Breastfeeding re-visited and a peek at the homebirth debate

08.13.10: Another peek at the middle path.


Whew, I really ticked off a few people with my blog last week about breastfeeding modestly. Most readers appreciated the concept of “middle ground,” neither hiding under a tent nor full-on exposure, there were a few readers who found my attitude shameful. It seems pulling the boys’ perspective into this was a bad plan. What can I say? Now that I have a lot of teenage boys in my life (all of them kind, sensitive, intelligent and respectful) I see things through different points of view. I wonder if I’d substituted “shy people, religious people, old people or people from cultures that value modesty” for “boys and men” if they would still be upset with me. A few comments made it out like I blame women who are victims of violence and am defending men. Really? That’s what you took away from that blog? Naah, I’m just saying maybe a t-shirt or a scarf is a nice way to go.

My point wasn’t to say that anyone should determine how and where we feed our babies or to tell anyone they’re doing it wrong. My point was that some people are sensitive to nudity and maybe we could find a way to breastfeed in public that’s respectful and honors everyone, maybe even the guys (or shy people, religious people, old people or people from cultures who value modesty). I’m just saying – maybe there’s a middle path in terms of modesty.

Bottom line, I’m all for breastfeeding – in public, in private, wherever the job needs to be done. In addition to decades spent teaching and supporting women who are new to breastfeeding, I’ve breastfed all my kids (yep, even in public) and I know it can be challenging. Like I said, there’s an art to it and many artists. There are also different ways to view art. Does that mean women should be more concerned about accommodating viewers than about feeding their babies? No, but maybe there’s a middle way. For some people, clearly there isn’t.

Motherhood and women’s healthcare issues invite a lot of “all or nothing” attitudes. Right now, there’s a lawsuit brewing in Oregon that’s pitting homebirth/birth center midwives against some Oregon hospitals and the Oregon Health Licensing Agency. The doctors’ and hospitals’ viewpoint is backed by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association that says no one should deliver at home. Really? No one? How about women who don’t live anywhere near a hospital? How about the millions of women in developing countries where homebirth is their only choice? Do you mean American women should never have a homebirth? Are we so different from other women around the world?

Some home birth advocates say childbirth is a natural event and shouldn’t be treated like a medical condition. Never? Does that mean emergencies never happen? Are there never legitimate reasons for women to choose a hospital over home?

The World Health Organization, American College of Nurse Midwives and American Public Health Association all support home and out-of-hospital birth options for low-risk women. The middle path is that it’s probably a healthy option for most low-risk women and not a good choice at all for some high-risk women. Since out-of-hospital births represent only a very small fraction of babies delivered here in the US, most women seem to find their middle ground in the hospital. Should all women deliver in the hospital as ACOG and AMA suggest? I don’t think so. As with other women’s issues, there’s a lot of wiggle room for personal choice.

To those who took my tongue-in-cheek, boys’-eye-view of breastfeeding as a deliberate attempt to judge, shame and point fingers at the few women who breastfeed in public au natural, I think that’s unfortunate. I wish instead, you could view it as intended – as a less extreme opinion. I’m really not suggesting oppression, just y’know, maybe a t-shirt? Or not.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

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