If Breast Is Best…

by Jimmy Akin

in Diet

Babybottle_1

… why is it that so many mothers bottle-feed their babies in developed countries? I’m don’t consider myself a "lactivist" — someone who is hysterical in support of breastfeeding to the point of scorning mothers who feel they must bottle-feed, as unfortunately a few breastfeeding activists can be — but I found the following article from The Ecologist to be fascinating:

"Infant formulas were never intended to be consumed on the widespread basis that they are today. They were conceived in the late 1800s as a means of providing necessary sustenance for foundlings and orphans who would otherwise have starved. In this narrow context — where no other food was available — formula was a lifesaver.

"However, as time went on, and the subject of human nutrition in general — and infant nutrition, in particular — became more ‘scientific,’ manufactured breastmilk substitutes were sold to the general public as a technological improvement on breastmilk."

What was the result of this alleged scientific advance?

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{ 55 comments }

Kelly June 22, 2006 at 12:44 pm

I don’t know any lactivists who scorn women who MUST bottlefeed. I only know lactivists who CHOOSE to bottlefeed out of preference.

Michelle Arnold June 22, 2006 at 1:06 pm

“I don’t know any lactivists who scorn women who MUST bottlefeed. I only know lactivists who CHOOSE to bottlefeed out of preference.”
Kelly, I’m thinking of the sometimes overheated rhetoric I’ve heard on the issue. Some lactivists tend to speak in such a manner that you get the feeling that they recognize no instances in which breastfeeding just isn’t possible. If the rhetoric were toned down and the discussion calmer, I would have no hesitation about aligning myself with the lactivists.

Tim J. June 22, 2006 at 1:07 pm

We breast fed both our kids (I say “we” because I often fed the babies with bottled breastmilk) and it is without doubt best for the baby.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…
err…I mean,
If they ain’t broke, don’t fix ’em.

Sean Gallagher June 22, 2006 at 1:24 pm

To quote Mark Shea on this topic, “Lactivism: Because every kid needs a good bust in the mouth.”

jswranch June 22, 2006 at 1:33 pm

The artificial milk companies may have sponsored media (mom’s magazine etc..) to tell moms the artificial thing is better than the natural just to raise a profit.

Margaret June 22, 2006 at 1:35 pm

There’s no market incentive to promote breastfeeding, just like there’s no market incentive to promote NFP. They’re both healthier, and essentially free to use, but where’s the profit motive???

Tim M. June 22, 2006 at 2:41 pm

jswranch and Margaret have hit the nail on the head.
“Why do so many mothers bottle-feed instead of breast-feed?”
because of $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
there are Billinons (with a “B”) of dollars to be made by convincing mothers in the developed world, as well as in the developing world, to not use breast milk (which is basically free) and to use “formula” which is expensive and you go through LOTS of it when you have a baby.
it should not be rocket science. Almost any question that can be asked today will come up with the answer of what JP2 called lupine capitalism… the bottom line.
money.
May God have mercy on us all.

bill912 June 22, 2006 at 2:44 pm

Tim M: Do you actually mean to say that God is smarter than we are and knew what He was doing?

Tim M. June 22, 2006 at 3:27 pm

Bill912.
yes, only always :)

bill912 June 22, 2006 at 4:32 pm

Tim M: That news would ruin a lot of politician’s days.

brent June 22, 2006 at 6:31 pm

This war againt bottle feeding is a farce and one day it will proved to be a big hoax. Baby boomers are the healthiest generation ever and they were over-whelmingly bottle feed.

brent June 22, 2006 at 6:33 pm

Dang, my spelling stinks

momof6 June 22, 2006 at 6:50 pm

Ah, not only is breast best for baby, it’s best for mom. So many studies showing that it decreases a woman’s chance of breast cancer, even in those with the BRCA gene. Also, it’s a whole lot easier to feed a baby in the middle of the night when “the pump is primed” instead of crawling out of bed to heat a bottle. Yes, I could go on and on.

lar June 22, 2006 at 8:31 pm

Isn’t goats milk the closest to human milk?

skeetor June 23, 2006 at 3:42 am

It seems to me that the breast, to these people, seems just like another one of their “vestigial organ.” Much like the appendix, tonsils, and brains apparently.

