Recently there has been attention on an event that occurred in Riverhead where a police officer was reportedly giving a woman a difficult time for breastfeeding her baby.
It is not my intention to discuss the details of this event, but to use it as an opportunity to discuss breastfeeding from a slightly different perspective. I am not going to discuss the law as it relates to nursing in public or try to convince anyone to choose breast over bottle. The perspective here is one of acceptance.
It is time to normalize breastfeeding. Whether a woman chooses to breast or bottle feed is a very personal choice and again, guiding that decision process is not the purpose of this article. My intention is to highlight breastfeeding as a normal and acceptable routine.
The hangups that we have as adults in relation to breastfeeding are related to our societal feelings that breasts are sexual and NOT for feeding. This is a societally developed mindset which needs to be adjusted.
Here are some examples to illustrate the point:
1. Look at children. Children who have not yet developed the societal misperception about breasts accept breastfeeding as part of the norm. I see this every day in my practice as a pediatrician and breastfeeding specialist. Toddlers routinely sit comfortably next to their mothers while younger siblings nurse. These kids don't skip a beat and in fact, I often see young girls pretending to breastfeed their dolls.
2. Look at television. How many television programs or movies show babies breastfeeding as a matter of course? The industry seems afraid to make its viewers uncomfortable by showing a woman casually nursing a baby. How else can you explain a television show about a plane crash on a deserted island with a thriving newborn who is never breastfed?
3. Look at children again. Children show curiosity without bias. Once when I was with my family nursing my own baby, my nephew asked me very innocently, "How did you get the bottle in there?" There was no judgement. There was no discomfort. It was a simple conversation and a learning moment.
4. Look at other societies. In most of Europe, breastfeeding is a much more accepted and comfortable part of life. I suppose that might have something to do with Europeans also being comfortable with topless beaches.
The details of this particular case certainly deserve attention, but are not my focus.
The more global issue here is that a police officer wouldn't think twice about a woman bottle feeding her baby in her car. Why then should he think twice about her nursing her baby in other situations? He does so because of a deeply ingrained societal bias. Breastfeeding shouldn't have to be shoved in anyone's face and it shouldn't have to be hidden. Breastfeeding simply needs to be accepted and normalized.
This blog reflects the opinion of Dr. Shaer and not Peconic Pediatrics as a whole.