Commentary: What the breast-feeding backlash says about us

May 11, 2012 at 3:01 PM ET

Courtesy Mara Schiavocampo /
NBC Correspondent Mara Schiavocampo, pictured here with her baby daughter, wonders: Breast-feeding is such a beautiful thing, why does the conversation about it turn so ugly?

When it comes to Time magazine’s cover of a mother breast-feeding her nearly 4-year old son, there’s one thing most of us can agree on: It’s shocking. We’re simply not used to seeing a child of that age suckling his mother’s breast. But what I’ve found nearly as shocking is much of the public outcry against it. For many people, the problem isn’t that a grown kid is breast-feeding, it’s that the magazine had the gall to show breast-feeding period.

Time’s cover has generated a flurry of discussion, and much of it speaks to the ick factor so many feel when they see a nursing mother. On Facebook, Twitter, and in old-fashioned face-to-face conversations, I’ve heard person after person say essentially the same thing. Breastfeeding is gross, and they don’t want to see it.

“That’s what breast pumps are for,” wrote one poster. Another called nursing “animalistic.” Sadly, it’s a sentiment I hear all the time. The message is simple: Breastfeeding is yucky, and if you’re going to do it, make sure you lock yourself in a room so no one can see it. I have no doubt that many people would be equally offended by the magazine cover if the child were a 1-year-old.

But here’s what kills me - as a society we have no problem with breasts, or milk. We just don’t like them together. A woman’s breasts are fine as long as they are sexualized. Cleavage lurks around every corner. It’s on billboards and commercials, at the beach and on city sidewalks. But the moment a woman uses her breasts for the purpose they were actually created, they suddenly become gross.

People are entitled to their feelings. If breastfeeding bothers you, so be it. But since so many insist on forcing their negative opinions on the world, allow me to share mine. My daughter is 4 months old. Minutes after she was born, the nurse asked me if I’d like to nurse. I said I did, though I had absolutely no clue what to do.

She gave me the baby, I put her in position, and she latched on and started sucking immediately. She had just entered the world moments before, had never seen another human being, and she knew exactly what to do. It floored me. It was like staring into the face of God and it was the single most magical moment of my life. I only wish that when they come across breastfeeding, more people would see it that way, viewing it not as madness, but magic.

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