Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Children and Breastfeeding: 4 Common Myths For Why Children Shouldn't be Exposed to Breastfeeding

One of the most popular arguments against NIP is that children should not have to witness the act of breastfeeding. If you have followed any breastfeeding related page you will see the same arguments repeated over and over again. You will usually statements that sound like this "children will be traumatized by breastfeeding" or "I don't want to have to explain to my child what that woman is doing" or "I don't want my child to see some strange woman's breast while she is feeding her baby" or one of my favorites "maybe some parents want to wait to teach their children are older to teach them about sex". While these arguments may sound valid on the surface they are actually factually illogical. Having grown up one of the older kids in a large family where my mother breastfed all of us I can say for certain that all of these arguments for why children shouldn't be exposed to breastfeeding are illogical, invalid, and actually better arguments for why children need to be exposed to breastfeeding and the earlier the better.
Using my experience as the child of a mother who breastfed I will attempt to dispel what I have chosen as the four most common myths or arguments as to why children should not be exposed to breastfeeding.
Myth #1
Children will be traumatized by seeing a mother breastfeeding her baby.
This is one of the most popular arguments people use to discourage mothers from breastfeeding in the presence of children. It is also one of the most illogical arguments people can use to discourage mothers from breastfeeding in the presence of children. In order for a child to be traumatized by something they would have to have been taught that something about it was terribly wrong. Since children are still learning about the world and are still relatively innocent about most things it is highly doubtful that something as harmless as breastfeeding would traumatize them. I was in the room the night one of my siblings was born at home and because I didn't know very much about birth at that stage I had no reason to see it as anything other than a natural part of life. Had I been taught that it was supposed to be traumatic I may have had a different reaction. Since I hadn't been taught anything negative or scary about it it didn't faze me. Breastfeeding is no different. If it is introduced to a child as a normal part of life at a young age that's how they will view it and anytime they see it it will be as innocent to them as observing a puppy or a kitten drinking milk from their mothers. By contrast, if they are taught that it is dirty or wrong by the influential adult figures in their lives then they might be bothered by it, but it won't be the breastfeeding itself that is causing them to be traumatized, it will be how they are taught to view it.
Myth #2
Children don't need to see some woman's breast while she is nursing her baby.
Children are actually the perfect people to see a woman's breast while she is nursing her baby. Since children haven't been indoctrinated into society's sexual view of breasts, being exposed to them performing their primary function will allow them to see breasts for what they were designed to do before they learn anything else about them. Growing up with a breastfeeding mother meant that my siblings and myself were often in the presence of other breastfeeding mothers. My mother never demanded or insisted that those mothers hide what they were doing from us just as she didn't hide her breastfeeding from us when she did it. As a result it wasn't uncomfortable being in the presence of mothers breastfeeding even when they didn't do it discreetly throughout our childhood and even into adolescence.
Adults can be stuck in their ways about the way they view things and it's hard to change their opinions. Children on the other hand have the opportunity to start fresh and get it right so they need to be exposed to breastfeeding as often as possible. Maybe the over sexualized view of breasts can go away for future generations and it won't be so hard for mothers in the future to nurse their babies in public.
Myth #3
Breastfeeding is nudity and children shouldn't be exposed to nudity.
Because of the over sexualization of breasts in our society we typically think of them being exposed for any reason at all as inappropriate nudity. There are two things to consider when it comes to breastfeeding and nudity. First, non sexual nudity, which includes the act of exposing a breast to feed a baby, is not always inappropriate nudity. Nudity in and of itself is not always a bad thing. In the right context and situation it may actually be both healthy and necessary. Breasts were meant to feed babies so it would follow that it should be okay to expose a breast for that purpose. As mentioned above, we saw my mother and her friends nurse babies openly and at no time did we see it as inappropriate. Since we were permitted to see breasts while mothers were nursing their babies I never looked at breasts in the traditional way people view nudity. I never questioned whether it was wrong or not to see what we saw because it was a normal part of our everyday life. Had my mother and the other breastfeeding mothers I knew growing up hid what they were doing I would probably have the same mindset about breastfeeding that many in society do today.
Secondly, children don't view nudity the same way that we as adults do. If children are raised in homes where nudity is normal that's how they will view it until someone tells them something different. There are cultures where nudity is the norm and nobody ever thinks to see it as inappropriate because because that's what they do from the time they are born. It's as normal to them as wearing clothes is to us. Shame is a concept that is learned and taught by adults who typically link all nudity to sex. Since most children have very little sexual knowledge they don't see the body as sexual. Even primary sex organs at a young age don't mean the same thing to children as they do to adults. Unless someone teaches children that breasts are sexual and should be covered at all times they won't grow up viewing them that way.
Myth #4
Teaching children about breastfeeding means having to have the big talk with them about the birds and the bees.
I was about 9 years old when my parents called us into the dining room on a cold dreary day where we were stuck inside the house. They sat us down at the dining room table and began to nervously tell us the basics about the birds and the bees. They discussed the functions of the penis and the vagina in the process of reproduction. At no point during the discussion did I hear any reference made to breasts in relation to sex. I didn't learn that breasts could be sexual until I started going through puberty. It seems that many people think teaching a child about breastfeeding requires teaching them about sex. If you have to teach a child about sex to teach them about the primary function of breasts then you are pointing them in the wrong direction that most of society is currently traveling with the over sexualization of breasts. Teaching a child about breastfeeding requires the simplest of explanations. If you tell them a baby is eating the same as you would explaining a kitten or a puppy nursing that explanation will usually suffice. They may be curious about the actual process of how the baby is getting the milk, but even that doesn't require a complicated explanation. Teaching a child about breastfeeding can be as easy as we want it to be. If you are complicating it you are probably introducing too much unnecessary information that will only confuse them and begin the process of perpetuating the sexual stigma of breasts.
Children of all people need to be exposed to breastfeeding. Girls who see breastfeeding as they are growing up will become mothers who choose to breastfeed. Boys who see breastfeeding growing up will become supportive husbands and fathers to the breastfeeding women in their lives. Most importantly children will grow up understanding that breasts have a primary function that has nothing to do with sex. They will understand that breasts were designed primarily to feed babies and it won't be weird for future generations to see them performing that function at home or in public. It may be too late to change the minds of some adults and get them to accept and support breastfeeding and NIP, but if we can expose children to it as early and as often as possible we may be able to make things a little easier for breastfeeding mothers in the future.
~Tom Miller

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