Why Breastfeeding Always Makes the News

Have you noticed that we can’t let a couple of months go by in this country without breastfeeding making the news? Either a mom is super-irate that she’s been kicked out of an all-breasts-all-the-time-as-long-as-they-are-sexualized kind of retailer for the crime of feeding her child, or a mom is super-encouraged that a Starbucks employee has stood up for her right to breastfeed in a public space, or a mom is super-attacked from all sides for breastfeeding her older child on the cover of a national magazine in a divisive way that seems only to politicize the topic of motherhood.

Why is breastfeeding such a hot topic, so frequently misunderstood, and so readily manipulated for page views and click-bait?

Because we are broken.

Our culture has twisted the vocation of motherhood and claimed women’s bodies for sex and only sex. Breastfeeding flies in the face of the objectification of women and their breasts: Breasts cannot possibly be part of God’s plan for women’s bodies. Breasts cannot possibly be part of the way in which our physical selves manifest the truth about motherhood and every woman’s call to nurturing, beauty, generosity, and self-giving love. They are only for sexy sexy SEX! Anything else is gross.

Most moms I know do know better than this, and yet we and our children remain awash in a broken culture sending mixed messages about female bodies and God’s plan for motherhood.

I would love to hear your thoughts about nursing babies in our culture. What is your reaction to the breastfeeding stories and controversies that make the news on a regular basis? How do you talk with your children about breastfeeding? Do you always cover up or do you avoid nursing in public places? Do you have any horrifying or encouraging stories to share?

About Danielle Bean

Danielle Bean

Danielle Bean, mother of eight, is editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest and Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom, Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living and (with Elizabeth Foss) Small Steps for Catholic Moms: Think. Pray. Act. Every Day

  • Michelle Smiricky Tjardes

    Sometimes I wonder if it has to do about sexuality or competition. We have made breastfeeding into this thing that if we do we are a better mom, our kids will be better kids, on and on. So, I really feel like the animosity comes from other women’s inability or lack of desire to breastfeed and then feeling “less than” as a mother. Mommy wars are real and the toll they take on women’s emotional well-being are real. I wonder if the world treated breastfeeding as just another way to feed your child, instead of raising it up to being the only proper way to bond, feed, raise, nurture, etc your child if things would calm down. Motherhood is such a wonderful gift God gives us, but I don’t believe he grants us these glorious gifts to make us feel “less than” or unworthy. Our brokenness and sin does that. As a animal scientist, it seems so simple to me…I explain to my children, breastfeeding is how the mother gets milk to her child, no different than a sow feeds her piglets or a cow her calf. They ask if I breast fed them and I explain I did not as my milk did not come in and they also had severe milk protein allergies that required prescription formula. We joke if I was a pig and they were piglets, life would have turned out much differently:) But by the grace of God, he made us human and by the knowledge he granted us, we know how to help ourselves through difficult medical situations. Praise God!

    • Margaret

      The Pope himself encourages public breastfeeding. I nurse my son wherever and whenever he needs it.

    • Wilma

      Well said Michelle. Brave and joyful. We are broken. We each have our different circumstances. We do the best we can at the time. Formula is the back-stop. It’s called formula because that’s what it is meant to be: the doctor’s prescription for when it is needed. With your profession you may have read some of the writings of Diane Wiessinger… I heard Diane speak at a conference… I think she coined the ‘WWMD’ (What would mammals do?) to help mothers to breastfeed unobstructedly, normatively … as the mammals we are. Breastfeeding is much more than the milk. Breastfeeding, suckling.. is part of what defines us as mammals. As such it is essential children absorb that breastfeeding is a normal part of our human existence :)

      • Claire

        Actually, very few formulas require a prescription. Which is the way it should be. I personally would love to see formula become the exception, and I don’t love how the formula companies discourage breastfeeding and overprice their product. But when mothers need or want to use formula, I think they should be able to without having to justify it to get a doctor’s prescription. When we adopted our son (on 24 hours notice), I was drowning in paperwork and very overwhelmed, and I would not have appreciated having to get a prescription in order to feed my baby.