Annalucia June 23, 2006 at 6:37 am

I don’t think it’s entirely a matter of Evil Corporations in Search of Profits; a lot of damage was done by those blessed words, “modern” and “scientific.” Maybe “class” as well. My mother, for one (American-born daughter of Ukrainian immigrants) associated breastfeeding with old-country peasants and wanted no part of that; I doubt she was the only one.

Christopher June 23, 2006 at 6:44 am

About ten years ago, Nestle sued the American Academy of Pediatrics and several other companies claiming that their “Breast is best” campaign was harming their business and their reputation.
Nestle offered to drop the suit against AAP if AAP stopped promoting breast milk as the best option for their baby. AAP, believing that if they did not promote what was best for babies and children, their organization would essentially be corrupt.
Nestle, fortunately, lost.
As has been said before, there is nothing in play but greed. These companies send men in long white lab coats to tell people that they should feed their children formula instead of nursing, and there are plenty of humanitarian organizations footing the bill. It is criminal that companies are trying to sell us what we already get for free. In the case of mother’s milk, they are selling something inferior.

Francis DS June 23, 2006 at 6:56 am

And don’t forget, for adults, water is best.

ken June 23, 2006 at 7:08 am

For the most part, in my experience, women choose formula for convenience and personal issues. Dennis Prager once had a radio segment about how it was better for women to breastfeed so that the breast would remain more sexually appealing to the husband. What? I couldn’t believe the support he rec’d from a multitude of female callers.
My wife, who breastfed all five kids, reminds me that it is sometimes difficult. However, unless there is some sort of grave issue or complete lack of latching, then what is the overriding benifit of bottle to the breast?

Tim J. June 23, 2006 at 7:37 am

“And don’t forget, for adults, water is best.”
Well, Francis, beer has been found to help the prostate.
Beer also has a good deal of water in it, so it’s practically a health food.

bill912 June 23, 2006 at 8:05 am

Tim J: “practically”? I thought beer was nature’s perfect health food?
No wonder I’ve got such a healthy prostate.

Tim M. June 23, 2006 at 9:31 am

I find it encouraging that beer and pretzels is the ultimate monastic fasting “food”, dating back many hundreds of years :)
dont’ forget that red wine also has lots of good qualities to it, as does green tea…
again, God given H20 is the base :)

Jayme June 23, 2006 at 12:34 pm

While being in agreement that breastfeeding is best – I do have to caution many well-meaning people not to be so quick to judge bottle-feeding parents. You never know who might have medical reasons for this decision. (Kind of like not always assuming that childless couples are choosing to be that way. You can’t be more open to life than being open – even if God is shutting that door.)

KristyB June 23, 2006 at 12:43 pm

Thank you Jayme. I agree that breastfeeding is best, but I had such difficulties in trying to breastfeed my first child, I finally decided (with much guilt) to start feeding him formula. I got to a point where I absolutely dreaded hearing my baby cry when he was hungry because of the pain I had when trying to nurse him. I didn’t want to loathe the experience, but I was feeling that way because it just was not working out.
I also tried to nurse my second baby, but after vividly being reminded of the pain I had when trying to nurse the first, I decided not to go that route for the sanity of myself and my young family. Thankfully, today I have two happy healthy young boys. My husband and I were both bottle fed babies too and we’re both doing fine :).
Those who can and do successfully breastfeed their children are to be commended; it is what is best in so many ways. Some are so strong on their “breastfeeding only” position, though, that it makes those that choose to bottle feed feel like less of a mother, especially when told they are doing it only out of convenience and selfishness.

