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Why Breastfeeding is Important
No mother should be shamed for giving their baby formula for any reason. However, breast milk has incredible benefits for both mother and baby. Breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of ear infections, eczema, gastrointestinal infection, respiratory diseases, asthma, childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the baby and also reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in the mother. In addition, breastfeeding has great psychosocial, economic and environmental effects. Truly, there is nothing better for babies to eat than breast milk.
Society's Negative Viewpoint
A study conducted in 2001 found that only 43 percent of U.S. adults believed that women should have the right to breastfeed in public places. Even today, women are being asked by restaurant and store managers to either cover up, go to a bathroom or even leave.
According to the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding:
"Women may find themselves excluded from social interactions when they are breastfeeding because others are reluctant to be in the same room while they breastfeed. For many women, the feeling of embarrassment restricts their activities and is cited as a reason for choosing to feed supplementary formula or to give up breastfeeding altogether."This exclusion, embarrassment and lack of social support can leave women isolated at home which could contribute to postpartum anxiety and depression.
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Telling women to cover up or go to the bathroom, perpetuates the incorrect notion that breastfeeding is shameful or dirty. Part of the reason that this belief is so prevalent is the oversexualization of breasts, when in fact, breasts are scientifically speaking, a secondary sexual characteristic in the same category as facial hair. The primary function of the breast is to feed offspring.
Also from the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding:
In American culture, breasts have often been regarded primarily as sexual objects, while their nurturing function has been downplayed. Although focusing on the sexuality of female breasts is common in the mass media, visual images of breastfeeding are rare, and a mother may never have seen a woman breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is a Right by Law
In the United States, we have the right, by law, to breastfeed. The federal law states, "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a woman may breastfeed her child at any location in a Federal building or on Federal property, if the woman and her child are otherwise authorized to be present at the location."
In addition to the federal law, states have laws protecting the rights of the mother to breastfeed. Including breastfeeding with or without cover, "without respect to whether the mother's breast or any part of it is uncovered" - D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1402.82(c)(1) and even if nipple is shown "irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother's breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding" - Fla. Stat. § 383.015(1) (1993). You can check your state's specific laws here.
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In order to normalize breastfeeding, people need to see it happening in every day situations. Everyone needs to see it. It should be in the media, done in restaurants, in stores, or anywhere else a mother wishes to go. Women need to be able to breastfeed without shame or embarrassment. The general public needs to be educated in regards to breastfeeding. Do your part in the normalization of breastfeeding by educating your own family and friends and breastfeeding your baby publicly, without shame.