  • Olivia

    I think it’s good that it seems like our culture is trying to “normalize” breastfeeding since it seems like a lot of people went straight to formula in the past decades. I do feel like this generation of moms is really trying to make breastfeeding normal, but it’s hard! There are a lot of old school people out there that still give weird looks, or comments. It’s sad that that’s the world we live in now. Luckily I haven’t had to talk to my children about it yet since she’s not old enough. I am still breastfeeding my 1.5 yr old. Now that she is older I don’t do it in public much at all just because it’s really hard since she’s so big, and she doesn’t really nurse much in the day anyway. I breastfed in public all the time when she was younger. First with a cover and then I got braver as time went on and did without sometimes. I still feel most comfortable with a cover, but I’m not going to not nurse just because I don’t have one. It has more to do with the company I’m in, and my own modesty.

  • Claire

    My son is adopted, so I did not breastfeed (I know that some adoptive mothers are able to breastfeed, but it was not feasible for us for a variety of reasons). If I had nursed, I probably would have been discreet about it. But that’s just my own comfort level. If a mother feels comfortable nursing in public without a cover, I think she absolutely has the right to do so. It infuriates me when people equate breastfeeding to elimination, and act like it is something gross that needs to be done behind closed doors. But yet no one calls business establishments to complain about girls who parade around half naked in revealing clothing. If a young child notices a woman breastfeeding, a simple explanation is all it takes. I would much rather my son see a nursing mother than a young girl walking around with a plunging neckline and shorts that barely reach the top of her thighs. At least with breastfeeding, there’s a valid explanation about why the breast is exposed.

  • rcordesy

    I agree with you that our culture is broken, and I think these headlines are mostly hype, designed for controversy. I was able to discreetly breastfeed my (11) children whenever they were hungry, whenever we were out and about. I even altered my Mother-of-the-Groom dress so I could respectfully nurse my youngest child during the ceremony and afterwards. (There are 24 yrs. between my oldest & youngest.) ;)

  • Rachel Larpenteur

    I really struggled to breastfeed my first in public because she was horribly difficult to latch on. I didn’t want to be exposed for an average of 2-5 minutes while we worked on latching… =) We used a cover when we had to do it. However, once she became more proficient (around 4-6 months!), we were able to nurse in public more easily and without a cover, which each of my kiddos have hated. I don’t mind nursing in public, as long as my baby isn’t going to totally expose me (yanking up my shirt, etc) and have done it just about everywhere we’ve been over the past 5 years. I was joking with a friend that I’ve nursed a baby at the strawberry farm every year I’ve been in the past 5 years. And the mall, the grocery store, church, parks, restaurants… When baby’s hungry, baby’s HUNGRY. And my second 2 have completely refused bottles. The times I use a cover now, and I’ve never mastered the blanket trick, is when I’m wearing a dress that must be pulled down instead of pulled up.

  • Autumn

    While I was still pregnant, I was VERY worried about breast feeding- my breasts being out in a world where breast are sex objects, being stared at or even worse, confronted/ shamed by one of the anti breastfeeding in public brigade, feeding in front if men esp male relatives (in the last case, it was about my shyness). The my daughter came along and the need to meet her need pretty much wiped away 95% of my worries/ fears. In fact, I am so fearless about breastfeeding in public now that if anyone tried to shame me about it, I’d take em down in a heartbeat! But I’m still shy about breastfeeding in front of male relatives and friends. I usually don’t use a cover as I wear discrete breastfeeding clothing but on the odd occasion where the clothes are discrete enough, I use a linen to cover.

  • Michele Krilich Faehnle

    Danielle – you are right on with this! I am an RN and trained as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. I remember my first class in preparing to become an IBCLC, the instructor shared this exact information, on how we have sexualized the breast so much that it has twisted breastfeeding into something disgusting and to be ashamed of. I am the mom of 4 and breastfed all my babies (currently have a 2 month old) and I have loved every minute of it! I use a nursing cover and feed where ever I am! When other children ask what the baby is doing, I teach them about how the baby is eating and don’t act like its something to be embarrassed about. I’m glad you wrote this. I hope others read and gain a better understanding of this issue and why its part of the media frenzy. Breastfeeding should be something that is embraced. People can discretely nurse and it should be a normal part of culture!

