Normalizing Breastfeeding in Bars and at Home

Normalizing Breastfeeding in Bars and at Home

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For the past couple of years, a few friends and I have been frequenting Show Tunes night at one of our favorite gay bars.  It’s a great bar with fantastic food and a really fantastic cocktail menu.  It is also home to one of the most fabulous servers in the whole entire universe.  (We’ll call him “B.”)

B knows that most of us in this group are doulas or midwives.  He’s also heard us talk about birth and breastfeeding throughout our many visits, including my comment to him the other night that “THESE CHEESE FRIES ARE GOING IN MY MOUTH AND OUT MY BOOBS!   I LOVE BREASTFEEDING!”

(What–don’t you say things like this to the servers at the bars you go to?!)

This must be part of the reason why he felt comfortable enough to sit down at our table one evening earlier this week and say,  “Hey ladies, can I ask you something about breastfeeding?”

(What, the people at your bar don’t ask you about breastfeeding?  Pshaw.  You’re going to the wrong bar.)

“Of course!” we replied.

B proceeded to tell us about a friend of a friend whose child was “still breastfeeding” despite the fact that the kid could “ask for it.”  And B wanted to know how long we breastfed our children.  He wanted to know if the friend-of-a-friend’s kid was, you know, weird.  Because the whole situation seemed weird to him.

Now, before you call for us to raise up our pitchforks and shout, “NO IT’S NOT WEIRD, STUPID, IT’S NORMAL!!!” take a step back and think about how most people experience breastfeeding within most Western cultural contexts: it’s something that it done behind closed doors, or at least behind a nursing cover, and only teeny tiny babies do it, and there really doesn’t seem to be much of a benefit for older crawling-talking-walking babies to breastfeed, and a woman’s boobs shouldn’t be showing at all unless they’re being used to sell chicken wings or sports cars, thank you very much.

That just about covers it, right?

But instead of pouncing on our beloved B, my friend and I chuckled and said, “Well, it’s really not that weird.  The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization even recommend breastfeeding until age one or two or beyond, and plenty of kids at those ages can ‘ask’ to be breastfed.  Of course, we are lucky to live in a society where we have plenty of other food options to offer older children, so breastfeeding a toddler isn’t as much of a necessity for adequate nutrition as it might be in different circumstances and times in history.”

I even added that Eric could sign for breastfeeding before he was even able to stand on his own.  In other words, even babies can “ask” to be nursed!

(Note: the conversation might have sounded a bit more…colorful and silly, what with the sparkling pear martinis we had in front of us.)

In any case, I applaud B (who is not a parent or birthworker) for feeling brave enough to ask this question, and I applaud us for not getting all bent out of shape after hearing someone describe full-term breastfeeding as “weird.”

What’s more, I hope our conversation made breastfeeding-a-non-teeny-tiny baby seem a bit more normal to someone who, like the vast majority of people, probably doesn’t see breastfeeding–even the “non-weird” breastfeeding of teeny-tiny babies–all that often.  Just think about it: when you don’t see something all that often, it can seem pretty weird when you first encounter it.  But when you have the courage to ask about it, that “weird thing” must turn out to be more normal than you once thought.

So the moral of the story is: sometimes normalizing breastfeeding just involves a couple of martinis and a good sense of humor.

And maybe some facts and compassion too.

 

As a side/concluding note: Speaking of teeny-tiny babies, I just rediscovered this gorgeous picture of Alec, Eric, and me from right after Eric was born.  Some people might recoil at the thought of a three-year-old seeing his mom breastfeeding his newborn baby brother, but I think the whole moment was quite beautiful and sweet.

Society might sexualize my breasts in a way that is both perverse and disgusting, but in our home, we normalize breastfeeding in a way that (I hope) reconfigures my own children’s perception of women’s bodies.

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(In addition to rocking the whole “breastfeeding is normal” perspective, Alec is also rocking some mighty fine red-painted fingernails here.  So the moral of THIS story is: breastfeeding is normal, rigid gender norms are weird.)



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8 Comments

  1. Aimee
    Aimee01-25-2013

    First of all, I love that picture! It’s so nice for siblings to be involved in the nursing relationship with a new baby!

    Second of all, I think the conversation you guys had was great! The best way to make people understand how normal breastfeeding is is to have a calm, mature conversation about it.

  2. Helen
    Helen01-25-2013

    Kristin, you rock. I want to have pear martinis with you at a gay bar! And your vasecTIMy series has been hilarious…my hubby has been reading it, preparing for his own turn. Blog on my friend…blog on! And if you’re ever in Chicago…
    Helen´s last blog post ..One Momma’s Guide To All Things Diaper

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas
      BirthingBeautifulIdeas01-26-2013

      I’m actually in Chicago at least once or twice a year since my in-laws live in Naperville! Also, as someone who lived in the city for a year and misses that place with every fiber of my being, I’m ALWAYS looking for an excuse to go to Chicago. :)

      I hope that your husband’s vasectomy goes well! (God, that sounds like an awfully strange thing to say to a perfect stranger. **shrug**)

  3. Sharon Aspinall
    Sharon Aspinall01-26-2013

    Amazing

  4. Hayley
    Hayley01-26-2013

    I love your website, and this post really spoke to me!!! I nursed my 4 and a half month old daughter in a (mostly empty) brewery today, and I was really proud of myself for doing so. It seemed scary because I haven’t nursed her often in public, preferring instead to just go to the car. But it was 25 degrees out. So. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be!!

  5. Jeanette
    Jeanette01-27-2013

    Love the story – and the fingernails :) Just discovered my 4 year son painted his toenails himself with Piggy Paint. Impressed at how well he stayed in the lines :)
    Jeanette´s last blog post ..Changes To Facebook’s Cover Image Rules

  6. Coreen- Online Community Manager for the Midwives Alliance of North America
    Coreen- Online Community Manager for the Midwives Alliance of North America01-30-2013

    Great story and lovely pictures! I hope that more people ask this question and receive and calm and helpful answer like you provided. Getting the conversation going is the first step!

  7. Kate
    Kate01-31-2013

    Liam was 2.5 when his sister was born and was very curious about the nursing and spent a lot of time watching us. My favorite moment was when he tried to nurse Sophie (the giraffe) :)

    Nail polish is awesome. I started painting his nails because he seemed interested when I was doing mine. He loves picking out his colors (right now his fingers are yellow and his toes are purple) and I love that he’ll sit still and let me clip his nails first!

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