In a recent piece on The Shriver Report, I talked about the awkward necessity of discussing your breasts, at least obliquely, with your boss. (That is, if you plan on working and breastfeeding. Otherwise, maybe don’t bring them up in conversation.) This discussion is a necessary evil: You have to use a machine to pump milk from your breasts, and in most cases you need your boss’ buy-in (or at least blind eye) to do that.
But, did you know that when you’re breastfeeding, you get to talk about your breasts with many, many more people? In study after study, researchers have focused on the health benefits of breastfeeding to child and mother. Why are none of these scientists pointing out the enhanced social opportunities that breastfeeding triggers? Unsolicited questions, judgments, and opinions represent yet another unsung benefit of breastfeeding, and it’s time we started celebrating them.
Some of the people you will discuss your breasts with are boring, obvious types, like doctors and lactation consultants and your spouse. Yawn.
But some of these people are much more fun and exciting – people with whom you would never otherwise get the opportunity to discuss your body! They include (but are not limited to):
- curious/nosy/inappropriate co-workers
- strangers who want to judge, shame, or sometimes effusively praise you for nursing in public
- your mother or mother-in-law, who keeps asking when you’re going to stop
- acquaintances who ask you things like “are you going to breastfeed until she goes to college?”
Sure, you could be anti-social and shut these interactions down.
You could say to the snarky “until she goes to college” person that yes, that’s your plan, as saving on grocery bills is the only way you’ll be able to afford tuition.
You could tell your mother that you’d really, really like to stop, but then what would your husband put in his morning coffee?
You could loudly “out” your inappropriate co-worker (the one who likes to make “milk the cow” motions with his hands every time you head to the lactation room) by saying, in front of others, “are you making a hand motion that implies I am a cow and you want to milk me?”
You could even turn the tables on almost anyone, saying, “I’m tired of talking about my body parts. Let’s talk about YOURS!”
But that kind of behavior would be really, really rude, terribly inappropriate, and not respectful of others’ comfort levels or privacy, or ownership of their own bodies. Shame on you for even considering these as options.
Instead, here’s my advice to you: embrace the wave of friendly interactions coming your way! Wake up each day, knowing that you have another chance to discuss your breasts with friends, neighbors, co-workers, jazzercise instructors, plumbers, flight attendants, and store associates. Not everyone is granted this opportunity, and I’d encourage you to consider it a privilege and a luxury.
And do take a moment to feel sorry for all those non-breastfeeding people who never get a comfortable opening to begin discussing their breasts and bodily fluids with others. Nursing mothers have all the fun, but that doesn’t mean we need to gloat about it.