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Is Breastfeeding Creepy? The World Has Their Say

Strollerderby reported Monday that the deputy editor of Mother & Baby Magazine in the U.K., Kathryn Blundell, “caused quite a stir with an essay on why she skipped breastfeeding and went straight to formula for her baby.”  In said essay, Blundell wrote that breastfeeding – for her – felt, “well, a little creepy.”  (An important distinction I think from accusing her of saying out and out that breastfeeding is creepy, which she did not do.)

But even if she had, so be it!  As SD blogger Madeline said in her excellent post on the subject, “Blundell’s sentiment is a danger in the minds of many, who think her words will be too discouraging for women who want to breastfeed….  Pregnant women don’t need to be shielded from opinions, they should have the chance to hear them all.”  I concur, as you know from my earlier post, Am I the Only Mother Who Ever Felt Embarrassed Breastfeeding in Public?  I think all of the recent hubbub over breastfeeding that’s got Twitter a-flutter and Parenting Magazine editors and bloggers riled up will only serve to provide more understanding between what can seem like two polarized camps.  According to staunch breastfeeding advocates, it’s us against those uneducated, heartless formula-feeding moms – like Blundell – who only care about themselves and their sex lives.  And the view from the other side is us against those hippie-yuppie zealots who don’t understand how impossible it can be to breastfeed and are only willing to promote a woman’s right to choose when it serves their agenda.

Nonetheless, I was nervous when I was asked by the BBC to participate in their show on breastfeeding during today’s live radio broadcast of World Have Your Say.  (Click the link to download the podcast.)  The discussion, for the most part, was very civil.  And Blundell was given first dibs.  A chance to explain herself, you might say.

She said, “In a nutshell, I didn’t want to breastfeed.  I felt my breasts were part of sex and the idea of putting a baby to my breast just made me feel a bit uncomfortable.  I used the word creepy and I mean the word creepy.  It just didn’t feel right to me.  And because of the wonders of modern nutritional science, I didn’t have to breastfeed my baby.  I could go for a formula feed, and I was perfectly happy to do that.  I don’t think any woman should feel bad about her feeding choice, whether that’s formula feeding or breastfeeding in public.”

When asked if she thought it was hard for women to acknowledge negative feelings about breastfeeding, Blundell answered with a resounding yes.  She said, “There’s a lot of persuading going on to get mom’s to breastfeed, so if you don’t want to, and if you’re not very confident in the face of the constant barrage of “you must it’s the best thing,” a lot of mom’s don’t want to admit to that.  A midwife I know spends two days with women teaching them how to breastfeed, knowing full well they’re going to go home and start formula feeding, but they’re too embarrassed to say so.  From her point of view, she’d much rather spend that time teaching women how to prepare formula properly, making sure they know how to sterilize all the equipment.  I hope by speaking out that those women who feel that breastfeeding isn’t for them will go and get the help they need to formula feed safely.”

Now, you may be asking yourself how we’ve gotten to a point where it’s bottle feeders who need an advocate, and not breastfeeders.  The thing I find most fascinating and simultaneously disturbing is that this debate is essentially taking place within the vaccuum of womanhood.  Men aren’t the ones telling women to put their breasts or bottles away – other women are.  Yes, childless women are weighing in on the subject as well, which – no matter where in the spectrum of the argument your opinion falls – I think we can all agree is kind of, well, adorable.

My former editor at The Huffington Post, Jessica Wakeman, has written a great piece about Blundell’s blunder for The Frisky.  In it she says, “For the past 26 years of my life, my boobs have been about one thing and one thing only: sex.  Kathryn Blundell said she bottle-fed her baby because her breasts were so sexual for her; my breasts are a big part of my sex life, too. I still want (and my future husband will still want) a sex life after the baby’s born.”  That last sentence in and of itself makes me smile, because I remember being 26 and thinking I could plan my future, too.  I remember thinking that I had married - in the words of Elizabeth Edwards – “a marvelous man” who was going to make an excellent father.  I also remember thinking that I’d give birth vaginally and instead wound-up with a C-section.  Motherhood and marriage both force you to fly by the seat of your pants, and presuming anything before you enter into either is just the folly of youth and/or inexperience.  Nonetheless, Wakeman is entitled to her opinion, and she agrees that “the idea that breasts could be interchangeable for babies and lovers is creepy,” at least to her.  Kudos to her for sharing that.

What has been illustrated in the past week or so is that more women are perhaps at least a little bit uncomfortable with breastfeeding than anyone was willing to admit, and as I’ve said, you can’t expect anyone to get over their squeamishness unless they deal with it first.  Let’s all let out a collective sigh of relief, and hopefully move on to a place of acceptance of everyone’s thoughts and feelings on the subject.

Blundell herself puts this bombastic breastfeeding opus in perspective by saying, “One thing that I find sort of shocking is that feeding is just one part of being a parent.  There are lots different ways to be a parent, and they’re not wrong.  If your child is healthy and happy and you’re healthy and happy and you’re being very supportive and you love your children then that’s the main thing.  Feeding is something that we only have to do for the first six months, then you’ve got the next 17-and-a-half years to care for your baby.  I think the focus is a bit skewed on feeding, really.”

I think she’s right.  But I doubt we’ve heard the last of the breast vs. bottle debate.

Photo: benklocek via Flickr

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