So, breastfeeding. It occurs to me that a man writing about breastfeeding is probably either very brave or very stupid. Well, I don’t count myself to be unusually brave, so I’m hoping there’s an option C I’ve overlooked.
As a new father I’ve been asked several times â€“ invariably by women â€“ for my opinions on breastfeeding â€œfrom a man’s point of viewâ€, and in particular my thoughts on the sometimes delicate (and at all times controversial) subject of breastfeeding in public.
That fact in itself is worth taking a look at. Why are women so interested in what men think about breastfeeding? The answer is simple â€“ because a man’s viewpoint on breastfeeding is different to a woman’s. Anyone who pretends otherwise is kidding themselves.
I mean, of course it’s different! From a biological point of view breastfeeding is a physical function of a woman’s body, one that meets one of the most basic and universal needs of all living creatures â€“ the need to nourish our young.
It involves a psychological and emotional bond too, building on that profound connection between mother and child that was literally all-encompassing while the child was in the womb.
Now, as a man I have absolutely no trouble understanding and accepting all that â€“ for the most part, it’s entirely obvious, after all â€“ but there is one unchangeable fact: I have never, and will never, actually experience it personally from the mother’s point of view.
But probably the most common reason women ask men for their views on breastfeeding is the fact that breastfeeding involves breasts â€“ which also happen to be perceived as a sexually attractive part of a woman’s body. Now just why that is makes for an interesting topic on its own â€“ especially since there’s no question that us men are entirely to blame. But right or wrong, it’s an unavoidable part of any discussion on breastfeeding in public.
For my own part, I’ve got very few issues with it and certainly have never objected to anyone doing it, but I am brave enough (or was it stupid?) to point out one or two practical points that really do need to be made.
You see, take a group of perfectly average heterosexual men and say the word â€œbreastâ€ to each one in turn, and I guarantee you every single one of them will think about sex before they think about breastfeeding.
Now while I admit this does little else but prove the immaturity of most men, it’s nonetheless just the way things are, and now that I’m a father it’s my own wife’s breasts that I’m painfully aware most men in the room are now trying desperately NOT to look at. And I don’t enjoy the feeling. Yes, that’s my problem and while I’m never going to make a scene about it, I can’t pretend it’s not real.
So I do have some sympathy for men who admit to finding it difficult to relax around a woman who is breastfeeding. It’s not a particularly big deal for me, but everyone is different. I can certainly relate more to that than to anyone who pulls out the old â€œproper behaviourâ€ argument, so long as he’s willing to take responsibility for his own hang-ups instead of expecting you to (for example, he’s just as capable of leaving the room as you are – more so, in fact, considering you have a child attached to your body).
It’s a pity, though, that the large number of men who have no issue with breastfeeding at all but are simply a little uncomfortable in the situation would rather not talk about it because of how sensitive so many mothers can be, due to other aspects of the breastfeeding debate.
It does seem to be a lost opportunity for men and women to understand each other a little better, and considering all the other challenges involved in bringing a new life into the world, that’s a shame. But that’s just me being honest. Perhaps that’s the option C I was looking for earlier on â€“ then again, quite often that’s little more than a combination of brave and stupid.
Breastfeeding in Public: Through Daddy’s Eyes
This is indeed a great post. Honest, refreshing, interesting. Exactly the kind of blogging I love. Sign me up!
@hpretty, Thank you. I’ll pass it on to the Mr.
Great post! You are very lucky to have a supportive partner. In todays world not all men think this way. Thanks for sharing.
@Isil, Thanks so much for the comment Isil. You’re right, not all men do, and I’m very blessed and grateful.
I love the honesty of this post. It’s so important for people to discuss breastfeeding like this to “normalize” it for lack of a better word.
I just mentioned this post in my latest post… hopefully it will explain just how important your writing was to me. It’s called, “Breastfeeding in Public…Revisited.”
@Amanda, Thank you so much Amanda. I’m sorry I missed your comment in January (It was a rather ill month for me!)
Thank you so much for writing this! Very mature and poignant of you. I really struggled with this and wrote about it on my blog, posing the question “Where do you breastfeed in public?” http://www.newmommyandbaby.com/?p=281
It’s amazing how little there is out there about breastfeeding in public- it’s a necessity in many cases and yet, unless you’re a breastfeeding mother, you probably don’t know much about it.
Come on public service announcement! 🙂 Thanks again.
This is a great post, posing questions I’d not thought about in all my resent musings on breastfeeding. As an expectant first-time mother, I’ve been wondering how I will feel about baring my breasts to feed either in public or in the company of male friends and relatives. While I’d considered their discomfort, I hadn’t thought about how my husband might feel knowing his friends or father for example are doing their best not to look at my exposed boob.
While I wholeheartedly agree with the fact that breastfeeding is a natural activity that should not be concealed in any way, I don’t know if I’m confident enough to feed without using some kind of cover. I realise it’s a contentious issue and that the more women like me do chose to hide breastfeeding, the less likely it is to become entirely accepted.
Would a woman using a subtle cover (a poncho, for example) relieve some of your discomfort?
@The Contented? Maybe, Hi
I’ll definitly ask Martin to respond to your question, but wanted to say from my side, as his wife, that he has never ever ‘made’ me cover, and has always supported whatever I decide to do. He is more likely to be the one to check that the cover is in the nappy bag if we’re going out, but he would never ‘demand’ it.
I did use a poncho style feeding cover in the beginning, as it was winter and i was able to wear it and feed and there was no difference, but I found that my middle was still exposed, which made ME uncomfortable. I soon learned to feed without exposing flesh though – tank tops are your friend! But now, with an 11 month old, she’s big enough to cover my middle nicely!
You’ll figur your way around it – that’s what always fascinates me about this debate – no matter how long you feed for in the end, it’s only the first few weeks that take a bit of learning – like any new skill, really.
Thanks – unfortunately this went into to my junk mail so I’ve only just seen it.
Your encouragement definitely helps, and I certainly think practising in private should make the public efforts far less daunting. 🙂
Great post. I find it so invaluable when men are open enough to talk about breastfeeding and be honest about it.
I have breasts and I feel a touch uncomfortable when I notice a baby latching on. I think it’s our cultures fault for infusing us with the believe that breasts must always be hidden. This strange custom seems weirder when I try to explain to my daughter why it’s okay to see men’s nipples but not women’s.