Chris Lewis June 23, 2006 at 5:55 pm

This article didn’t allude to Nestle’s outright murderous actions in the 3rd world. They dressed up a bunch of white American women as nurses, and sent them into hospitals in India and other such countries to give “free” samples of formula to the new mothers “for them to use when their milk dries up.” That’s right – they told them that their milk would be drying up, so here’s some formula to use. Well, what do you mix formula with? Water. What is it hard to find a clean supply of in the 3rd world? Water. So, all these little babies who had a fighting chance were given all sorts of digestive problems because their moms switched to formula, because Nestle told them to. Nestle is responsible for the deaths of millions of babies in the 3rd world. Google “boycott nestle” and you’ll find all sorts of info. Really sad and sick stuff. Ordinarily I am an outspoken proponent of the free market and capitalism, but what they did was immoral and it caused babies to die. They’re no better than abortionists…they knew what would happen and they wanted the money.
Then there are those CNN infobabes who talked about “3 day old babies going hungry” in new orleans during Katrina. Hmm. 3 days. That’s about when the milk comes in. Babies going hungry at 3 days old? What do yuo think those things on your chest are for?

MaryC June 23, 2006 at 6:08 pm

Well, of course, When Carol Bellamy, a feminist chosen by Hillary Clinton, took over as director of UNICEF in 1995, she campaigned against breast-feeding, saying it reduced women to “the human equivalent of milking cows”.

Mundaus June 23, 2006 at 6:30 pm

One reason to bottle-feed in the third world: HIV. The virus can be transmitted by breast feeding.

CMinor June 23, 2006 at 9:06 pm

Mundaus:
There’s little argument that in developed countries where pretty much everyone has access to quality formulas and clean water and HIV positive mother ought to bottlefeed. But transmission of the virus via milk is not guaranteed, and in a place where a child is at high risk of dying before its first birthday if bottlefed it may still be safer to breastfeed. Please check out the following article:
http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/press_releases/2005/humphrey_breastfeeding.html
Brent:
I’d like to see some stats to back up your assertion about the health of Boomers; based on my own observation I’d be more inclined to give the generation prior the ‘healthiest’ award–and most of them were breastfed.
Studies show consistently that people who were breastfed are healthier as babies and as adults; they are also less likely to be obese. Moreover, women who have breastfed are less likely to develop certain forms of breast cancer. We may have certain diseases under control via vaccines and drugs, but we have also seen increases in a number of conditions –including, if I remember correctly, some digestive disorders– since the early Boomer years. There are plenty of articles on this out there; I suggest you do a search on ‘breastfeeding disease reduction’ and see what you turn up.
KristyB: Under normal conditions, breastfeeding should not be painful. If you should ever have reason to consider trying it again, I recommend locating a Certified Lactation Consultant licensed by the IBCLC. Don’t go to just anyone–there are a lot of underqualified ‘specialists’ in this field.

Cin June 23, 2006 at 11:17 pm

IF THERE IS MEDICAL HELP AVAILABLE, HIV positive mothers in the Third World are given a simple, cheap drug during pregnancy and another, more expensve ARV during breastfeeding, to reduce the transmission rate, and are encouraged to BF to six months, then immediately and aggressively wean (something about that age ups the chance of infection.)
Even when the drugs are not available, HIV positive moms in the Third World are encouraged to BF to six months, then do the aggressive weaning. Simply put, baby is more likely to live that way, even with the risk of HIV infection. A water-bourne disease is more likely, and quite fatal, if formula is used.
And Nestle are a bunch of murderers. Don’t forget that they cut the woman off just as the formula feeding permanently affects BM supply — and then the woman has to buy the stuff. She often waters it down because of the cost — which leads to infant malnutrition and death.

sara June 24, 2006 at 8:19 pm

I have come to believe that the loss of the normalcy of breast-feeding is one of the saddest consequences of the feminist movement. God designed the woman’s body to feed her children. But what people don’t know (including me – and I had a biology degree and had gone to medical school when I found out) is that nursing is nearly impossible to do without being told how. Not only did God design lactation, but he made us to be living in communion with one another. New moms are SUPPOSED to be surrounded by sisters, aunts, mothers, cousins, friends, and neighbors who have already been through it before and who know all the tricks of the trade. (As said above, it’s not supposed to hurt. Hardly any mom EVER “dries up” if she’s doing it right.) By the time my first child was 2 months old, I was so frustrated and confused by nursing that I started using those cans of formula they send home from the hospital with you, you know, “just in case”. Praise God, my husband encouraged me to call a consultant before I quit completely, and I ended up blissfully nursing for 18 months. My point is, we know that breast milk is best, but my generation doesn’t know how to do it. Because we’ve chosen to distance ourselves from support and we try to be super parents all by ourselves. I cried when I heard that there were babies in New Orleans who were hungry because they weren’t being nursed. The mom’s body sacrifices calories for herself even when she’s starving for the sake of the breast milk. We are losing the skill to keep our own children alive. What does this say about the state of our culture?

