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There are at least two reasons why this issue is controversial in the United States.
The decision on whether to breast feed is somewhat controversial for reasons of gender equity. There are many people who assert that breastfeeding is much better for children. This can make working mothers feel pressured to breast feed their children even when this is very inconvenient. The decision, then, can be seen as causing tension between the mother's desire to work and what is physically optimal for the child.
If a woman does breast feed, there is controversy in the United States over where she ought to do so. Some breast feeding advocates believe that women should be able to nurse wherever they like. Conversely, some people believe that it is improper for women to nurse in public. This has cause a fair amount of controversy in recent years.
I find it very hard to believe that breastfeeding is still controversial in the United States. Media in the U.S. has loosened its grip on the appropriateness of nudity, foul language, and offensive material. All people need to do is simply look the other way if offended- or change the channel.
I agree with posting #2 in regards to why breastfeeding is controversial. Unfortunately, people tend to find problems with anything that they do not personally agree with. A child who is raised around a sibling who is breastfed would not find anything offensive about seeing a woman (typically) in public. Whereas, a child not familiar with it may consider it wrong.
If one were to look at other nations, particularly tribal nations, breastfeeding in the open is very common. It is a part of their tradition and communal life.
As a mother who breasfed, the controversy I ran into the most often was the "where" question. I always tried to be discreet when I was in public...sitting in the back of a restaurant or hall and covering my shoulder and breast with a blanket so others couldn't see an exposed breast when my babies were feeding. However, there were some (especially older people) who still thought it was inappropriate because they felt that I (and other mothers) were taking what should have been a private moment into a public arena.
Personally, I don't understand it. Breasts are primarily for feeding youngsters, and always have been...for all animals. I think the controversy comes from the fact that with the onset of formula and powdered milk options, breasts have become more sexual than practical. Therefore, men and perhaps women who don't or haven't ever breastfed their own children, are uncomfortable in the company of women who choose to feed their children breastmilk in public. Children must eat when they're hungry...they have no concept of "public" and "private".
Breast milk is the best, healthiest, and most cost-effective way to feed children. There should be no stigma or issue with it whatsoever. Most mothers who breastfeed in public cover their children and their breasts with a blanket to ensure privacy and the comfort of those around them.
We have some puritanical leftovers in our society that are very stubborn. While it seems quite natural and proper that certain displays of the human body be done only in private or specific, identifiable areas, nursing is about as natural an experience as it gets, and almost everyone alive has been, themselves, nursed at one point or another.
So the puritanical reaction probably comes from the partial exposure of a human breast in public. It really hasn't happened that much in my presence, so I assume there aren't many Americans absolutely deluged and under seige by ardent public breastfeeders. Perhaps we should just get over ourselves a little bit and politely look the other way if it bother us.
The major controversy centers around convenience and nutrition. Formula milk is devoid of the same nutrients and immune protectors and builders as mother's milk. Working women find more convenience in formula feeding, possibly with mother's milk supplemented, than is possible with a full regime of natural feeding.
For the more puritanical in society, there is something sexual about breast feeding. Also, the "liberated" set from the sixties considered it too confining and a sign of their previous days of supposed "servitude" to their husbands. They considered themselves "liberated" when they no longer had to be "bothered" with breastfeeding a child. In truth, it is the most natural method in the world to nurture a child, and has immense benefits; but the idea of it being somewhat salacious or confining has died slowly. Hopefully one day we can put this controversy behind us and move on to more relevant concerns.
I agree with the previous posts that suggest that breastfeeding should NOT be a controversial topic. Most people believe that it benefits the baby, and it is certainly a right that each mother should make on her own. As for breastfeeding in public, people who consider baring a breast to feed a baby as a sexually explicit act are still living in the stone age. It is a necessity of life, and most mothers take care to do so with as little fanfare as possible. If it's a problem for you, I say "get over it."
Some of the negative response to nursing is backlash from World War II, which both brought women into the military and the workforce, and also created the concept of "Better living through chemistry". Our mothers and their mothers were encouraged to approach child rearing in a more "scientific" manner, and the most natural things - breastfeeding, taking the baby to bed with the parents, letting the baby set its own schedule - were pushed to one side to make way for a clinical, so-called modern model of parenting.
The tide seems to be turning on this one - the new health care bill passed by President Obama contains provisions for nursing mothers to be allowed lactation breaks while at work, and also requires that any employer of 50 or more provide a private place other than a bathroom where nursing moms can pump breast milk. Here's a link about this provision of the new law: http://www.lawroom.com/story.aspx?STID=2186
I need to chime in also - it's only controversial in the eyes of those who see breastfeeding as something other than a natural part of a mother caring for her infant. My suspicion is that my parents were uncomfortable the first few times I breastfed their grandson in their presence, although I covered up. Fortunately for all of us, they never said anything about it, I never made a huge issue of it, and he has grown up to be a wonderful, healthy individual.
I was fortunate enough to be able to take a break from working away from home while I was breastfeeding. For mothers who are not able to do so, the challenges of breastfeeding or pumping and storing at work must be a true headache (as well as in other areas that can become pretty uncomfortable as time goes by!)
Isn't the entire idea of this "controversy" a shame? : ( Why is something so natural and beautiful suddenly riddled with controversy? **sigh** I believe it was my aunt, who barged into my mom's house in the early seventies ogling at this breast-fed baby (me), ... and my mom commenting, "What do you mean? Aren't you breastfeeding?" My aunt replied, "No, I am NOT a COW!"
Oh my. So, as with many other "controversial" topics, I think the decision to breastfeed comes down to values. In cases like this, there are often two "schools." In this case the schools are: "If breastfeeding is best for your baby, then you should do it. Period." vs. "Breastfeeding is causing more pain and suffering for both myself and the baby to continue; therefore, in this case, formula is best." More simply: nutrition and emotional attachment vs. best nutrition possible, ... while avoiding serious emotional disturbance (that can cause damage).
So, as with most controversies, there are important points to consider on BOTH sides! For me, it is an incredibly personal decision that should be made by the parents together (and possibly with the help of a doctor or lactation consultant), ... and is not really appropriate fodder for gossip in any way, shape, or form. As with so many other things in parenting, ... the parents have to be trusted to know what is best for their child. (And when that is in jeopardy, ... as some say it is these days, ... then we're really in trouble. But that's another story, ...)
When I had my daughter five years ago and my best friend had hers two years ago, we had the same surprising and disgusting experience in the hospital (two different hospitals). The nurses (without outright saying it) were very negative about breastfeeding and almost discouraged us. In the first few days, my daughter was not a strong breast feeder and lost some weight. I was made to feel that is my fault for starving my child and as a young mother I gave in when a nurse practically shoved a bottle into my hand and scolded me into feeding her. My friend had a slightly better time of it, but only slightly. Her daughter was a stronger feeder but still lost weight. Again, the negativity and guilt from the nurses. If many (if not all) new mothers are treated in such a way, no wonder breastfeeding is becoming more and more uncommon (and looked down on) in the US. I have vowed to stand up for myself and my baby when I have my next one despite pressure from the medical community.
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