... Does Every Body Good

I am sitting on a plane. After a lengthy delay in Toronto, the plane is en route to the Maritimes. Beside me a woman sits with her boob exposed. The woman is my wife, and she is breastfeeding our two-month old son. Breastfeeding impresses me. My wife has the courage to breastfeed in public in a culture where judgment and awkwardness exist. Despite being quite modest and a wee bit shy, my wife puts the needs of our son first.

Breast milk is a miracle. Did you know that a mother’s milk changes, depending on the needs of the child? Did you know that the sound of a child crying can start the flow of milk? Did you know that breast-milk has over a hundred ingredients that formula developers have been unable to reproduce yet, including important antibodies? Is breastfeeding always best? No. Formula is a great option for many people. We were fortunate that my wife and our son had very little trouble with breastfeeding. The process worked quite smoothly for Annie and Jack, with no complications or allergies. I was amazed to learn how the milk changes over time to provide our son with what his body needs.

So, assuming that breastfeeding works for a mother, why would people be upset if she breastfeeds in public? The most popular answer seems to be that breastfeeding can make some people uncomfortable. Well, due to the limited space in airplane seats, sitting next to large people can make me feel cramped; my discomfort doesn’t mean they shouldn’t fly, and it doesn’t mean they should hide in the plane’s bathroom for the whole flight, and it doesn’t mean they should have to apologize. To all those made uncomfortable by breastfeeding… get over it. Face your fear. Boobs don’t bite. They help children to grow up healthy.

On our plane, most people seem not to mind. They especially do not mind how quiet Jack is during take-off and now during landing (providing comfort and providing pressure relief with the sucking motion). A few passengers seem uncomfortable, like they are afraid of being accused of staring. No one openly passes negative judgment, though that does happen once in a while. Yet, breastfeeding is still taboo. Women are often expected or encouraged to cover up or hide out. Why should mothers feel like they have to hide out in a hot summer car or in a public restroom with a newborn to do something so natural?

No, the taboo is more subtle than open judgment. Look at our popular culture. How many times do you see women breastfeeding in shows or movies? How many songs can you name that mention breast-milk? I can name countless songs about illegal drugs, about abusive relationships, and about disrespecting women, but I can’t name one that even mentions breastfeeding.

I understand, especially in the Canadian climate, that exposed skin is often related to sexuality. Down coats and Sorel boots are fashion staples here for a bigger part of the year than are bikinis and flip-flops. However, arguing that exposed skin leads to a sexually charged nation is a big jump. It is like arguing that drinking lemonade causes drowning. Correlation? Yes. Causation? No.

There is nothing wrong with feeling awkward around breastfeeding. Emotions cannot be turned on and off. There is something wrong when women feel socially discouraged about breastfeeding. Things are changing, and I am glad. As our plane touches down, I look at Jack. He is asleep and smiling, full and happy.

Mothers should feel free to choose whichever feeding method they feel is right for them and their babies. There are reasons not to breastfeed, but I hope that soon, awkwardness, taboo, and fear of judgment will no longer be on the list.