Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I was at a diner a weekend ago, and I saw a woman nurse a child large enough not to require a booster seat. He was that lanky-post-toddler age, where they're not wearing baby clothes, but miniature people clothes. I don't know. Maybe he was four.

The woman sat down, and began to nurse this child, as she ordered, and as she waited for her meal.

I bet you're wondering how the Hobo felt about this. Is she, being in general pro-free, pro-health, anti-prude, going to say that it's perfectly fine to nurse a child in a restaurant? Is she, being generally anti-child, and generally anti-annoying yuppy parent, going to be against this public nursing?

Hobo didn't know herself. Because Hobo has read studies supporting breast-feeding. Hobo does, in general, not at all support the general body form and function phobia that is inherent in American culture. Hobo thought for a minute. Hobo decided that she was perfectly fine with it. Because the kid was eating, and it was a restaurant, and obviously, the restaurant didn't serve breast milk, so restrictions on outside food and drink shouldn't apply to him.

Then the waitress came back. And the waitress dropped off three plates of food. One for the mother, one for the father, and ONE FOR THE CHILD. Which, in my opinion, changed everything.

Because if the kid doesn't need the breastmilk for breakfast, I thought, then there's no reason to nurse him in public. And it's not a good way to encourage him to learn how to be in a restaurant, what they're about, and how to deal with waiting for unfamiliar food. But, parenting judgements aside, as I am not myself a parent, and don't actually know how to teach a kid to do anything- it just changed the tenor of the situation for me.

So, coincidentally, a few days ago on salon.com, there was an article written by a woman who was still nursing her four-year-old son. I didn't think much of it, but I read the letters. All two or three hundred of them.

They seemed pretty evenly decided between two orthodoxies, with a half-dozen or so juvenile trolls thrown in.

Orthodoxy A: Breasts are for babies! Nursing is great! Anyone who thinks that there's something wrong with any nursing of any child of any age is just sexualizing breasts! Which is WRONG! Because BREASTS ARE FOR BABIES! Not men. Not sex.

Orthodoxy B:Nursing is good, and all, but, come on- the kid's going to have memories of his MOTHER'S breasts. Which is gross. Because breasts are sexualized. And if you have any memories of a part of your parents' body that is sexual, you'll become a pervert. The mother must hate her husband, because she's giving her son her breasts instead of to her husband. MAYBE she's FRIGID!

For an accurate picture of the letters, just throw a "for better or worse" between every few clauses of the above.

I think that nursing is such a fractious issue in our society because there are the two orthodoxies, without any recognized (or admitted!) middle ground. Either nursing is seen as something that must be private and brief, but is an important sacrifice of the mother's sexuality and bodily integrity for the child's benefit; or the sexualization of breasts is a mere social construction that masks their true and sole purpose: nursing.

To that, I say, go to the zoo. Look at primates. Try to find me some gorilla titty. Or some chimp titty. You can't. And the reason you can't is because in most other primates, the female breasts remain very small unless actually engorged with milk (or flattened out and droopy after). It's obvious, then, that human breasts are a sexual characteristic under sexual selection- that is, they are a feature so attractive to mates, that natural selection has worked to enlarge them. Some anthropologists say that breasts are the bipedal answer to hidden vaginas- our vaginas are between our legs, whereas a chimp vagina is basically on their butt. Visible from behind. So bipedal primates with upright posture and hidden oestrus needed a characteristic that advertised fertility, and post-pubertal status. Thus, enlarged breasts.

Breasts are for sex.

Even though they're very obviously also for nursing.

So how do we reconcile these two features of America's favorite body part?

To read salon, we don't. We can't handle that a naturally sexual and sensual feature is also an important factor in child-rearing and bonding. Because we can't handle the words Sex and Children in the same sentence without calling Fox News in. We can't handle that a woman's breasts might remain sexual objects to her, even as they are nurturing a child. A woman (and I'll try to find reference for this when I get the time,) once had her child taken away because she told her therapist that she experienced sponteneous sexual arousal while nursing. My initial reaction to that is "ew". Because, really, we don't want to think about stimulating parents. And, as far as I know (remember, no babies here) frequently, nursing is painful, uncomfortable, and intrusive. But a person with an atypical physical reaction to something that involves a sensitive area, and is meant to stimulate oxytocin (a neurotransmitter that facilitates bonding, and is released during NURSING and ORGASM) should surely not be labeled a pervert, right?

So what, then?

Breasts are for babies. But they're also for women. And for men. And for sex. So what do we do? What can we do when this dialogue just dissolves into each side denying the basis of the other side's argument? Do we have to play King Solomon, dividing the booby, and say that nipples are for babies, and mammary glands, but areolae and fatty tissue are for sex? And trix are for kids?

P.S. There was a very interesting study a while ago, that I'll try to find the citation for later, that found that certain of the 'benefits' of breastfeeding, when study groups are adjusted to account for education level and socio-economic status, are not as pronounced as originally thought. Which is interesting, as it seems to reconcile the paradoxical evidence from early last century when formula was seen as better nutrition for babies. Whatever upper-class, educated mothers, with abundant resources tend to do will always seem to give their babies an edge, when in fact, their edge may be an accident of birth.


Rob said...

It seems to me, granted I am not an expert, that breast feeding a child who is four years of age or so is no longer benefits the child. I would propose that one who breastfields their four year old child is clinging to the fantasy that it is still their "baby" and probably manifests itself in attempting, probably subconsciously, to keep their child a baby, and therefore hindering their development. A parent must balance their treatment of their children between helping them development into fully functioning, thoughtful, productive members of society and protecting them from harm due to their inexperience with life.

5ft. of Whoopass! said...

Damn you Rob. I was gonna say that!! Oh well. Um...okay...think...on top of everything nursing a kid until post infancy is detrimental to their psychological growth. It also makes you tits sag. I know, I know that's sexualising breasts, but hey, breasts are sexy. Plus it messes up their teeth. Superficial things, yes. But would you want saggy tits and a bratty mummy's boy with an overbite?