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Breasts Without Embarrassment

Richard Benton PhD
From New Beginnings, Vol. 28 No. 3, 2009, pp. 34-35

Back before my days of fatherhood, when I was 22, I lived for a time in Marrakech, Morocco. The extended family, in whose house I rented a room, was an average, working-class, pious, Muslim family. One of the cousins had recently given birth. Once, when we were sitting out in the courtyard, the baby started crying. The cousin pulled up her shirt and put her baby, Rashid, on her breast. I had been traveling a while, but still held some misconceptions about traditional Muslim societies and their values of modesty. To be sure, I had never had a Moroccan woman pull up her shirt in front of me, so I was a bit embarrassed. She did not seem embarrassed, so I told her about how, in the US, women do not pull up their shirts to feed babies when company is over. The cousin laughed at me and simply added, "Well, the baby's hungry!" Nursing presented the obvious natural, healthy response to a hungry, crying baby. How illogical that I had to travel so far from our supposedly "progressive" country, to see this attitude at work.

After returning to the United States, I met my future wife, Hollie, and we were married. When our first baby, Nellie, was born, it had been about five years since my adventures in Morocco, but I felt I had learned something about the naturalness of breastfeeding. In further investigating how our culture handles breastfeeding, though, I was surprised in the other direction this time. When I saw the complexity of nursing bras, blankets, and nursing areas, I had a difficult time understanding why we need all this paraphernalia for feeding a child. Nature made babies and breasts to fit together perfectly, yet feeding a child becomes a chore when being "discreet" is part of the challenge. I wished that my wife and baby could nurse without all the baggage -- literal and figurative -- that breastfeeding entailed.

We have two children now, Nellie and Kali. I've seen many benefits to them and our family from breastfeeding. Whenever I had to feed them as little babies, I thought how well equipped my wife was for feeding. When the child would wake from a nap, she would cry from hunger. I had to go to the freezer, take out the baby's milk, heat the stove, get the bottle, test the milk, assemble the bottle, pour the milk into the bottle, and feed the baby while hoping she was getting the right amount. My wife could accomplish the same thing by just "plugging" the baby in!

Nothing could be more natural than a baby nursing at her mother's breast. Nature obviously intended this interface between mother and baby.

The mother's flow of milk instinctively responds to the baby's cry, and baby and mother bond emotionally during this time. (Daddies bond with the other children during this time and have plenty of one-on-one time with the baby, too.) The baby is nourished emotionally and physically, creating a unique, maternal bond.

I am happy that in this country we are now re-learning the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding. My grandmother had her first baby right after World War II, and medical science was advising against this natural union. She told me about a pamphlet she received from the State of Nebraska Governor's Office on proper child rearing. The pamphlet recommended that the mother wear a surgical mask around the baby until age two, so that the baby was not exposed to unwelcome microbes. My grandmother commented, "What does it do to a child to not see her mother's face until she's two?!" After this time, baby formula became more and more popular, as it was presented as better for the baby's health than her mother's milk. In our day, we are seeing the folly of this earlier advice. We now see that the physical contact only benefits the child's psychological health, and that exposure to the mother's microbes on her skin, and her antibodies via the breastmilk, improve the immune system of the baby.

Seeing my babies nurse pleased me, as I knew that they were receiving the best emotional and nutritional food nature can provide. I am pleased that our society is becoming more open and aware of this fact, and this acceptance is shown by the availability of items such as special bras and nursing areas. I look forward to the time when mommies can nurse their babies anywhere and simply laugh without embarrassment.

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