normalizing public breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Isn’t About Sex

A baby sucks on your breast. Is that a sexual experience? No. Might there be a sexual response that occurs from time to time in the mother while her child is nursing? Yes. So let’s look at this issue a little more closely. First of all, the idea that breastfeeding might cause mild sexual arousal is not something to be swept under the rug. It’s a natural biological response. We do not need to be afraid to talk about it. As a matter of fact, I think a graduate student at the University of Minnesota might be writing her dissertation on this very topic as we speak.

The author of another blog felt anxious that breastfeeding might produce sexual feelings. I’m sure that any sexual feelings a mother might have will differ from child to child, from mother to mother, from breast to breast, and from year to year, depending on the age of the child.

I can tell you from my experience that the first days of breastfeeding can be very difficult and it’s a job, not something that’s fun. (Remember, I’m speaking from my experience and my experience alone.) This is especially true if you’ve just undergone major surgery to have the baby removed from your body and especially true if for some reason the latch is painful. And forget about modesty. By the time I had that baby I didn’t care who saw my breasts. I can’t even recall how many nurses, friends and lactation consultants put their hands on my breasts while the baby was sucking away. They were helping the baby to latch and then examining her latch. I was just trying not to scream.

As she got older and her mouth got bigger, the pain subsided. This probably took about six months. Before that any time my milk would let down I would have searing pain that ran around the front of my body and into my back. Pumping is no fun either. You literally feel like a cow hooked up to a machine. My sister walked in on me one morning while I was pumping and just stared. She said, “It’s like looking at a train wreck. It’s so horrible, but somehow you can’t manage to look away.” It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t feel pretty.

Any sexual arousal experienced during breastfeeding is a biological response. I’m assuming people experience it otherwise why would a graduate student be studying the topic. As for the idea that a nursing toddler might somehow experience some inappropriate sexual experience while nursing, that is ludicrous. The toddler associates nursing with two things: food and comfort. Most nursing toddlers won’t even remember nursing as a young child and if they do it will be something along the lines of “Mama Milk” or “Num-Num” and that will be that. Even as a non-breastfed baby ages she will be wanting to lay on mama’s chest and feel the warmth of her breath, the softness of her breasts and the relaxing sound of the heartbeart. These are close to the experience of being an infant or being inutero. My three year old still goes to sleep most easily while I am carrying her in a sling. Luckily she is quite petite. She feels safe and warm and close to the source of milk. She can sense it and can feel my warmth. She’s not nursing and there is nothing sexual about the experience.

The sexualization of breastfeeding for me is not the act of nursing that occurs between mother and child. The sexualization of breastfeeding is what comes from the media and the public, as it did in this last Time Magazine issue and as it does when a woman is breastfeeding in public and there are men around. Because breasts are so sexualized in our culture, as compared to other cultures, breastfeeding in public is put in the same category of nudity. In some culture more remote cultures women walk around without shirts on. No one is gawking, no one is repulsed. No one is being asked to leave the village to nurse. It is a cultural norm. In the current U.S. society, we need to make the shift from breasts as objects of lust to breasts as objects of nutrition and bonding. And men, this isn’t a job solely for women, it’s a job for you as well.

Related Sites:
A photographer captures of the beauty of breastfeeding women and babies.
Breastfeeding around the world.