People in this country have a nipple problem, particularly a female nipple problem. Female nipples are dangerous. I mean, they feed babies, but they’re still dangerous. Men can walk around topless of course.
It seems that ornamental nipples without any usefulness are just fine. But lady nipples, holy crap- head for the hills we’re all going to die. The thought of somebody’s child seeing a female nipple, even in the context of babies and food, strikes fear in the hearts of those clinging to America’s puritanical heritage. You’d think female nipples shot lasers or something.
Right after my daughter was born I was tired. I didn’t give a rat’s behind about modesty and sat in my recovery room trying to get the hang of breastfeeding without much thought or care about what people might see. Even with a steady stream of family visitors, nurses, and (male) pediatricians I essentially spent the first 24 hours post labor completely topless. I had nursing covers and wraps, but I was having such a hard time getting everything latched and flowing that I didn’t want the extra roadblock of having something obstructing my view.
A few days later, back at home, I had all but forgotten about being half-naked in my hospital room when I got a phone call from my mother asking me to be a bit more modest while breastfeeding when I went to her house to visit with the baby. I told her I had a nursing shirt, so only one breast would be out at a time.
She responded by telling me my younger brother would be there, so it was important to cover up. I was still tired (giving birth is really tiring) so I didn’t argue, but maybe I should have. My brother is in college (and was at the time also). I’m more than certain he’s aware that women have breasts and nipples (In case he’s not: hey brother, women have nipples. If you have any questions, ask Mom.) My mom comes from a tradition of modesty, and that coupled with societal pressures and norms means that I can’t entirely blame her for demanding that I cover up to “protect” my brother. She breastfed my brother for 9 months but it was always completely covered or hidden away in an empty room like she was some kind of deviant. Maybe she has those dangerous laser nipples I keep hearing about.
My mom isn’t the only one with nipple hangups. When I was pregnant and had just put out my gift registry, I got an awkward scolding from someone informing me that registering for breastfeeding nipple ointment was inappropriate because it forced people to think about my (potentially cracked) nipples. I had to keep my nipples to myself and buy ointment on my own. I sincerely apologize to any people who saw my shower registry and are still suffering through mental nipple images. Try thinking about baseball.
Public (or private) breastfeeding is one of those things that’s a hot controversial topic. Even though it’s federally protected in the United States there are still tons of stories of women being told to leave or cover up in restaurants, airports or schools while trying to feed their children. At the same time people (like Everybody’s Favorite New York Mayor Bloomberg for example) are talking about how mommy’s milk is healthy and formula samples are evil and that women NEED to breastfeed. I’m confused. Which is it?
Breastfeeding is natural and healthy and should be encouraged. If women are going to succeed as breastfeeders they need support. Telling them to cover up, or leave the room is not support. I understand that many women prefer to cover up or leave, and that’s fine too. But women who don’t cover up or leave aren’t monsters or perverts. They’re moms. Leave them alone. I don’t care if “the children” caught a glimpse of nipple, or your restaurant dinner date was somehow less enjoyable because of your weird breast obsession. They’re feeding a child. Leave them alone. I don’t care if you can’t concentrate on your spreadsheets because the lady in the cubicle next to you is pumping milk out of her crazy laser nipples, don’t tell her to go to the bathroom (unless you’re in the habit of making dinner there), leave her alone. Try thinking about baseball.
Women have nipples. When women have babies milk comes out of those nipples for the purpose of feeding said babies.
Nipples. Nipples Nipples Nipples. Also, Nipples. Get over it.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.