OPINION: Empowering women one nipple at a time

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What is more obscene: violence or a nipple? That is what the film “Free The Nipple” and social media movement #FreeTheNipple are asking people everywhere in hopes of reconstructing the idea that breastfeeding mothers should have to crawl into a dark corner or restroom in order to feed their newborns.

Twitter feeds and timelines everywhere have been plastered with bare breasts this past March after a student from the Commercial College of Iceland declared “Free the Nipple” day at her school. After tweeting a picture of her bare breasts, she received backlash from many, which resulted in even more support from the movements’ followers, according to a March 27 Huffington Post article titled, “‘Free the Nipple’ Campaign Re-Emerges After Icelandic Teen Mocked Online.”

Pregnant women everywhere have been making small strides in the movement to challenge censorship. According to a June 13, 2014 Time Magazine article titled, “Facebook Lifts Ban on Exposed Nipples in Breastfeeding Pictures,” the social media outlet received enough adverse reactions from feminists and those in support of gender equality that they quietly withdrew its ban on female nipples in photos of breastfeeding mothers. The ban is still in place for those women who are not pregnant, and Facebook has yet to acknowledge the lift of the ban publicly. Does this mean that the double-standards are slowly diminishing?

The 2014 statute on breastfeeding in Kansas states “that a mother’s choice to breastfeed should be supported and encouraged to the greatest extent possible and that a mother may breastfeed in any place she has a right to be.” Just because the law says that women can breastfeed in any place she has a right to be does not mean that society allows it, however.

Mothers should not have to feel uncomfortable when feeding their child. The feeling of indecency that a woman’s exposed nipple in public causes is yet another way women are being oppressed. Why can men walk around topless, but women can’t? Why are women’s nipples considered taboo, but men’s nipples are nothing more than normal? Let’s not let nipples and gender inequality be one and the same.

Discrimination

While breastfeeding rates continue to rise in the U.S., it hasn’t continued for as long as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the CDC, 49 percent of infants born in 2011 were breastfeeding at 6 months and only 27 percent at 12 months.

Kansas breastfeeding rates aren’t up to par with the national rates, either. In the U.S.,79.2 percent of women in the U.S. have ever breastfed their babies, while only 77.4 percent of women in Kansas have ever breastfed their babies. Kansas percentages are lower in every category measured by the CDC, including mothers that breastfeed at six months, 12 months, exclusive breastfeeding at three months and exclusive breastfeeding at six months.

It is no wonder then that mothers are not breastfeeding for as long. According to a Jan. 21, 2014 Today Parents article titled, “Victoria’s Secret store bans mom from breastfeeding,” Ashley Clawson, 27-year-old mother of two, was told by an employee that she could not use a dressing room to breastfeed her crying, hungry, 4-month-old son. There were only three other customers in the store at the time, and the employee even had the nerve to suggest Clawson take her baby into the alley outside the store to feed him, because no one would see her.

California, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Vermont and Puerto Rico have encouraged or implemented the development of a breastfeeding awareness education campaign. The Victoria Secret incident took place in Austin, Texas, where no such program has been implemented.

Health benefits

Regardless of the social implications around breastfeeding, it is one of the largest beneficial factors surrounding a child’s health. According to the Office on Women’s Health, breastfeeding is an investment in a child’s future. Breastfeed babies tend to “need fewer sick care visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations.”

The office’s website states that different components of breastmilk, including the cells, hormones and antibodies, can protect and lower the risks of certain illnesses in babies. Theses illnesses include asthma, childhood leukemia, ear infections and many, many more.

Breastfeeding is beneficial for a mother as well. Some mothers can be in labor for days. My older sister fought to stay in the womb for a whopping 15 hours (she always takes so long to get ready). This process is literally laborious and exhausting on a woman’s body. Breastfeeding can help in the healing process after a childbirth. It can also lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Although the actual process of breastfeeding, as my mother would say, “hurts like a b****!,” the benefits to both child and mother outweigh all factors surrounding breastfeeding, including anyone feeling uncomfortable or awkward when a mother does what she needs to do – i.e. feed her child.

Money

A lot of other things can benefit from the act of breastfeeding, including your wallet. For one, breastmilk is free. Formula though, according to the Baby Center, could cost anywhere from $60-$100 per month. That’s approximately $720-$1,200 for a year of formula.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a mother should continue breastfeeding for at least 12 months, and the World Health Organization recommends continuing to breastfeed up to 2 years of age or beyond. I don’t have to do the math for you (because I refuse to, that’s why) to realize that is a very large number.

We should have collective goals as a society. How about this for one of them? Let’s not force children and their mothers to spend unnecessary time isolated in the restroom with the new employee too nervous to take on the break room yet or with the one soul always trying to sneak a cigarette in the corner. Let’s grow past this adolescent, sexual repression-driven uncomfortableness. A mother feeding her child is anything but an obscene act; it is the exact opposite, in fact, as one of the purest and most beautiful expressions of humanity’s familial bonds.

Let’s grow up. Only then can we truly thank the many mothers of our society for ensuring that we could.

Kelly Iverson is a senior in mass communications.

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