Why women should breastfeed anywhere, anytime

The Nigerian society should be more sensitive to nursing mothers who have to breastfeed their babies in public.

Through history, however, we have been riddled with reasons why women cannot breast feed in public. Today, the argument/discussion has peaked online with both sides of the debate vocally stating their opinions.

Those who are in support of public breastfeeding believe that breasts shouldn't be sexualized while those against, believe it is indecent for a nursing mum to expose herself in a such a way.

In pre-advanced societies, high-class women used wet-nurses to breast feed their infants - for some, to prevent an inevitable breast sag, the average woman has been shamed for public breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding in public in Nigeria

"I had my son 6 months ago, and he has been my greatest blessing. Some time ago, he was crying at a party, so I excused myself from the gathering to 15 yards outside the hall.

"My Husband had stepped away with his car. As I sat on a car's hood to breast feed him, passersby starting giving me judgmental glances. I never felt so proud to be a Mother, yet so ashamed of myself" Jola, a 31-year-old lawyer, in Lagos, Nigeria tells Pulse.

Attitudes to public breastfeeding differ by society. It's not completely outlawed in most liberal societies, but 'cover-up' has become a seeming mantra for the 'offended'.

Breastfeeding in public in abroad

In June 2017, an American mum Brei Theisen was shamed at a public pool in Wood River, Illinois, for breastfeeding her daughter.

A manager told her she was offending others in the area. Her response was amazing. "I told him, I'm not going to cover my daughter's head in 90-degree weather — should the people at the food court also cover up?'"

Although the public pool's management apologized, the insensitive damage had been done.

Perception of motherhood in Africa

In Africa, women carry their babies and infants on their backs. They are praised for it. In fact, motherhood is a cherished phenomenon in Africa - Nigeria, in this case.

In Yoruba, and the phrase 'Iya ni wura' which means 'A mother is gold' highlights the threshold esteemed mothers were held to.

Nigerian mothers get preferential treatment on this soil – or they used to. You see people treating 'Iya aburo' which roughly means 'a nursing mother' with incredible care.

In a taxi, they receive goodwill. Whenever they want to get into a cab, you see people helping the guide the heads of infants on their backs, so they don't hit their heads against the rusty danfo metal.

What is wrong with public breastfeeding?

Public breastfeeding was fairly accepted in Nigeria. So why the sudden goalpost shift?

Life is hard enough as it is and nursing a child is even harder. Women are warriors, we should treat them as such.

John-George, a 29-year-old Lagos Pharmacist blames "Enlightenment. It has its good and bad sides".

Yes, nothing is perfect but should 'wokeness' be blamed for insensitivity? We are used to public breastfeeding and even praise nursing mothers. So, why the sudden change in attitude?

It seems a sad state of affairs that a woman like Jola, one of many victims of this continued judgement can't enjoy certain privileges of motherhood. After all, procreation is not an offence, is it?

In August 2016,  an article by Chukwuma Muanya and Ruth Adekunle for The Guardian revealed that only 17 per cent of nursing Nigerian mothers still breastfeed their infants.

The article also revealed the attitude of the World Health Organization (WHO) to help women breastfeed anytime and anywhere.

In the same article, 68-year-old Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN), Mrs Ede-Osondu, attributes this low statistic to lack of support and societal influences a.k.a 'cover-up'.

It's a worrying statistic. Research has shown that breast milk boosts IQ and the immune system while reducing risks of ovarian cancer in mothers.

Why Do People Take Offence?

In October 2011, a thread on Nigerian discussion platform, Nairaland discussed this issue.

A femmy2010 said, "For me, I do say Public breastfeeding is not appropriate because it violates common standards of decency. What is the take on NLers on this?"

Another user, MissIfe replied "It depends how it's done. I occasionally had to breastfeed in public, but nobody ever saw my breast, I used to carry a large scarf to cover the baby's head."

Everyone seems to be obsessed with 'cover up'. Another user hotstepper said "people can buy the nursing canopy, very essential". Really? Carry canopy around, just to breastfeed?

Deji, an entrepreneur and staunch critique who believes public breastfeeding as "irresponsible and not befitting of a married woman. Her body should not be revealed to the public like that" he tells Pulse.

Chigozie, a 64-year-old medical practitioner has a different perspective; "Breastfeeding isn't sexy. You would find that a significant amount of critics are men. People think it's public nudity - an indecency. But if they evaluate well, they will realize that public breastfeeding is usually more of a need than a choice. Some say it's laziness, but special dispensation should be granted to women over the need, it should be a right."

Indecency needs intention as a fundamental ingredient. While some women or men think their indecency is 'fashionable', without proper evaluation of the optics, it still is indecency.

But then, should feeding a fragile infant, whose sole mode of communication is crying not far outweigh our moral compasses for critiquing? I think it should.

Publicly revealing a boob or two isn't usually a fashionable choice. It is to quench the hunger of a human being. That one we all feel when we complain about needing to eat.

In the words of Míriam, a 46-year-old architect "I think some of these men don't understand how hard it is to be a nursing mother. Asides the pressures that change your life, you might have a child crying his eyes out. That puts you under immense pressure. Mothers are fragile and they panic easily.

"Their major instinct is to just stop that kid from crying because it helps sometimes. It can be a little unfair to then ask the mother to move, despite all her pressure. Make no mistake, it's also not easy for some mothers to reveal their boobs in public, they just have to do it. Insecurities have nothing on necessity."

Remember, Chigozie says "breastfeeding isn't sexy". Despite the male obsession with boobs, it's crazy how some of are the greatest critics of public breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is one of the few acts of 'breast reveal that some men complain about.

Sometimes, I ask myself; Will the guy, so against public breastfeeding complain if it were Beyonce or some peng thing breastfeeding?

What is offensive about nudity and boobs?

Chigozie says "there's perversion in every man." and I agree. We have all fed our eyes to pornographic images at one time or the other.

In fact, female nudity of any kind gets the average, healthy heterosexual male 'going'.

Breasts are highly sexualized. It is because of the way we perceive breasts and nipples as merely erotic objects that gave birth to the #freethenipple movement.

It seems men are against public breastfeeding because they're probably not attracted to the boobs or because breastfeeding isn't a sexual act. You like seeing breasts, but hate it when it comes to breastfeeding. It's a compelling case, isn't it?

If you can't see breasts as anything more than sexual props or objects of lust, you won't understand why breasts are also a medium of feeding. I lean towards thinking it's a case of lack of deep evaluation.

Arguably, breasts are first, feeding mechanisms than anything else.

Yes, the penis and the vagina are also used to pee and birth children, and that doesn't necessarily reflect their sexual nature, but none of them are for quenching as base an instinct as feeding.

You can only take offence to public breastfeeding if the only thing you see breasts as are sexual objects, never to be revealed in public. If you understood the feeding functionality of breasts you'd perceive them differently. You would take less offence to see breasts in public, for the purpose of feeding an innocent infant. You wouldn't think it irresponsible to reveal a sexual prop in public.

As long as you see breasts as simply sexual objects that only trigger provocation and attention, you would continue to bash public breastfeeding.

Stop seeing breasts as simply sexual objects and you'll be less provoked.


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