Becoming inured to nipples

Image via Library of Congress prints & photographsToday I was walking on the track at the YMCA, and I was saying in a none-too-quiet voice such things as, “If she gets cold, does her nipple pop out?  Because if so, then you could try putting a cold washcloth on it.”  It only occurred to me later that people might find that strange and possibly offensive.  While I was exercising and listening to tunes on my iPhone, a friend had called me to get help for a mutual friend who just had a baby and needed some breastfeeding support.  And nipples are not taboo to me anymore.

A few weeks back, some anonymous person posted a survey on The Straight Dope Message Board.  It asked female users to give lots of detailed information about their nipples – size, shape, and color of areolas, flat or inverted nipples, and so on.  My first reaction to this was to click through to the survey results to learn about the variety of nipple shapes and sizes, and wondering what the most common traits were.  Nipples are interesting – did you know that (very rarely) some moms have nipples that are too big for their newborn to latch onto?  Or that inverted nipples can often be everted through suction, but some have a tough band of connective tissue holding them in?  Or that the little bumps on the areola are actually glands that secrete an oily substance that keeps the nipples from drying out, while also providing a scent cue for newborns to find the nipple?  Do you realize how much of the nipple/areola is pulled into the baby’s mouth during nursing?  Nipples are amazing, and not just in the way our culture normally thinks of them.  So anyway, I was kind of fascinated at this cool project until I looked at some of the thread responses under the survey.  Responses such as, “What is wrong with you, you perv?” and “The level of detail you’re asking for, especially from complete strangers, is truly creepy.”  Finally I realized that this was some dude with a nipple paraphilia asking inappropriate sexual questions.  Oh right.  Nipples are just sexual, to most people.

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that nipples and breasts are a sexual thing too.  It’s just that for me, they’ve gotten to the same place as other female body parts that used to be considered too sexually inflammatory to expose, such as knees.  I can look at Sofia Vergara and I don’t think, “Hmm, she probably could use a rolled washcloth for support since she has heavy breasts,” but rather, “Wow, that woman is sex personified!”  It’s just that breasts aren’t necessarily sexual to me anymore.  They have different import depending on their context.

Another case in point: I recently illustrated my unassisted childbirth post with a picture of a woman giving birth without anyone hovering around her or catching the baby.  And oh yeah, I realized quite a bit after posting, she is totally naked, with her breasts right out there.  I briefly wondered if I should change it, because some people might be offended – something that truly had not occurred to me in the slightest while I was choosing the picture and putting up the post.

So I was thinking, if I’ve become totally inured to nipples, perhaps the Percy Pecksniffs and Prunella Prudes of the world could get over themselves, learn a little about breastfeeding, and get used to moms nursing in public.  Sure, it might feel uncomfortable at first.  You might feel afraid that you’ll accidentally see a flash of nipple when you encounter a mom nursing.  It’s OK – you can get through it.  It will become normal as more women nurse for longer periods, and refuse to be shut up in their homes, and you will get inured to it too.

If you absolutely cannot get over your offense at seeing women nurse in public, here are some tips for reducing the problem:

1. Plan ahead.  If you’re planning to visit someplace that might attract new mothers, such as a park or a discount store, try to time your visit so that you’re less likely to be there at the same time as a nursing mother.  Midnight is good.

2. Practice in front of a mirror.  At first, your shock may show plainly on your face, so try sitting in front of a mirror and picturing a nursing mother.  Keep trying until your expression stays neutral.  You can also try having a friend or your spouse watch you and provide helpful comments.

3. Dress appropriately.  Try wearing a scarf or a top that has a hood.  That way, if you encounter a nursing mother, it’s simple to pull the fabric up over your eyes, or to pull the hood forward to act as blinders so you can easily avert your eyes and not suffer any peripheral vision of a nursing baby.

4. Be discreet.  Avoid calling attention to yourself, and there will be no problem.  If you’re ostentatious about your disapproval, you’re just inviting a confrontation.

5. Find a private place.  If you absolutely can’t avoid voicing your discomfort with public nursing, there are plenty of appropriate places.  Go to the nearest changing room and let out your feelings.  Almost every establishment has convenient public bathrooms where you can have total seclusion while you vent.  If all else fails, go out to your car – it’s a little inconvenient, but well worth it to avoid making a scene.

By following these simple steps, you can make sure that public nursing never leads to ugly confrontations or public relations battles, and everyone will be much happier.

About Christine

I'm a full-time mother to two kids, an ex-lawyer, a breastfeeding counselor, a skeptic, and (to steal a phase from Penn & Teller) a "science cheerleader." You can reach me through my Facebook page.

Posted on January 4, 2012, in Breastfeeding, Culture and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I am trying to imagine how public response would have been if the blogger that you mentioned had asked to contribute info, not on nipple types, but on the number of people killed in readers’ favorite popular action movies. To me, murder is a much more indecent, more shocking, more offensing matter than the workings of the human body (no matter how one tends to view them). And yet, there would likely be a positive response–excitement, even–that someone was asking about the best opportunities to watch the ultimate form of human suffering. And breastfeeding only helps give and sustain life…What is wrong with our society?

  2. OK so I finally found the post with the TEXT of the image my friend sent me via email that had me immediately scampering off to your blog to find it and reshare… but the graphic isn’t here. I really like the graphic version, did someone else take your words & make it, or did you put it someplace easily sharable? You seem to have a similar trait to me – not being quite so concise in the storytelling. Your “advice” section is concise and HILARIOUS. I would like to get it out to my friends who don’t have the attention span to read this whole blog post (large percentage of my friends seem to have very real ADD. I love them. Your average squirrel has longer sustained attention. They are amusing as heck to try to follow, especially when I’m not caffeinated.)

    Sooo… link to the picture for easy sharing? Or should I find a way of sharing it with YOU if someone else made it? FWIW, if someone else made it, they DID include in the bottom corner of the image so they weren’t trying to steal credit… and it did drive traffic to your blog 😉

  3. Ahmie, did you find it?
    I realise your post was aaaaages ago, but I’ve only just been enlightened about this blog myself and it is a great pic to share!

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