CMinor June 25, 2006 at 9:39 am

I dunno, Sara. My background’s bio, too, but leaning a little more to the envisci side of things. I’d say certain aspects of lactation are instinctive, although the process itself not entirely so. Certainly some learning inculcated by the surrounding culture needs to take place for it to be a resounding success.
I’d agree that modern culture makes it wellnigh unto impossible. Nursing more than a month or two & nursing (discreetly) in public tend to be frowned on, and many women give birth having never seen another woman nurse (day in and day out, not just once or twice.) Moreover, there’s a lot of ‘I can’t’ in our society regarding nursing that I wish I could explain. Cultural anthropologists would have a field day if they took that on as a project. There’s no lack of good info on what works (see my reference above to lactation consultants) but it’s not spreading generally despite the best efforts of the knowledgeable.
Based on personal experience, I’d say a little cheek and a lot of not giving a darn about social norms are excellent predisposers to successful lactation. Conversely, excessive concern about what the neighbors, your girlfriends, and your MIL think will lead to failure even if everything is going swimmingly.

momof6 June 25, 2006 at 2:44 pm

As far as nursing in public goes, I nurse quite discreetly. And if anyone challenged me, I would draw some quick parallels between my degree of skin exposure and the skin exposure of most of the teen girls in the mall. Healthy (discreet) nursing in front of your boys also teaches them in a beautiful way what “those things on your chest are for”. Same thing happens in public. To coin a word, this “de-objectifies” a woman’s body. Didn’t read that in the formula literature.

Tim J. June 25, 2006 at 2:54 pm

I have always been absolutely mystified at how anyone could be offended at breastfeeding a baby in public.
What an age we live in.

anon June 25, 2006 at 9:07 pm

I was ordered by my doctors not to breastfeed because my (literally life-saving) medication for Graves’ Disease was passing the breast milk and depressing my newborn’s thyroid function–which would have led to my baby’s mental retardation had I continued nursing in defiance of my doctors.
Please do not judge bottle-feeding moms. You truly never, ever know. And believe me, the last thing an emotionally vulnerable postpartum mother needs is judgmental lectures from the breastfeeding nazis.

Sailorette June 25, 2006 at 11:52 pm

My mom breast-fed me– I had a grand total of one bottle as an infant.
She said she only had to fight folks back once. My dad, who is about as shy as they come, did more than one quiet talk to anyone who tried to give her trouble. (A blanket and a corner booth were great boons)

Karen June 26, 2006 at 1:10 am

Tim J., I think breasts would have to become de-sexualized in our culture for people to not be offended. When I say that, I mean the subject of breasts is treated with such fascination, and for most guys I’ve talked to, the fascination is definitely erotic crossing the border into perversion, when you consider that breasts really don’t have a sexual function in themselves. They’re seen foremost as sexual playtoys and not for their true purpose, and that’s why I say “perversion”. I don’t get it and I wish it weren’t so. Admiring curves in women is one thing but it’s out of hand. (Even the breast cancer awareness movement errs on the same spectrum, different side, by insulting victims of a deadly disease in a part of their body with frilly baby-fied pink decor in doctor’s offices, pink ribbons and so forth. It makes some victims want to scream; they just don’t feel they’re taken seriously.)
Because of this perversion surrounding breasts in our culture, it makes people almost as uncomfortable to witness nursing as it might be to see an infant latched onto a certain part of the male anatomy. Strange, but that’s how it is. I would love to see breasts become de-sexualized as I understand them to be in some other cultures. It’s been my experience, though, that the “freedom” in some cultures to bare one’s chest hasn’t done anything to de-sexualize breasts, or more importantly, take the “perversion” out. For example, in Europe where they pretend nudity isn’t a big deal, they absolutely do make a big deal to the same point of perversion. I don’t like that about Europe. Sexuality is one thing, but it’s perversion that is everywhere, and the problem: I remember dialing up to look for ringtones and applications for my cell phone and one of the categories is “Erotik”, and any child with a cell phone can dial into those places. The other media are no better. And for that reason, I also do not think that the solution to de-sexualizing breasts in America would be more exposure to them. I don’t know what the answer would be, though. This is why some people, probably women, feel very uncomfortable seeing nursing in public, when they know too well the indignity with which that part of anatomy is viewed. Does that make sense?

