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Should Breastfeeding be Taught in Elementary School?

Here’s how it should go: As a part of the basic biology curriculum, children are taught about breastfeeding. How the milk comes in. What’s in it. How it helps the baby. Students see pictures of women of multiple ethnicities breastfeeding. There’s a homework assignment and several questions on a test. Twenty or thirty years later these kids, now fully grown, new parents, may not even remember Ms. Morris’ biology class, but there might just be one less mental hurdle to breastfeeding.

The website Nursing Freedom ran a piece last week called, “Why Children Should Witness Breastfeeding in Public.” Here’s a line I liked:

“We need to make nursing in public so boring, so quotidian, that it garners no more of a glance or second thought than seeing someone drinking a coffee or hugging a friend in public.”

I read this on Friday, and over the weekend kept thinking about public breastfeeding. Usually this issue comes up when some ignorant manager of a mediocre eatery stupidly asks a nursing mother to cover up and then has to endure all kinds of grief, including being read state laws concerning breastfeeding in public and/or local press coverage of a “nurse in,” in which a posse of breastfeeders show up and breastfeed in front of or inside the establishment.

I support a woman’s choice to breastfeed in public. If breastfeeding is kept out of sight, no one sees it. No one sees it and it’s mysterious. It’s mysterious and people feel weird about breastfeeding. And on the feedback loop goes. More exposure would make the sight of breastfeeding “boring.” Or normal.

But then I saw a new mom in the park nursing under a kind of nursing tent/cover-all. It was a pretty cool-looking gizmo and propped up so that the baby could nurse privately without a blanket literally plastered over his or her face. I thought about the feedback loop and wondered whether this mother should just toss this fancy tent aside to help the rest of us get over our baggage.

Then I thought back to when I first had my baby.

I was quite engorged and it wasn’t the hot kind of engorged, the fake boob kind. It was the, Wow, how’s your back doing? kind. I won’t tell you the cup size, but let’s just say many people I do tell had no idea that size even existed. My over-supply meant that milk would often squirt out all over the minute I started unfastening things. The idea of doing all of this in public —as much as I supported the idea in theory — was hard.

After a few months, when I’d gotten it all down, I nursed at friends’ houses, in restaurants and parks discreetly and without much fuss or a blanket. But at first I felt like this was all nobody’s business. I also felt a little cranky about the situation. Why do I have to change attitudes about public breastfeeding?? It’s hard enough learning all these new things. Do I have to change public opinion at the same time?

This is how I came to the breastfeeding in school concept. If Bill Maher and others had seen breastfeeding when they were kids and been taught that it’s a normal part of life, like digesting or breathing, maybe there wouldn’t be so many snickers. Get to the kids before they get to the giggling stage — teaching teens about breastfeeding is also a great idea, but by then too much squeamishness has settled in. The sooner the better.

photo: Matteo Bagnoli/Flikr

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