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Breast before date

March 27, 2017

The bizarre column by Globe and Mail writer Leah McLaren that purported to describe how, as a twenty-something and not a lactating mother, she contemplated breast-feeding Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong’s baby underscores once again the odd attitude North Americans have with breastfeeding.

Those of us who are of my generation (read old) and from a background that is not from the uptight, tightly-wound, well-heeled North American middle class (read poor-ish) are quite puzzled at the weird preoccupation people like McLaren have with breast-feeding.

Growing up post-war in Britain, it was perfectly normal for families to breastfeed their children. Unless you were royalty or very, very wealthy and hired a wet nurse, that was what you did. I can remember visiting school friends and watching as their mothers nursed babies.

Why? Certainly not because it was trendy. It was cheaper, easier (once  you get the hang of it) and you didn’t have to go through the whole routine of sterilizing bottles. And it was that connection of watching mothers nurse their babies that kept the connection for their daughters. Why did we breastfeed? Because it never occurred to us to do anything else.

In North America, for some reason, there’s a prissy attitude that breasts are not for feeding. Is it that women here are so conditioned to the notion that their breasts are sexual appendages and not to be used for the purpose they were intended? Who knows? Do their husbands find it repulsive? Don’t know. But they need to get over it.

Where did we lose that connection with our mothers who breastfed? And why do we now aggressively have to make such a noisy debate about reconnection? The militant La Leche League and other organizations guilted women into breastfeeding. They, too, were just as ridiculous. Bottle-fed babies do just as well. Let’s not name and shame those who don’t or can’t. Besides, fathers can have a greater part in the baby’s feeding when the baby is bottle-fed.

Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in the world. Except, of course, when you’re at a party and you’re contemplating breast-feeding a baby which is not yours with milk you do not have.

And then you go on to embarrass that family – an possibly yourself –  by later writing a column for a national newspaper talking about your disturbing thoughts.

Look: It’s a breast. If you can and want to breast-feed, terrific. If you can’t – or don’t want to – that’s fine too.  Pick your poison – so long as the baby gets fed. A friend of mine once wanted to listen in church to a sermon by a visiting bishop. She had a small baby. She sat at the back and when the baby fussed, she put a blanket over her shoulder to hide any offending “parts” and simply nursed the child.

The baby was quiet. The congregation didn’t realize what she was doing. And the bishop smiled happily, knowing that baby was happy and his sermon was uninterrupted. And she didn’t write a column for the Globe and Mail about it.

Possibly the greatest act of maternal love I’ve ever seen was a woman whose baby was in the neonatal unit at Women’s College Hospital. She was from Northern Ontario and had just given birth to a premature baby. She had children back home and had to return to care for them. She made arrangements to express milk every day and Air Canada agreed to fly it   to Toronto.

But nursing someone else’s baby without their consent? Hmmm. Might want to get some help with that.




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