Susan Peterson June 26, 2006 at 9:59 am

I am interested in this subject and tried to follow the link but it was broken. Both the one within the blurb on the blog, and the one at the end of it.
Nursed 9 babies for at least a year, sometimes up to 2 1/2 years.
Susan Peterson

Michelle Arnold June 26, 2006 at 10:24 am

Susan, I tried the link to the story just now and it appears to be working.

Tim J. June 26, 2006 at 11:02 am

If I may say so, Karen, I really don’t WANT to de-sexualize breasts. I don’t see it as a perversion in itself. It can be part of normal, healthy sexual attraction, but in our culture the sexual aspect is never balanced or tempered with the maternal aspect.
The treatment of breasts is an almost exact parallel to what has happened to the image of women in general. Sexiness is in, Motherhood not so much, except as an adjunct of self actualization. Among the Hollywood culture, they seem to be accessories, status symbols.
Now, even pregnant moms are supposed to look sexy and toned. How many pregnant women talk as if they are disgusted with themselves because their swollen breasts and tummies are so far removed from the size 3 they were in college?
I love pregnant tummies! I think pregnant women are beautiful, but then, I really hold Motherhood in very high regard. The tiny teen waist is a marvelous thing, but it was made to give way to the round dome of expectant mommyhood.
For the record, I also love babies, and flirt with them in restaurants.

Honora June 26, 2006 at 11:04 am

Shame on both Sean (and Mark, if he really said that)!
I nursed one child only.. the one who came 12 and 14 years after her sister and brother. I wanted to give her the best I could, in all ways. If I’d found it hard to do at first (and excruciatingly painful until some dear soul handed me a tube of Mammol which if I recall correctly is almost pure lanolin), that was a picnic compared to expressing milk for the babysitter to give her while I was away at work.. Something there is that ought not to work full-time after birth..
I loved the time we shared in nursing.. that’s what I wanted to give her– me! I remember thinking with awe one 2 a.m. that I could literally give someone everything they needed in the world.. and lest anyone think I dismiss the importance of the hunter-gatherer in all this– we two needed him more than ever, and never did I thank God more for him and his love.
By the time the 4th child arrived, which mortified my teens and most of our friends, there were older teens everywhere here, as well as a three-year old; nursing in private would’ve impacted too much, and I didn’t want to nurse before teen boys. So #4 missed out on the breast, but she’s the healthiest of us all, while the nursed one had ear infections all the time.. I don’t know what to make of it all, except we ladies should try it.

Ashley June 26, 2006 at 12:34 pm

Just curious… As a young Mom who has nursed 2 children and probably many more to go, where is breastfeeding appropriate in anyone’s opinion? Where is it inappropriate as far as modesty is concerned, taking into account the way our culture views/objectifies this part of a woman?

momof6 June 26, 2006 at 1:18 pm

I don’t think anyone here is judgmental of bottle-feeding moms. If anything, I’m judgmental of formula companies, and the culture which says, “eeeww, don’t nurse, it’s gross and will tie you down”. Also, one of my children was quite sick, and required supplemental feedings with formula, so I appreciate it for what it is: there in case it’s needed, but not my first choice.
Where can you nurse? Anywhere people eat, for one, and anywhere else where I can nurse as discreetly as possible, even to the point of being creative (how about changing rooms in department stores?). I warn you, though, I was once off in corner, nursing while covered up, when an elderly couple came *all the way over* to “see the baby”. I said, “oh, I’m sorry, I’m nursing”. They were slightly taken aback, but what could I do? I didn’t go looking for them.

