarrassment. Feeding a baby, at the breast, is normal and beautiful. 


Email your breastfeeding questions to me at Kathi@katbarber.com


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