Monday, April 18, 2011


"The Sunday Star-Times asked its readers panel about perceptions of breastfeeding in public. Again and again the respondents said they had no issue with either doing it, or it being done, but with one proviso - 'as long as it's discreet.'
'The woman should breastfeed with modesty', said one respondent. . . .
But then there's the issue of how best to do it in public. The days of open disapproval may be declining but most breastfeeding mums say they still feel the pressure for discretion to avoid the tut-tutting of strangers."
"Breastfeeding 'doesn't add up'": Susan Pepperell  Auckland Sunday Star-Times. April 3 2011.

"If we can get past the pain, the discomfort, the alarmed looks from other cafe-goers who, with every repulsed flinch seem to imply that you're transgressing some unwritten health and safety code, it does, most of the time, get better."
"The Agony and the Ecstasy": Megan Nicol Reed. Auckland Sunday Star-Times. April 3 2011.

This is PART 2 of the series on BREASTFEEDING.
The call for discretion to mothers who breastfeed in public is today being sounded in most western cultures. As a breastfeeding mum of the 1980's and '90's, I rarely heard this call as a nursing mum.
"Discretion" = "liberty of suiting one's action to circumstances."
"Discreet" = "skillful in adapting one's measures to the occasion, intentionally unobtrusive." 
My Oxford dictionary then referred me to 
"Discern" = "recognize with sense or mind the difference or distinction between things.

The message seems to to read, if you want to breastfeed your baby in a public place, remember you are in a public place. The baring of private body parts in that public place would be inappropriate, so when breastfeeding, cover up with a scarf or shawl, a baby wrap, or use a sling or pouch. There are plenty of products on the market to choose from. Or wear a top which is not fitted so your breast and the baby's connection to the breast, is covered. Again there is fashion clothing tops for breastfeeding mums.
It is not hard to discretely breastfeed. With just under ten years of breastfeeding history, both private and public, I happily fed our babies - often in the company of others who for most part were totally unaware.

You need to PLAN - (take the shawl with you, wear the loose top, think out where you are going and where you could feed once there. If the place is new to you, pick out a private place on arrival - a corner, near a wall, and sit yourself with your back to the crowd. If all fails, return to your car to feed, then return to the party afterwards.)

You need to PRACTICE - (practice at home in front of the mirror so you can see what others would see. Test how much different covers actually 'cover', and which position is the most modest. Pick up the baby and get them feeding in a relaxed style before their bellow causes you to become the in-cafe 'entertainment'.)

You need to RELAX - (My husband, of dairy farming background, always said the relaxed cows on the farm were the best mothers. So RELAX and enjoy yourself.)

The dictionary definition brings another point to the conversation, which I like. The word "liberty" first caught my eye and then the more I read the definitions I felt there was a general tone of respect for the one doing the discerning, the one practicing discretion. The idea of "suiting one's action to circumstance", is to maintain that respect for the mother who is breastfeeding.

My last post "Public Perceptions of How Competent a Mother is Who Breastfeeds" WEEK 34  QUOTE 34, commented on Montana State University's studies into how the public viewed breastfeeding mums in areas of their mental competence, mathematical skills and if they should offer them employment. The findings were that the public viewed breastfeeding mums as incompetent, poor in mathematical skills and therefore didn't want to employ them. The researchers at Montana University saw this as a bias against breastfeeding mothers and suggested the public's poor attitudes had been affected by the increase of "sexualized breasts" on display publicly.