Margaret June 26, 2006 at 1:40 pm

Anywhere that I am, with the baby, if he or she is hungry, is an appropriate place to nurse. It is possible to remain entirely covered for this whole procedure, with a little practice and a well-placed shawl, scarf, or receiving blanket (doubles as a spit cloth!) Nobody sees any skin when I nurse, believe you me. :-)

John$ June 26, 2006 at 4:38 pm

I think that, when in church, women should nurse their babies in the cry room, or else not at all. It isn’t right that a woman should bare her breast (even if nobody sees her) during Mass or some other sacred event.

CMinor June 26, 2006 at 8:39 pm

Heaven help me, John$; I guess I’m a scarlet woman!!!
Despite my repeated nursing in the pews, no lightning bolt ever came out of the sky. So I just had to assume God didn’t mind!
Fortunately, there are a number of sources of nursing clothes and patterns, so no mother ever need ‘bare her breast’ while nursing in church or anywhere. Moreover, with a little ingenuity and practice (new moms can do this at home with a helper or in front of a mirror) discreet nursing can be accomplished even in regular clothes. Shawls and the like can be employed for extra cover if needed.
Anon: If anyone criticizes you for bottlefeeding, you have the support of this woman, who spent more years lactating than she’s ever likely to acknowledge here! Breastfeeding supporters who know the issue through and through generally know better than to judge a mother for not nursing. Formula was, as the original post notes, developed for cases like yours in which breastfeeding is not possible.

Karen June 27, 2006 at 1:08 am

Tim J., it seems that–at least in our society–it’s been made impossible to have it both ways. The sexualization of breasts by definition makes them prone to be objects of lust. It’s overwhelmingly frowned upon–even illegal–for women to go topless. Women (and men) grow up with this idea of female modesty and have a difficult time changing this idea just because a baby is latched onto the breast. They’re the same breasts when there’s no baby latched on, yet most also consider them immodest without the presence of a baby. So if you want to understand what the big deal is, that’s it. You want to dissociate the maternal and sexual aspects according to the situation when it’s just not simple to do, and not everybody is going to be able to do it as long as the dichotomy exists.
It makes me consider that you have a point with the treatment of women, actually. I am trying to think of a time in history where breasts were both sexualized AND public breastfeeding was considered okay. I can’t think of one, but that’s not to say that no such time existed. If such a time existed, it could stand to show that it is possible for this coexistence, and that the Culture of Death may have started even before last century in some era when the concept of women’s dignity was not fully culturally “matured”. It brought me to mind of John Paul II’s “Letter to Women” in which social conditions up until that point in writing were acknowledged by him, and it almost does seem that you can say that the seeds of the culture of death have been planted in us for centuries.
I still tend to think you can’t have it both ways and then try to dissociate breasts’ sexual aspect from their maternal one in our current society, when it comes to breastfeeding. I just asked a man for his opinion and he said, “It’s inappropriate but understandable in very extenuating circumstances, and in those, you have to be discreet”. Breastfeeding might be a natural function, but so is pooping, and in our society, we just don’t do that in public. It has nothing to do with the digestive system and bum being a beautiful thing God created. I’ve seen people joke about breastfeeding women, in wanting to go up to them and ask if they could “have some”. Women go on and on about the intimacy and bonding that goes on during breastfeeding, BUT in all other situations involving intimacy, there is also privacy and discretion–they’re not for the public.
So it is no wonder at all that public breastfeeding makes people uncomfortable. What we should wonder is, if it should be acceptable, then what do we fix in society? I just can’t see that you can expect everyone to dissociate sexuality from maternity like you claim to be able to. Everybody knows that practically nobody is thinking anything maternal when a woman goes topless. The idea of breastfeeding in public is mortifying to me, and all the more so if it’s in front of people I know and have to look in the eye again. That’s what the sexualization of breasts does , at least for many of us.

