Breastfeeding forms one the most significant practices that contribute to child growth after birth. This has been attributed to the significant advantages it contributes to the development of the immune system of the child. According to the Ulijaszek, Johnstone, and Preece (2000), breastfeeding provides immunological, nutritional, and psychological benefits to the baby. Most of the nutritional demands that the baby needs come from the breast milk.
In the current society, breastfeeding has been reduced to be tactless act when mothers are seen to breastfeed their children in public. Some individuals view breastfeeding as an embarrassing act. Contrary to this, the sight of bare breasts has been viewed as a normal occurrence in the society. Most of individuals will be opposed to breastfeeding since it is the functional role of the breast to be used to feed children. However, when it is more of sexual or aesthetic role individuals will tend to support the sight of breast in public. Thus, most of the perceptions about breastfeeding in public depend on the sexual stimulation levels that individuals respond towards breasts.
If breastfeeding in public were to be made illegal, it would have a direct effect on the health of infants and affect the life of the mother. Babies do not say when they want to be fed and in most cases, their crying indicates that they need to be fed. This can occur when the breastfeeding mother is in a public place. According to Blum (2000), issues of breastfeeding also arise in the work place. She notes a statement, in 1997, made by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which encourages employers to provide space and time for breast pumping, where maternity leaves are not to be extended for longer periods. This clearly shows that breastfeeding of mothers is not being taken seriously even by such organizations, which should be advocating for the breastfeeding of infants, as opposed to using breast pumps, which have cost implications.
History of breastfeeding
Issues relating to public breastfeeding are highly linked to the development of laws protecting women who breastfeed in public. Although there is no evidence of when public breastfeeding began, issues linked to public breastfeeding in the United States show the development of laws in certain areas that are oriented to protecting the breastfeeding mothers. According to Riordan and Wambach (2010), breastfeeding mothers started getting legal protection in New York in 1984. Since then, different states in America have developed legislations, which are aimed to protecting breastfeeding mothers in public.
Introduction of formula and bottles
Formula and bottle-feeding of infants became popular in the 19th century (Paco et al., 2010). Their popularity was attributed to the increasing advertisements, which promoted the idea that breast milk alone was not enough to raise a healthy child. Further, formula and bottle-feeding developed owing to the need to have alternative means of feeding the infants when the mother was absent. According to Nathoo and Ostry (2009), another factor that led to the development and use of formula and bottle-feeding was the increasing refusal of some infants to breastfeed. Consequently, with the use of technology there was increased development of substitutes to breast milk. Most commonly used was cow milk, which was modified scientifically to resemble breast milk in terms of composition.
However, the increased information on the availability of a substitute for breast milk encouraged most mothers to use cow milk directly without having to consider the potential dangers it could cause to the infant. According to Wolf (2003), increased use of cow milks in the 19th century and early 20th century resulted to increased infant mortality. Marketing of formula milk and bottle-feeding for infants also caused a reduction in women breastfeeding the infants. According to Paco et al (2010), advertisements in women’s magazines tried to show that formula milk for babies had a similar composition as breast milk. Consequently, this encouraged the use of formula milk as both physicians and mothers viewed it as being efficient, scientific and modern (Paco et al., 2010). Lewis (2009) indicates that the increased alternatives to breast milk have contributed to the decline in breastfeeding rates.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding offers several benefits to the child, mother and to the society. Breastfeeding offers a remarkably immense value to children when feeding them. The quality in terms of nutrient value is superior compared to normal milk that may be given to the child. Breastfeeding milk has significant developmental outcomes and offers the child protection from infectious diseases (Gartner and Eidelman, 2005). Some of the diseases that babies gain from the consumption of breast milk include protection from bacterial meningitis, respiratory tract infection, and urinary tract infections. Breastfeeding helps to reduce child mortality rates (Gartner and Eidelman, 2005). Further, according to the Gartner and Eidelman (2005), children that have been breastfed tend to have increased cognitive development.
Mothers also benefit from breastfeeding the infants. According to the Gartner and Eidelman (2005), instances of postpartum bleeding are reduced. Additionally, the mother experiences decreased loss of blood attributed to menstruation and have increased uterine involution, which is made possible due to the presence of increased levels of oxytocin. Incidences of breast cancer and ovarian cancer are low in breastfeeding mothers.
Society benefits of breastfeeding may include the reduction in mortality levels of infants. According to Hunt (2006), breastfeeding makes it possible for the health department in different countries to achieve the goal of reducing infant mortality. Additionally, the society benefits at an economical level, which include the nation, healthcare system and to the different families. Hunt (2006) supports this claim by noting that breastfed babies develop fewer health complications compared to babies that are formula fed. Thus, the health care system is not strained with increased hospital admissions and treatment. In the United States, breastfeeding has the capacity to reduce the annual health costs of $3.6 billion (Gartner and Eidelman, 2005). Further, the cost of feeding babies formula milk is estimated to cost an approximate value of £450 per year, in the UK (Hunt, 2006). The need to develop alternative programs to support mothers is also reduced. For instance, special supplemental programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women are no longer needed in a society where mothers breastfeed their infants.
The development of the baby depends on the breast milk. At the ages of four and six months, the breast milk provides much of the nutritional benefits to the infant. Furthermore, breast milk is responsible for the development of certain organs in the body of the infant, which prevents the development of certain conditions such as juvenile diabetes, childhood cancers and inflammatory bowel diseases (Ulijaszek, Johnstone, and Preece, 2000). Breast milk also contains certain growth promoting agents that contribute to the development and maturation of the infant’s gastrointestinal tract.
