An attractive young woman poses in a barely-there bikini for a beer ad. Plastered up high on a huge billboard, men gawk at this image, teenage girls idolize the model's shapely hips and rounded, full breasts, and little girls want to be just like her when they grow up.
In a park a mother sits with her baby on her lap. The baby turns his head from side to side as if he was looking for something. His mother picks up his rooting cues and lifts her shirt to offer him the breast. A family with a young child passes by and the mother immediately steers the young child's attention away from the nursing mother.
What's wrong with the two above mentioned scenarios?
It's how we view an important aspect of women nowadays. What's that you ask? The female breast. How we view this secondary sex organ influences an important aspect of the procreative cycle, namely, breastfeeding. I'm not just speaking about how women view their breasts and breasts of other women, but also the opinion a man holds. Why is everyone's opinion on the matter important? Because at one point or another, all of us, each one of us, will come in contact with a pregnant and/or lactating woman at some point in our life. Whether she is our friend, mother, sister, aunt, cousin, or the stranger sitting next to us, our opinion can influence her decision and desire to sustain breastfeeding. When you add up enough opinions and viewpoints of enough people, you get a general mental attitude and cultural view of a given topic. If enough people see a woman's breasts as something merely sexual that is to be kept in that context, you get a society that views breastfeeding or at least nursing in public, as something taboo. Besides having non-western cultures laugh and ridicule us for being nonsensical for thinking that of a breastfeeding mother, we also have to contemplate the short- and long term effects and consequences of this negative view. A lactating woman who feels embarrassed or even ashamed to nurse outside of the privacy of her own home is more likely to give up on breastfeeding altogether. As a matter of fact, this well contributes to Aruba's dismal breastfeeding rates at 6 + months. A mother cannot be expected to sit at home until the child decides to wean off the breast. This is not just in any context. Some will argue "Bah! Just let her bring along a bottle of formula or expressed milk when she has to go out, that's plain and simple!". I'll answer with an emphatic "NO!" One of the benefits of breastfeeding is not having to worry about having to prepare and walk around with bottles and such paraphernalia. It's the ease and simplicity of lifting your shirt and having the substance ready when the baby is, at the temperature the baby likes and in two attractive containers that draws many women to breastfeeding. Are we then going to burden this mother by indirectly and subtly making her feel she is not welcome to nurse her child in public? Is this even our right to have any say over this?
In a meeting with UNICEF'S Regional Director for the Caribbean, Nils Kastberg, revealed to us that by the time a girl is 14, she has already subconsciously made up her mind in what form she will feed her child – be it by bottle or breast. What does this indicate to us? Children both male and female, need to be, for lack of a better word, exposed to breastfeeding at the youngest age possible. Not just by being breastfed, but by being allowed and given the opportunity to witness this act of sheer nurture, love and warmth. Why do we say that both boys and girls need to see this? Because even though it's the girl that will grow up and actually breastfeed, the boy will grow up and eventually become someone's partner and someone's father. There is probably no greater influence on breastfeeding than that of the partner. A study revealed that when a woman's partner was fully supportive of her decision to breastfeed, 98.1% of women actually did. On the contrary, when a woman's partner was indifferent about the matter, only 26% went on to breastfeed. A man's opinion of his wife's breasts is far-reaching and is important.
Of course, just because a woman has the ineluctable ability to lactate, does not render her breasts as sole property of the child during his nursing years. Why can't we reach a consensus? Breasts are multi-functional. It's certainly something worth considering