Karen June 27, 2006 at 3:56 am

When I am talking about desexualizing breasts, I am talking about taking away the aspect of them as “sexual parts” in the way we understand them; i.e. private parts to be covered at all times, parts that should cause actual, automatic sexual excitement. I do believe this is a perversion instilled by culture, since not all differences between men and women incite this kind of reaction.
If it’s merely a physical difference at the core of what is defined as exciting and should cause a person to practice “modesty” regarding that asset, then it should follow to be so for all differences, and where men are different to women should count too:
If you want to run with this, that women’s chests are “different”, from the perspective of men, and this is cause for their “sexualization”, then men’s flatter chests are also “different” from the perspective of women, warranting their sexualization. If women’s hips are wider, from men’s perspective, then hips should be sexualized and bathing suits deemed immodest, and so is it for men because men’s hips are also a difference from women’s perspective. (I’m talking this way because we can’t treat men exclusively as the “normal” ones by which women’s parts are judged to be sexual or not). Men and women should both cover their lower faces because there are differences between men and women–men grow hair there and women do not. Likewise, nor should shoulders be visible, because there are differences between the sexes there.
If “different” is what makes breasts “sexual”, well, a LOT of OTHER things are also different (And a lot of things are also “different” about men. Men’s breasts are “different”, too). So “different” is not the criteria here for sexualizing a body part the way we do specifically with women’s breasts, and not men’s, or a host of other differences.
Now, before you say that men are just “like this”, it remains that there are cultures wherein breasts are not an occasion for arousal even when not breastfeeding, and women are free to be topless without a second thought. Women’s developed breasts, though a difference from men’s perspective, are desexualized and seen for what they are: a maternal asset and sexual difference from men’s perspective, but not a “sexual part“. If you still insist that it must be the case that breasts are to be sexualized, then that only supports the case that there should be modesty, because there will always be people who cannot conveniently shut away the sexualization of them on a context-to-context basis.
None of this means that the differences are not to be appreciated and even enjoyed. It just means that “sexual differences” is very different from “sexual parts”. Yet breasts are treated as sexual parts on one hand when there’s really no good reason for it. And on the other hand, some are telling us that baring them in a certain context is supposed to be also okay, when that is not our understanding of how we treat sexual parts with modesty.
Since I know their desexualization must be possible, I don’t see what the problem should be in desexualizing them somehow. I just wouldn’t know how to go about doing that. For the time being, I do not think deliberately being a “counterculture” type–which is what you are when you advocate your right to do what is counter to the dominant culture–is prudent.

Tim J. June 27, 2006 at 7:26 am

Karen,
There is a theory that a woman’s breasts are sexually attractive to men based not on social conditioning (sexualizing) but on biology.
According to the theory, larger breasts and curvier hips serve as a sign that the woman in question has good potential as a mother.
So, at some instinctive level, men might find breasts sexually attractive BECAUSE they associate them with maternity (good potential mate).
This is similar to the way that women are attracted to broad-shouldered men. Broad shoulders = strength = someone who can protect and provide for me. The guy might be a CPA (in which case broad shoulders would be of little help in helping him to make a living), but the broad shoulders are still something women look for (in general).
So, to turn the question around, it might be interesting to ask why some primitive cultures DON’T sexualize breasts, rather than why we do.
“I just can’t see that you can expect everyone to dissociate sexuality from maternity like you claim to be able to.”
I do it because it would be inappropriate NOT to. It’s my job as a Christian man. To view the scene of a mother nursing her child through a sexual template would be a sign of immaturity, something you might expect from gradeschool boys (Look! Boobies! hee-hee), but not from mature adult men.
It AIN’T REALLY THAT HARD, and I don’t see the problem with a Mom (Momma = Mama = breast) doing what mom’s were made to do, in public or not.
I think the problem is that we have produced several generations of men who are immature ninnies that won’t take charge of their own thoughts. A nation of schoolboys.
We lack a vision of mature manhood.

