Recently a friend with 4 school-aged children and a baby on the way mentioned that she was struggling with how to approach breastfeeding this time, what with sons approaching puberty. She said she was leaning toward not doing it around them in order to avoid awkward encounters. “I think it’s better if they just don’t know too much about it,” she said.
As I said to her in that moment, I strongly disagree.
I really can’t imagine a more perfect time for them to be exposed (pun definitely intended) to the mother-baby feeding relationship. And no better person or situation to expose them.
Breasts are sexual. You don’t want your sons all up in your areola trying to see what’s going on there. I get it. But that is not the whole story. There is a whole history and culture and way of knowing involved here. And a lot of the story isn’t so great. My friend has an opportunity to re-write the story.
We already have an insidious problem with the objectification and sexualization of women up in here. Boobs rank quite high when it comes to objectification and sexualization among us. Boobs are a huge turn on. Admit it, even the most hetero of you ladies out there can’t help but sneak a peak at a prominently displayed rack. But it’s not about sex. It’s about some primeval force inside us that beckons—milk and honey, kids, milk and honey.
For men of course, slightly different. But I believe that deep down, their natural reaction is more milk and honey than it is nipple clamps and handfuls. It is only our cultural imprinting and experience concerning the nature of women’s bodies and what it means to be a woman that makes boobs sell beer.
If you want your son to think for himself, talk to him about breastfeeding. If you want your son to think of women they are attracted to as people, not sexualizing your own breasts will help. If you don’t want your sons to buy beer or cars, toothbrushes, insurance, coffee, or sex because of some woman’s cleavage, breastfeed in front of your sons no matter what their age. If you could prevent your 14 year old son from buying just one bottle of axe body spray through early exposure to a suckling babe, you know you’d do it.
Boobs are things most of the world has. Women have boobs. Your mama has ’em, your sister has ’em, your grandma has ’em, your teachers have ’em, the cop who pulled you over has ’em. And what is the point of them? It is not to attract men. It is to feed babies. That is why they are attractive to men. (Men have never understood that the milk making parts are the same on all of us and it’s only the amount of fat that differs. Ah-ha!, look at that! She could probably breastfeed triplets! Let’s see what she thinks of my manliness…)
But somewhere along the way we lost sight of this seemingly obvious and important connection. Maybe it was when we stopped breastfeeding. They became solely a man’s pleasure and many men became possessive, withdrawing support for breastfeeding their own children. After all, look at those Jane Austen dresses. Those girls were about to spill right over the top while dancing the allamande. But boobs were sweet and womanly back then, not explicit. (It was ankles you didn’t dare show.) Despite the utopian nature of the chubby, gleeful people in the unusual picture above, you needn’t parade around topless or be purposefully revealing. Just feed your baby as you would if it was just your partner there. Answer their questions. Explain it simply, as if it was totally normal. Because it is. Boobs are only as sexually explicit as we make them. And breastfeeding is only as embarrassing as we say it is. You can’t change the whole world, but you can help one man grow up better. And that’s a better future for all of us.
What are you really saying when you hide your breastfeeding from your sons? What messages does it send about your body, your baby, and your boys? How will your embarrassment affect how they feel about their wives breastfeeding? Where else and from whom are they going to learn what to think about the primary function of boobs and the nature of breastfeeding?