Over the last week, breastfeeding mom Penny Schlanser's life has gone from normal to crazy. After being a member of Spring, Texas's Pure Fitness for Women gym for about 10 days, she had the shock of a lifetime. Her baby began to experience separation anxiety while he was in the provided daycare area that allows all kids up to 12 years old.
Penny nursed her baby in the daycare area with the okay from the attendants. Unfortunately, a run-in with the owner as she discreetly nursed before a long car ride home one day resulted in an enormous fiasco, spurning radio broadcasts, deleted Facebook and locked Twitter pages, news broadcasts ... and an overall tone that "children should not be 'exposed' to that sort of thing."
Frankly, it's because of this exact sort of situation that kids need to be exposed to breastfeeding.
The owner's repeated claim was that "boys even as old as 12" were potentially present, and therefore could quite possibly ... well, see breastfeeding ... and that was disturbing to her. Honestly, that's exactly the problem -- that we see children seeing breastfeeding as a problem.
Dionna Ford of Code Name: Mama shares her contrasting experiences in a culture where breastfeeding is a normally viewed thing, and ours where it's not:
On a train in Denmark, a group of 15+ teenage boys boarded while I was nursing my son. One sat right next to me and offered a kind smile. Another boy noticed and looked for a second but didn't behave awkwardly at all. The rest likely glanced my way at some point (they were only a few feet away from me), but none acted like it was a big deal.
... in the Northeast US, I have had several experiences with nursing around groups of pre-teen and teenage boys. What has happened every time was this: one boy noticed, and immediately a storm of whispers, giggles, double-takes, stares, and/or shyly averted eyes commenced. "Her boob is out! Pass it on!"
I personally have had an adult man RUN from me, tripping over himself, so embarrassed that he couldn't believe he saw me nursing ... with a cover ... and then I've had adult men next to me on a plane who thanked me because "the only quiet babies I've been next to on planes are breastfeeding ones, which was my wife's favorite thing about nursing."
Sesame Street has actually had not one, but two features of breastfeeding women on the show -- certainly Sesame Street is not perverse, "exposing" children to something obscene? Well, you decide:
Buffy and Maria, corrupting small children, or merely feeding their babies? If you ask some people, you'd think they were passing out porno magazines. What does hiding breastfeeding accomplish? As one mom says, "Hiding this normal, healthy process from children only serves to perpetuate the slowly fading disinformation and misunderstanding regarding breastfeeding which exists today."
Back to Penny Schlanser and the gym, which not surprisingly, is facing a large nurse in. While I can only assume seeing breastfeeding isn't a normal part of the owner's life, I can safely say that treating it as normal and regular "exposure" without batting an eyelash is what will help prevent these types of attitudes from continuing in future generations. "Won't someone think of the CHILDREN?!" Well, that's the thing -- we are. One thing not considered was what the owner "exposed" present children to by attacking a mother for breastfeeding. All I can hope is rather than learning that Schlanser did something wrong, they had someone to educate them and let them know that she was merely feeding her baby. That's what children stand to learn from "exposure" -- they learn from the surrounding attitude that it's either something normal and then they stop caring, or they learn that it's SHOCKING and therefore, well, will be shocked.
Do you think seeing breastfeeding has a negative impact on children?
Image via Rachel Coleman Finch/Flickr