  • Wilma

    When we breastfeed in public we are giving a noble gift that reaches far beyond our family to every future mother and to changing the world for a better place. Breastfeeding must not be hidden… it needs to become cultural again. It is best learnt through ‘osmosis’ being something we take for granted happening all around us everywhere, every day – all through our lives: normal and natural like all the other things we must learn as we grow up from infancy to adulthood. Breastfeeding is so beautiful. This abnormal society is what makes it not easy. Society is letting mothers down. The guilt some mothers so sadly claim is inappropriate, (please never ever feel guilty when you’re not at fault :) Mothers anger is appropriate and justifiable and needs directing and the causes addressing. Mothers deserve community support. We are embodied. Temples of the Holy Spirit. And God bestowed on us this dignity – that a baby will learn to love through our breastfeeding … how we give ourselves, our bodies in love.

  • Lauren

    I live in South Africa but I have seen all the articles floating around on social media and the intense debate they provoke. What shocks me is the often violent negative reaction to breastfeeding as something disgusting or animalistic. I am still breastfeeding my 18-month old and can easily say it is one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I fought through latching issues, severe PND and supply issues but, besides union with my husband, nothing else has come close to foreshadowing the total self-donation of the Trinity. Every day, a few times a day I can say “this is my body given for you” and see the positive results immediately. The hormones released bond me to my baby and make us both feel great and it has made me a better mom all round to my older daughter as well. Knowing that this miraculous substance sustains my child, provides him nourishment, immune protection, comfort and love sort of makes all those critical voices fade into the background! Also, joining groups like the La Leche League and having mom-to-mom support on a daily basis through Facebook groups is normalising breastfeeding, babywearing, extended breastfeeding and nursing in public and our generation of moms is slowly arming ourselves with the scientific data to defend our choice to breastfeed whenever and wherever our baby needs to. Education, peer support and public support will all go a long way to helping this ’cause’ of re-introducing and normalising one of God’s greatest gifts to mothers and their children.

    • Katie

      Beautiful, thanks for sharing, I’ve never really though of breastfeeding that way.

  • Katie

    I really struggle with breastfeeding in public. On the one hand, I am all for a baby’s right to be fed and woman’s right to feed him wherever she is. On the other hand, my husband did not grow up around breastfeeding and is very uncomfortable with seeing it. Because of our sexualized culture, even good, virtuous men have problems seeing a woman’s breast exposed in breastfeeding. I nurse my son in public without a cover if I am dressed in a way that I can do it discreetly, but otherwise I will try to find a private place to do it or use a cover.

  • Ellen Wood

    I also think it’s important to address the angle that men are inherently attracted to women’s breasts in a sexual way BECAUSE they are an essential part of the woman who will bear and nurture his children after intercourse. And this natural affection for our bodies in this way is also part of God’s plan. It’s in our over-sexualization of everything and the casual way in which our society approaches sex that has separated the two purposes and elevated one over the other.

  • Elena Perri

    Breastfeeding is back in the news thanks to Olivia Wilde’s cover photo on Vogue magazine. I also discovered that August is breastfeeding awareness month, so there will likely be more discussions/news reports about breastfeeding.

  • tom jones

    If women don’t want the breasts to be looked at as sex. Then don’t at a young age show off your tits. Every women in this country uses her tits as a bargain tool. And women a re the ones who get breast implants skimpy tight bras making your tits look bigger. And you use your tits at a young age to get what you want from men. So it’s the women’s fault. But don’t be so quick to react. When you offer a man something it’s his toy. So if you want breasts to only be for breast feeding you might be without a man. Every man I know loves to suck on breasts and yes its sex. If we men don’t have breasts to play with any more. You won’t have a man. Bottom line is simple it’s women who used tits at a young age to trap men. So even to women tuts are for sex as well. Breast feed your little shit heads but don’t be mad when men look at you . So if breast milk is good for babys. Then it’s good for all so all men out there go get some breast milk in public.

  • tom jones

    Women will always find something to bitch about. Womens rights and so on. Listen we men do not owe you anything. It’s the women who are the fucked up ones. Breast feed in public we don’t care. But also be warned we men will be there watching and maybe we men my walk up to you and latch on as well. Hey its the best milk ever right so you can’t refuse any person a good healthy meal. If women don’t want to be looked at as sex then cover up don’t use your body to get things from men. It’s the truth and the ugly truth. Now some mom’s should never breast feed ugly duck.