  Megan Nicol Reed in her article "The Agony and the Ecstasy" said, "As breasts have been implanted, lifted, exposed, they have become sexual entities unto themselves. For the next generation of mothers, fed a diet of promo girls and Girls of the Playboy Mansions, it must be confusing, inappropriate even, to look down and find a baby on the end of your nipple. Shouldn't there be a tassel?...." This 'enlightenment' gives understanding to the mindset of participants in the Montana University study.         
This widespread mentality toward a woman's breast has had detrimental affect on the public's attitude to breastfeeding mothers. The word used in last week's post "objectification", sums it up.
This huge shift of mindset found both in men and women, has removed the respectful admiration, which not too long ago was the public's view of breastfeeding mums, and left us with the "repulsed", "tut-tutting" which today just pressures and confuses a Learner mum.
It is often said that mothers today are overly barraged with instructions on what to do, how to do it... A third of Megan Nicol Reed's article is full of the like. Near the end of her article she says, "And now we're all grown up, with the benefit of several decades of women's rights giving wind to our wings, we're really cross that anyone can presume to tell us what to do." What a sad thought, and then her article's conclusion, "The feminist in me thinks, well, it's a woman's right to choose. The mother in me thinks, suck it up and get on with it. Motherhood involves sacrifice." This may sound partially true but the underlying philosophy is faulty and results in a motherhood which is not beneficial to the mother herself, and is a poor example of motherhood to her children and observing friends around her. Possibly here is another reason for the negative attitudes to breastfeeding mothers by the participants in the Montana study and in our community.
The offer of huge amounts of information to breastfeeding mothers, I think is wonderful. Could it be the problem of annoyance "...that anyone can presume to tell us what to do..." , comes with the increase of older mothers or grandmothers and women stepping too much into the lives of young Learner mums - doing all for them, arranging everything, paying for everything, overly instructing even dictating - instead of answering a question when asked, simply giving the advice to be picked up as the new, thinking mother wishes. This second method shows respect for the new mother to, yes "choose" how she will proceed. (You may like to refer to my post on "Controlling Mothers" WEEK 15  QUOTE 15, or another post full of ideas to help be a confident mum WEEK 11  QUOTE 11).

"The Montana State University study concluded breastfeeding was viewed negatively and the only way to fight this was to encourage more women to do it openly." from Susan Pepperell"s : "Breastfeeding 'doesn't add up'".
SO ~
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ if you are a breastfeeding mum -
BE PREPARED - by reading and understanding the wealth of information on breastfeeding. Plan how to tackle the feeding time in public.
BE WISE - and cover yourself showing respect for others. With no skin showing most people will think you are holding a sleeping baby. Choose maternity bras that are quick and easy to open and close one handed.
BE CONFIDENT - and ask questions of those you admire and trust in the field. There is nothing shameful in breastfeeding your baby regardless if other people think differently.
BE POSITIVE - with a correct attitude of respect for yourself as you feed your baby using the best method ever devised for your baby's health and development, for your own future health, while practicing the start of a great relationship with your child.
As Karen Hunt : "How to Discreetly Breastfeed Your Baby in Public" says, "nurse proud and nurse long."


Monday, April 11, 2011


The recent release of "Spoiled Milk:An Experimental Examination of Bias Against Mothers Who Breastfeed", Montana State University's studies in attitudes to breastfeeding, published in the "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin", seemed to have found their way into the press both here in New Zealand and internationally.
Background from which the studies were set up ~
"In 2008, Facebook ...... forbade photographs of breastfeeding mothers if any part of the areola was showing. Facebook declared such photos "obscene, pornographic, and offensive" and removed them from websites. ....... Moreover, empirical evidence suggests that people feel offended by and less comfortable with a woman who nurses in public compared to one who nurses privately. ....... As a cause or consequence of this sexualization of the maternal breast, mothers who breastfeed often go to great lengths to avoid the public 'male gaze' and being 'misread as sexual'. ........ "
"Given that a woman's breast is highly sexualized in Western cultures, it follows that to the extent that sexualized women are devalued and mothers are devalued, the breastfeeding mother may be particularly prone to experiencing bias. ....."
Tests by Montana State University were set up with the "hypothesis that breastfeeding mothers are the victims of bias."
The experimental studies involved student participants with the average age of twenty years.
Findings ~
"These results (from all three studies) confirm that knowledge that a woman who is lactating serves as a source of bias in how observers perceive her level of competence." ......
" ...... an unwillingness to hire the breastfeeding mother. This behavioral intention, coupled with the consistently low ratings of workplace capabilities ...... suggests that the probability of workplace discrimination is high for nursing mothers. ....."
"We speculate that this somewhat more negative view of the maternal breast is because a mother's breasts are viewed as instruments (objects) meant to be handled by her lover or her infant and that sexual conflation (putting together two variant elements, the combination possibly producing confusion) of the maternal breast resulted in the negative views of the breastfeeding mother. This link, however remains for future research to determine."

