This week was World Breastfeeding Week. August is World Breastfeeding Month. What I have heard the most buzz about is a single photo that was posted on an online breastfeeding blog of a woman tandem nursing two toddlers. One is hers, one is her friend’s that she watches daily. The two children have been raised together almost like siblings, so feeding them the same way at the same time has become as commonplace as if they were twins. Heck, she should get a round of applause for finding any way to have two toddlers remain relatively still for any activity at all!
Apparently many people find this photo ‘gross’ or ‘inappropriate’. I’m not sure if they’re referring to breastfeeding in general, offering milk to a child other than one you gave birth to, nursing toddlers past an acceptable age, or if it’s just the public photo of, gasp, cleavage.
Breastfeeding is just about as natural as it gets, so it’s hardly inappropriate. It is, quite literally, what nature intended. Before the very recent invention of synthetic nipples and bottles, babies had but one choice – to nurse in order to survive. A mother begins lactating shortly after giving birth. If she didn’t make milk or couldn’t nurse for whatever reason, the baby had to nurse from someone else. That’s a means for survival. Simple as that. Nursing someone else’s child, assuming mutual consent of course, is therefore selfless and noble. Hardly gross.
If we’re going to debate the issue of breasts on the internet or in public view for that matter, we had better be consistent. According to our culture it is acceptable to not only show cleavage but to glorify it in numerous ways. Assuming that the woman shown is within a certain ideal age range, dress size, bra size, and generally considered attractive by onlookers, breasts are welcome to be displayed with reckless abandon. If a woman decides to use her breasts for the intended purpose of providing food to her child, she now becomes open to criticism or asked to cover up. Maybe we should rethink what we’re teaching our children, and instead praise photos of breastfeeding women, and reject photos of sexualized breasts and objectified women.
And then comes the issue about the appropriate age for weaning. Most people in the US culture think that toddlers and preschoolers should probably be weaned, and that teens and adults should definitely be weaned. While that decision is one for a nursing mother and her baby to make, and no one else’s, I would like to draw attention to a glaring inconsistency. Whether your vote is for infancy, toddlerhood, or teens, then why are most adults still drinking breastmilk themselves? And eating breastmilk cheese, and breastmilk ice cream, and dripping breastmilk cream in their coffee?
Wrapped in the pretty packaging created by billions of advertising dollars, the ‘milk’ we buy by the gallon in the grocery store is so separated from the animal that created it that it’s all too easy to forget where it comes from. We could at least keep the cow in cow’s milk and call it what it is. But I have to wonder why we’re still drinking it in the first place. If American youth should be weaned from their own mother’s milk by a certain age, why is that we ever start feeding them breastmilk from a cow instead (mutual consent not granted, by the way)? We are the only species that consumes milk into adulthood and we are also the only species that consumes the fluid secretions of another species.
There is nothing appropriate about drinking from the teat of a captive cow who was impregnated against her wishes. She will be impregnated over and over again, her entire life, and she will do so in order to keep producing milk to keep up with the demand of the American consumers. Anyone who has been pregnant or lactating knows what a toll it takes on your body. In fact, the only thing that justifies that effort and strain is the baby – holding him or her for the first time. Gazing into his or her eyes as they drink up the life giving milk your body has made specifically for that baby. Cows are gentle sentient beings with the capacity to love. They share the ability to grieve a loss. They hardly get to meet their babies and they certainly never the get the chance to offer them milk. The mother is whisked away within hours so she can return to work making cow’s milk for humans.
If you’re drinking cow’s milk because you truly feel that it “does a body good” then you are among the masses who have fallen prey to one of the most successful advertising campaign of all time. Cow’s milk was never intended for human consumption. It was intended for baby calf consumption. It is specifically and quite naturally formulated with the right amount of growth hormones to grow that baby calf from 80 lbs at birth to 400 lbs in just a few months. It makes you wonder if that could have anything to do with our obesity epidemic and soaring cancer rates. Humans were never intended to require cow’s milk any more than we were intended to require cat’s milk for ideal health. End of story. Move on already! There are countless alternatives to satisfy the taste and habit that you have grown accustomed to. Try them all until you find one you like. Check out www.YummyPlants.com for starters.
In honor of World Breastfeeding Month, let’s open ourselves to a new way of thinking and strive for a new level of compassion. Next time you have the chance to consume cow’s milk, cheese, ice cream, or other dairy product, think about the other choice you have – to go dairy-free. Think about the baby calf that was supposed to get that milk. Think about the breastfeeding mother that never got to meet her baby. Think about putting your mouth on her teat or squeezing her milk onto your cereal. Re-think whether you need any milk at all, now that you have been weaned. I offer my heartfelt support to any breastfeeding mother, human or non-human. Next time you see a mama breastfeeding in public, please extend a warm smile and a nod of understanding. She’s a hero!
Author’s note: I wanted to include an article or video depicting modern dairy farming. I searched and searched and couldn’t find one that told the story without being totally disturbing, full of violence, and difficult to watch. I make an attempt to avoid shocking and graphic images on my site, and I will continue to do so. However, I thought it was at least worth noting, for those who are still unaware, that there is nothing happy or humane about being a dairy cow. I encourage you to do your own research to learn more about where your milk and cheese and dairy products come from.