Breastfeeding moms protest at Target stores, but US public is real mark
Lingering discomfort over public breastfeeding is responsible, in part, for curtailing moms' enthusiasm and driving down breastfeeding rates, research shows. Nurse-ins Wednesday at Target stores drew attention to the cause.
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Moreover, US attitudes toward breastfeeding vary by region: In Western, Midwestern, and New England states, 70 to 80 percent of babies have been breastfed at some time in their lives, while the rate is lower for babies in most Southern states. The highest rate is in Oregon, where 91 percent of babies have been breastfed. The lowest is Louisiana, where 48 percent of babies have ever received mother's milk.Skip to next paragraph
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“We are all affected by our culture's sexual emphasis on breasts and our consequent discomfort with breastfeeding in public,” Ohio University Prof. Jacqueline Wolf wrote in a 2008 editorial in the International Breastfeeding Journal. “While people from other cultures often find this controversy inexplicable, the reasons for the controversy are obvious to Americans – even those of us who fully support breastfeeding in public. We understand that many equate public breastfeeding with lewd behavior.”
On Tuesday, a day before the protest, NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne summed up that unease in a Twitter post. “Just walking through supermarket. See a mom breast feeding a little kid. Took second look because obviously I was seeing things. I wasn't!” he tweeted. He later apologized for his reaction.
It's not just men who are squeamish about public breastfeeding. After the magazine BabyTalk featured a cover of a mom breastfeeding in 2006, one mom wrote to the magazine to say, “Gross, I am sick of seeing a baby attached to a boob.” A subsequent survey found that one-quarter of the publication's readers found the cover distasteful. "There's a huge Puritanical streak in Americans," BabyTalk editor Susan Kane concluded at the time.
Wednesday's nurse-in protesters said they hope to steer their campaign toward changing not just attitudes, but laws. They plan to lobby Congress for a federal law to enshrine public breastfeeding as a right. Currently, US law protects only the right of women to breastfeed publicly in federal buildings.
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