Sunday, March 14, 2010

Some Partially Formed Thoughts On the Word Breast

This is not a manifesto. This is the post I've been chewing on and talking about for awhile. I think what it comes down to is discomfort with the word breast.

Breast. Breasts. I have a couple and they work well.

I used to think of them as sexual and to the disappointment of someone to whom I'm married, I don't really feel that way any more. They're just bits of me I use to feed the baby. Maybe someday they'll be sexy in my mind again.

And all milk is breastmilk. Just some come from human breasts and some come from other animals' breasts. Human milk is best for human babies. I think that's all given.

I want to say that we need to stop calling it breastmilk and breastfeeding, because that helps to linguistically maintain the sense that feeding our babies naturally is unnatural, and that it needs qualification; that we need to distinguish it from bottle and/or formula feeding. However, with corporate advertising normalizing bottle feeding of babies, if we lactivists just start talking about feeding our babies, we might disappear linguistically.

So what to do?

I propose we continue what we are already doing: campaigning for supporting parents through all feeding decisions like Best For Babes, help to educate the public on the reasons why breastfeeding is a Good Thing (as so many are working to do, see La Leche League, Kelly Mom, so many awesome bloggers), but also:

We need to destigmatize the word BREAST. Desexualize them and the word, normalize natural feeding along with bottle and / or formula feeding. Make breasts obviously dual purposed - sure they can be sexy, but for a special period of a mother's life, they are baby food making equipment.

Still chewing this one over. Your thoughts on where to go from here very welcome.


Anonymous said...

I think breasts are sexual in that they help to attract a mate who then knocks said woman up... and all of sudden they help to feed the little critter (s). Go breasts go.

However, I like your point about feeding your baby. It might make more sense to say bottle feed vs feed...

Keep up the fight!

CaroLyn said...

@Harriet - thanks for stopping by! You're right, breasts are definitely attractive to a lot of people, and that's part of the puzzle to me - they are so functional and yet so... hyped up? Is that right? Not sure yet, but it's a weird thing in my mind that they are such an obsession for people who are attracted to women.

Kim said...


I like the term 'nurse'. All mammals nurse their young! I instinctively don't like the term 'breastfeeding' ... it feels clinical to me ... definitely a defined type of feeding. I like the PP'ers comment to say feed vs. bottle feed.

I agree that breasts are hypersexualized ... so are bums! I sit on it. Seriously. That's its point. :)

CaroLyn said...

@Kim, thanks for stopping by! I like the word nurse too, and I really like the word nursling to describe the baby who is nursed. It's a complicated word though, burdened with 'nursing back to health' and the career option of nursing... But you're right, it's a good word. I'm working on just saying breast breast breast over and over again to try to chill out on it. :D

TopHat said...

I totally believe in getting rid of the stigmatism around "breast." In fact, that's why when I offer the breast to my daughter, I've always offered "breast" as in "Do you want breast?" So when she asks to nurse (she'll be 2 tomorrow) she asks, "Breast?"

I'll admit a part of me wanted her to have a hard time with the "BR" sound and call it "best," but my toddler is pretty good an enunciation. You can't miss it. And I love it. I love that, for at least our family "breast" will be simply a body part, not a sexual enticement.

CaroLyn said...

@TopHat - thanks for stopping by! You're right, saying best would be awesome. Yay normalization of breasts!

I went on later to write a bit more on breasts here: and I'm still thinking about why we're so obsessed with them.

FC Mom said...

Breeder Brain, love the idea of not using the word BREAST every time we talk about feeding a baby the way nature intended... although I think by saying breast we are reminding people WHAT normal feeding is- it's not a bottle.
I also agree with you that "nurse" means more than feeding and almost sounds like the baby is sick or something.
I do agree that language sends so many messages about breastfeeding. With my boss, who I had to ask find me a place to pump, I was very careful to say breastfeeding as in, "I'm still breastfeeding, so I need a private place to pump," to remind him that my BOOBS will be out, so please get me a place that is not likely to be walked in on!
I am really proud of breastfeeding and what my breasts can do, so I often call it breastfeeding, although I know what you mean about how it's silly we have to announce "BOOBS!!!!" every time we talk about the normal way to feed a baby!
I do feel a bit awkward calling so much attention to my breasts, but at a certain point, I just have to accept that!

FC Mom said...

Oops, meant to register for follow up posts, so I'll just leave this little lame comment to do that.