There are plenty of things to worry about when you’re breastfeeding: latching on, achieving let-down, engorgement, cracked nipples, mastitis, pads that make your breasts look like archery targets, disapproving strangers, your baby “oversleeping” so that you wake up, not rested, but with rock-hard, agonizing, leaky boulders … It’s healthy, it can be beautiful, but breastfeeding can also really get on a woman’s lactating tits. And to top it off, there’s the really serious issue, the one that affects not just you but the whole of humankind: your man might not find you sexy any more.
Of course, you probably haven’t noticed this. High on oxytocin, the last thing you’re bothered about is being a sexy shag-provider. Alert to your baby’s every cry, your ears have been deaf to the complaints of the tit-deprived male. Thankfully, such complaints are finally getting louder. Isn’t it about time you listened?
You might think our breasts are your own; well, they’re not. As James Braly wrote in his now-infamous New York Times piece:*
So to everyone chanting “My Body! My Choice!” I say, “Your Body! Our Nookie!” We are in this together, women and children, men — and breasts.
Think it’s just him? Let’s quote another daddy blogger “they’re our boobs [...] My territory”. Or as yet another daddy blogger simply calls his post: Gimme My Boobies Back! Ha ha! And before you say all that’s sexist, it’s not – this is simply 1990s-style, cheeky chappy, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it irony. Which is basically the same as sexism, except if you call it that it means you’re a loser with no sense of humour. Not to mention extra-leaky tits.
You would think that new fathers might feel uncomfortable admitting to viewing nursing breasts as sexual possessions. After all, even if it’s true, it’s not very gentlemanly, to say the least. But what do you expect? As another daddy blogger (trust me, these are all different people!) writes:
We’re men ladies. We’re not mature adults. From the day you started dating our buddy we’ve been wondering what you’ve been hiding under your sweater. It’s what we were designed to do. Funny thing is, you made him wait three weeks to catch a glimpse of your marvelous mounds of well-formed flesh. All I had to do was bring a gift to the hospital. It’s shocking! “Here’s your gift” BAM!…free peep show.
Tee hee! If you weren’t worried enough about your husband wanting “his” boobies back, just think about his mate! You were too busy delivering the placenta to notice him standing there having that longed-for perv! And, just in case you’re thinking “yeah, yeah, I’ll just quietly ignore that”, here’s an extra insight from the same blogger, just to make sure your skin keeps on crawling:
Oh, you think no one’s watching when you whip out that five pound jug of milk, or ‘breast’ if you prefer, and softly suction (or ‘latch’) your baby’s mouth to it, but you’re wrong – dead wrong. Not only is every guy in the room staring at you, but each is having one of only two possible reactions: he’s either turned on by it or equally as turned off by it. There’s no happy medium.
I could go on.** There is a lot of this revelatory / misogynist bullshit around. Clearly women have been getting just a little bit too comfortable with feeding their babies in public; at least this will keep them on their toes.
It could be said that at the very least, these men are being honest about their discomfort and their “needs”. But do they really have to use this tone? It is possible to articulate concerns in a more sensitive way, one which doesn’t reinforce genuine fears and insecurities in the hope of winning cheap laughs (and I wouldn’t want to suggest it’s common for daddy bloggers to do the later – only that it does appear to be an accepted part of some men’s “comedy” repertoire). Moreover, it would be a real relief to move away from the paradigm of sex-starved dad and baby-obsessed mum. Yes, sometimes that’s how it is. But feelings can change from day to sleep-deprived day and can be far more complex than is often assumed (whatever I might want to feel, I for one get really freaked out by the thought of let-down occurring in an intimate situation; it’s nothing to do with a lack of desire, but sheer confusion at the mixture of responses). The relationship between breastfeeding and intimacy can be a serious issue – so isn’t it one that merits a serious discussion rather than one that literally reduces women to sexless milchcows?
So how do you stay sexy while breastfeeding? Well, to be honest I’m not exactly the expert. The whole thing’s personal and specific to you. The only thing I would say is – you know those cheap breast pads that don’t have any adhesive on the back and scrunch up in your bra before falling out in a crowded café? Personally speaking, I don’t think they’re a great help.
* Braly is writing about extended breastfeeding, which lasted until his son was five. Some might say this justifies his attitude. Personally – regardless of views on the actual parenting relationship – I was not aware that you reached a certain point, say four years in, whereby it suddenly became acceptable to say “hey, you know that thing about your body being yours? Only kidding!”
** Okay, one last quote from him (I can’t resist):
I’m not against breast feeding. To the contrary, I’m all for it. I like how it takes even the most modest of modern feminists and turns them into Zulu Warrior women from the pages of National Geographic. If you want to sit in a restaurant with a baby hanging from your breast, I’ve got no problem with it, as long as you’re not my wife, and you don’t mind the old-guy sitting next to me, and every other guy in the restaurant, leering at you. We can’t help it!
Well. What a total tosser. Reading this makes me actually want to get pregnant again this minute simply to engage in aggressive, bold, commando breastfeeding anywhere and everywhere. In fact, I might get one of those fake babies and carry it round with me just so I can pretend. That doesn’t sound remotely mad, does it?