Breastfeeding across different cultures
Breastfeeding is viewed in different ways across different cultures. According to Mojab (2000), breastfeeding will depend on the culture of a particular society. Each geographic region with different languages experiences different breastfeeding patterns. Additionally, the breastfeeding in recent times is very different from breastfeeding in the 19th and 20th century (Mojab, 2000). This is especially crucial to consider with the changes in cultural values and standards. Breastfeeding has been on the decline in the recent past due to the exaggerated attention paid to the aesthetic appeal. Women are especially worried about losing their slim and attractive figures. As such, most women prefer the use of milk bottles as a substitute. The increase in cosmetic surgeries, especially in America, has discouraged such women from breastfeeding.
Recent studies conducted in America provide the different views people have on breastfeeding in public. According to Kedrowksi and Lipscomb (2008), data from a health style survey on women’s right to breastfeed showed that 31 percent of the respondents indicated that one year old children should not be breastfed while 27 percent indicated that breastfeeding in public is embarrassing. Furthermore, the general support for breastfeeding in public came from men that from women. Additionally, age and level of education also influenced people’s perception for instance, the less educated and older individuals were less supportive of breastfeeding in public (Kedrowksi and Lipscomb, 2008).
Breastfeeding also has also had an effect on the sexual connotation associated with breasts. Breasts are mainly viewed as a source of male sexual pleasure and even fantasy. Some fathers are displeased by the whole breastfeeding ordeal and hence advise their wives to opt for bottle-feeding. However, most fathers are supportive of breastfeeding because they understand it is a natural process, which will aid in normal growth of the child.
However, there is still some apprehension among the public concerning public breastfeeding. Some fathers dislike the idea of public breastfeeding. However, most parents believe that it is only right for women to breastfeed in public especially if some situations call for such a course of action. This may happen when, for example, the child is restless and crying.
Some women do not breastfeed due to some social stigma associated with breastfeeding. They find it embarrassing. However, this is a change from traditional norms whereby it was considered abnormal not to breastfeed. Rich women, sometimes refuse to breastfeed their babies so that they can maintain their size since breastfeeding sometimes causes the breasts to become excessively large. This was the case in late 18th century when upper and middle class mothers employed wet nurses to breastfeed their infants for them (Koletzko, Michaelsen and Hernell, 2000).
Different cultures in the world have different perceptions concerning breastfeeding in public. The media tend to contribute to how individuals view breastfeeding. For instance, if a newspaper article condemns the act of breastfeeding in public, women who breastfeed may develop the notion that breastfeeding in public may be socially unacceptable (Liamputtong, 2011). This will be the case when new mothers start breastfeeding. Issues such as this force the mothers to start bottle-feeding their infants at an early age. However, in a country such as Australia, breast-feeding in public is mostly accepted. Thus, situations where breastfeeding mothers are asked to leave restaurants may create a media outburst (Liamputtong, 2011).
Most of attitudes towards breastfeeding are based on the society norms and values that are part of a society (Hunt, 2006). As indicated earlier, the media play a crucial role in determining the social norms and values attributed to breastfeeding. The concept of bottle-feeding in some societies has developed and increased owing to the public perception that breastfeeding should not be done in public. Majority of individuals who are opposed to breastfeeding in public indicate that since the breast is a sexual object, showing it in public during breastfeeding amounts to nudity (Hunt, 2006).
Breastfeeding as a Taboo
Breastfeeding in public is considered a taboo in some societies and it is mandatory for mothers not to breastfeed their babies, in public, in such societies. This was especially common in historic times when women were more subdued by their male counterparts. However, some regions like Moscow had different cultural norms as concerns breastfeeding. In such areas, breastfeeding was a not done until it was almost non-existent at some point in time. Upper and middle-class mothers employed wet nurses to look after and breastfeed their babies. Doctors warned mothers of the risk they run by not breastfeeding. This was especially the risk of breast cancer. This warning encouraged some mothers to adopt the culture of breastfeeding. The 20th century saw a reduction in the size of the nuclear family due to medical and economic reasons. Medical practitioners publicized the message on the reduction in fertility rates that came with breastfeeding. With smaller families to look after, mothers made sure they breastfed each of their offspring.
There has also been a progressive movement in various cultures encouraging the use of natural ways of nurturing babies. This came with the increased sensitivity on healthy ways of living. In today’s society, people are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding to the health of the baby. Research shows that babies that are well breastfed develop a very strong immunity against common diseases, which affect children and grow to become strong adults. Furthermore, people are more sensitive of their children’s needs than other factors such as aesthetic appeal. The media have also played a crucial role in educating the masses on the importance of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is a very natural part of life, very beneficial for both mother and baby. Culture has shaped it to be something taboo or obscure, but only because people make a massive deal out of it. Breastfeeding faces several challenges in the future. The issues arising from public breastfeeding depend on the societal values or norms. The media may influence positively or negatively breastfeeding. The media needs to promote breastfeeding regardless whether it is being done in public. Further, the media need to promote knowledge on why women need to be allowed to breastfeed their infants freely. Formula making companies that are involved in the promotion of infant formulas also reduce the breastfeeding rates. This will continue to be a challenge as formula making companies are more interested in making profits rather than promoting the health of infants. There is a need to have more public promotional campaigns on the benefits that are attributed to breastfeeding as this will significantly contribute to reducing infant mortality.
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