"Spoiled Milk:An Experimental Examination of Bias Against Mothers Who Breastfeed" : Jessi Smith, Kristin Hawkinson, Kelli Paull of Montana State University,  published March 18 2011.

The findings of the Montana State University study was that the public perceived a breastfeeding mother to be less competent, less likely to get a job and less competent mathematically, than a woman who bottle fed her baby.
Journalists and parents alike have reacted to these studies and their conclusions. David Berreby in "Proof That People are Prejudice Against Breast-Feeding Women? Not So Fast." at says, "I noticed that not one media report about this article took a step back to ask about the path from experiment to conclusion.... If we want to understand what the behavioral sciences can tell us about ourselves, we're going to have to do better than that."
The Auckland Sunday Star-Times readers' panel said, "Perhaps this panelist summed it up best: 'It's time we taught all our sons that breasts have a practical use beyond giving them a subject for crass jokes'. "
Lisa Belkin at the New York Times site Motherlode, linked the Montana University studies with the recent Durham University research, "that the longer a mother is pregnant and the longer she nurses, the larger her baby's brain." (This was in fact more to do with the comparison of varied lengths of gestation and mothers feeding between different species, rather than the varied length of human pregnancies and feeding) Then Lisa asked the question, "Still, more breast feeding more brain growth - reason to encourage nursing no matter what the perceived competence, right?"
May be you are gasping and gaping to hear this is how three American sample groups of students view breastfeeding mothers. The researchers particularly made the point that this age group "of childbearing age", were appropriate to be the sample groups. A separate groups of students was used for each of the three studies. The researchers also stated that they believed the perceptions of this age group were an accurate measure of the views held by the general public. They believed the general public's attitude to the competence of breastfeeding mothers would be far lower than the students' perception. But possibly, as David Berreby writes, there is too much surmising going on between experiment and conclusions.
The fact that the research used Brooke Shields as the identity of motherhood in the first study, caused some to immediately push the study 'out the window'. But on reading the study she was used identically in all categories for breastfeeding and bottle feeding. Their reasons for their choice was that they believed Brooke to be both well known and popular and respected by the age group of the participants in the experiment. I personally was surprised and still think other identities would have better filled the 'well known, well respected' criteria.
Large amounts of the study material discussed the "objectification theory" which the researchers believed to be prevalent in Western culture. "....individuals - particularly women - are subject to experiences that highlight body parts as 'things' to be used or looked at by others ..... This compartmentalization of a woman's body reduces her value to that of an object rather than a whole embodied person...."  ( You may wish to read my post WEEK 24 QUOTE 24 on "Modesty", which looks into this area)
As an example, they spoke of larger breasted women "under male gaze" as being interpreted with low worth and value. From here the Montana team moved onto say ".... assuming the sexualization of the maternal breast, objectification theory would predict that not only will women who are high in self-objectification feel more shame and embarrassment with public breastfeeding, ...... but onlookers should prejudge women who breastfeed with the same negative bias they use to judge sexualized women."
If you live here in New Zealand, I am told that the view towards mothers who breastfeed is not so severe or biased. Are we 'behind' in the trend, or could we be the new trend-setters? I am also told that the American view is equally held by those in Britain and that Australians are currently somewhere in between the American and New Zealand mindset.
The Montana State University study encouraged as did a number of writers, that the present American attitude could and should be influenced, even changed, by what present and future mothers do.
Therefore I intend to write two more posts on Breastfeeding ~ one on the public call for discretion by mothers who breastfeed, and ~ another, an interview with a long-term friend who has an incredibly impressive career practicing as a midwife.

THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ If you're presently a breastfeeding mum or one from the past, publicly educate your community by expressing YOUR thoughts on the Montana State University findings. It may begin that needed influence for change in the mindset of our communities.