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Ethics and Breastfeeding: A Match Made in Heaven?

Ethics and Breastfeeding: A Match Made in Heaven? #ethics #breastfeeding #societyWhen I first put those two words together, “ethics and breastfeeding”, my brain felt as if it were moving through sludge. Have you ever contemplated something and, perhaps due to lack of sleep, boredom or just sheer mental exhaustion, cannot seem to fathom its meaning? This could be as simple as trying to define the word “the”. Go ahead and try, you will get stumped too.

Ethics and Breastfeeding – Defined

But, really folks, these two words are quite entangled and not always for the better. Let’s start by defining each word. Thank you Google for being my dictionary this evening:

Ethics is defined as “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior.”

Breastfeeding means or implies that a woman “feeds (a baby or babies) with milk from the breast.”

How Ethics and Breastfeeding Collide

So, herein lies our culture’s issue. Our society wants to decide what is morally principled about breastfeeding, and more specifically, how breastfeeding should take place in order to maintain a semblance of morality. This argument takes place anytime a mother is asked to “cover up for the sake of another’s discomfort” or “feed somewhere else so she can have privacy.” It also takes place when others suggest that a mother has breastfed “for long enough” and can “go ahead and wean so you can (fill in the blank).”

I have to take issue with this though. There is nothing immoral about feeding a baby. There is nothing immoral about a breast used for feeding said baby or babies. And the bigger question, who decides what is morally acceptable? I think it’s time that we, as a society, came to a collective agreement about this issue. It’s time to let go of ingrained cultural norms and embrace the truth.

Ethics and Breastfeeding – Playing the Game

Here are a few signs you might be trying to play the ethics game with breastfeeding and how you can change your outlook, bettering not only yourself, but the world around for the benefit of mothers and babies alike:

Problem: You feel uncomfortable when a woman begins nursing within 15 feet of you and have trouble not inadvertently staring.

Solution: Change your mental dialogue from,”Oh my gosh, she is going to expose herself! Agh, where do I look?” to “Wow, breasts being used for their intended purpose, awesome! (take a moment to make eye contact and give her a thumbs up).” Then, go back to whatever you were doing.

Problem: You are sitting on a plane next to a mother and her newborn who is suddenly fussy. You see the telltale shirt lift as she clumsily fumbles with a cover, cheeks turning red as she attempts to feed her baby. You think,”Ugh, why do I have to sit next to the nursing baby?”

Solution: Scoot over, giving her room, make eye contact and smile gently at the mother. Say,”Your baby is beautiful, it’s great to see a mother breastfeeding – way to go! Here, let me help you with that.” Or even better, “I heard breastfeeding really helps babies during take off and landing, that must make you feel better knowing you can help your baby. You’re doing a great job!”

Problem: You are playing at the park with your local mom’s group. One of the mothers sees her toddler get hurt, and opens her arms to embrace him as he runs over. She quickly pulls her shirt up and comforts him as he hiccups and cries, but is quickly soothed while breastfeeding. You think,”Oh good grief, that child is clearly old enough to ask for it! That’s just disgusting.”

Solution: Smile at the mother, and say,”Isn’t it great when we can find a quick fix for those toddler bumps and bruises?” And then recall asking for the salt at dinner the night before – remember how your friend passed it to you, because you asked? Remind yourself that just because a toddler “can ask for it” doesn’t mean they are too old or that it is inappropriate to respond to their request. If your voice can be heard, why not theirs?

Are you seeing a pervasive idea here? It’s called being ethical in your dealings with breastfeeding women. It’s treating babies, toddlers and their nursing mothers with respect, grace and kindness, even if you do not agree or understand why it would be important. There are so many truly unethical dealings going on in this world against children that should be focused on. Let’s remove the stigma for mothers for breastfeeding their children, and place it on issues that really matter, like poverty, child abuse, neglect, starvation or homelessness. It’s time to put breastfeeding and ethics in their rightful place.

Have you run into an issue with ethics and breastfeeding colliding? What did you do?

This is moi: breastfeeding, birthing, butt-kicking, Jesus loving, woman of God, who happens to be married to a hot Coastie and has four fabulous mammy-hackers. I'm a "boobie doc" and birth junkie(aka lactation counselor and birth doula) and have no plans on weaning, ever. As in, I am thinking college might not be quite long enough for my youngest to gain full independence.

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