Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Etiquette: Breast Feeding

My husband and I find ourselves often consulting the copy of The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette by Nancy Tuckerman and Nancy Dunnan that his mother gave him upon graduation from high school. It is a bit dated, the 1995 edition we own having last been updated in 1978, but we find it an extremely useful guide when we have questions about how to appropriately proceed. I know we are discussing modern manners, not those of Jane Austen's era, but I have decided to start posting when we consult the book, as I just find it so fascinating. Miss Austen, after all, would want us all to be well-mannered, wouldn't she?

Has it really been a month since I last posted? Unbelievable. Time is flying by. My massive child is wearing 9 month clothes at 16 weeks, and I find it incredibly difficult to focus on anything other than her. There are may things I intend to blog about, but this topic is foremost in my mind, and I feel the need to apologize for posting a rather unpopular etiquette rant instead of the long overdue Edward Ferrars profile. Sorry! But really, my brain is good for little other than baby these days. 

I am breast feeding my daughter. It is a subject on which  I could speak out at length, expressing its challenges and triumphs, but such information is a bit too personal to share. What I am happy to categorically admit is that I've found breast feeding to be an extremely private experience, which is why I have never become comfortable feeding in public. I certainly feel that I have the right to, should it be necessary, but I just don't really want to. I know it makes others uncomfortable, like it or not, and isn't the entire point of etiquette and manners to not cause discomfort in public? I find it extremely fascinating that Romanticism triggered a popularization of breast feeding among the English upper classes in the early 19th century, having embraced it as closer to nature, but this was certainly an activity confined to the home. This is a complex issue, one every mother must address individually, but here is what Amy Vanderbilt has to say on the subject (remember that this was written in the 70's): 

"Now that medical science has pretty much confirmed the notion that breast feeding is healthier than bottle feeding (it passes along various antibodies that formula cannot), the issue of where and how to breast-feed in public arises. Despite Americans' propensity for selling everything from beer to bicycles with sex, we are still, at heart, a puritanical society. Therefore, the sight of a bare breast, even one performing its natural function, may make many people uneasy. Though a nursing mother will not view her breast as anything other than a convenient way to feed her baby, it is best to be circumspect about nursing in front of others."

I must state that I continue to view my breasts as much more than just a nourishment delivery system. 

"While a variety of breast-feeding books are available in bookstores to provide you with ideas for breast feeding discretely, common sense dictates most of them. If you don't want to express your milk at home and carry it with you in a bottle so you can feed in public, find a secluded spot and toss a billowy scarf over your chest and the baby's head. You might even want to buy a few blouses with slits behind the pockets which were designed just for this purpose. In a restaurant that caters to children, you can always go to the ladies room to breast-feed." - this is not necessarily true - "Owners of children's stores are particularly sympathetic when it comes to breast feeding and may allow you a few minutes in a private area, such as an office. If you are visiting friends, ask your hostess if anyone will be made uncomfortable by your breast feeding in front of them. If so, ask if you can go into some other room when it's time to nurse."