Inocencio June 27, 2006 at 7:45 am

Tim J.,
“We lack a vision of mature manhood.”
Very well said.
Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

CMinor June 27, 2006 at 8:16 pm

I am trying to think of a time in history where breasts were both sexualized AND public breastfeeding was considered okay. I can’t think of one.
Karen: I’m no anthropologist but I’d venture that breasts have pretty much always been sexualized to some degree, because of the lactation/fertility connection and because stimulation of them can, in some cases, be–well, arousing. That said, I am hard pressed to think of a place or time other than our own when public breastfeeding wasn’t commonplace and acceptable. This is because babies need to be fed, and for most of history there hasn’t been any other way to do it that reasonably gruaranteed the baby’s survival.

Karen June 27, 2006 at 11:54 pm

Tim J., There is no problem with appreciating physical sexual differences; the problem comes when one body part where there exists differences between the sexes, is singled out in one gender as a “sexual part”, when it really isn’t. (CMinor’s contribution, relevant as it is, needs to rule out psychological conditioning as well, and the fact that women can be turned on by stimulation of all sorts of other body parts.)
This is the “sexualization” I refer to, which imputes on that the part, like other sexual parts, the requirement to be covered at all times. Breasts have been put on the same level as genitalia. Women spend more time not being pregnant and not nursing than they are pregnant and nursing, and this is how things are the vast majority of our lives, if not all of it. Whether there should be a reason for this sexualization of breasts or not, the fact remains that unlike for you, it simply is not easy for many to dissociate sexual from maternal. If it is easy for you, then that’s great. It’s not for many, and perhaps especially if you’ve been a female on this earth for some decades, raised to understand that baring your chest in public is utterly unthinkable. Then when you have a baby, what you have grown up believing doesn’t automatically reverse itself. It’s odd to think it should reverse like a switch. You don’t know what you are asking. It’s like being okay with dropping your pants to perform some other “natural function” in public. Your chest is a “sexual part” because culture says so, and baring “sexual parts” is counter to your dignity, shameful, impolite, or what tramps do. I cannot make it any simpler. It’s mortifying. You may be right about the lack of a vision of mature manhood and the treatment of women–I tend to agree with you. But the bottom line is that I am answering you in what you said that you don’t understand about the big deal. This is the big deal. Unfortunately, I do not see it changing much in the immediate future, but I do think that if/when the change does happen, it will coincide with a greater respect for the role of women as women–I bet we can agree on that! Cheers, Karen

CMinor June 28, 2006 at 6:53 am

Ahh, but…
Prior to, say, the last century or so and even well into that century outside the western world, your average woman did spend most of her reproductive life pregnant or nursing. And even though covering of the breasts has been the norm in many cultures, there has almost always been one notable exception: feeding the baby. Because it has been understood to be necessary for the survival of the species.

Tim J. June 28, 2006 at 8:27 am

Karen-
I really do understand where you are coming from, but I see that many mothers don’t have a problem with breastfeeding in public, which I doubt comes from a lack of proper modesty.
It isn’t necessary to bare your breast. In fact, I don’t remember EVER seeing the full naked breast of a nursing mom in public, only the hint of one, at the most. Normally they are totally covered with a blanket or diaper or something. So it seems it is the mere IDEA of breastfeeding in public that offends many people, and not the actual exposure of body parts.
I don’t think the “dropping your pants” analogy works, because it fails to take into account intent and context. Seeing a naked woman in a painting at a museum might be one thing, seeing one pop up on your computer is another.

CMinor June 28, 2006 at 9:40 am

Tim J, I think you are spot on that is the idea of breastfeeding that jars people in our society. I think I got more of a reaction years ago when as a new mother I nursed in public under a blanket than when (having mastered discreet nursing) I merely rearranged my clothes a bit and nursed without extra cover.
Again, some of the commenters need to realize that this tendency to equate breastfeeding with ‘dropping your pants’ is an modern, western anomaly. Through most of human history, even in societies that we would consider ‘prudish,’ no one would have thought twice about a woman nursing in public.

Sean S. June 28, 2006 at 10:06 am

As a teenager, I can tell you it would definitely give me problems if women went around topless…but I don’t see a little public feeding as a problem, provided it’s discreet and modest. I’m capable of looking the other way if it’s a problem for me.

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