Q. Once Again … Breast-feeding: At the many large family gatherings I attend, my niece breast-feeds her 1-year-old multiple times over the course of the afternoon. This is not a newborn who needs feeding every couple of hours so she uses her breast more as a pacifier than anything. To be clear, she does not do this in any modest way, exposing her entire breast to the room each time. This makes my husband and his elderly father (who lives with us) uncomfortable enough that the older gentleman gets up to leave the room each time. Other people in the extended family have commented on it, too. The next event is at my house. I try to make all my guests, but especially those of a certain age, comfortable in my home. It is just a matter of respect. I would like my niece to take her son to an adjoining room that is more private although not behind closed doors when she is with us and feels the need to placate him. I know she will be upset with me, but I feel that she needs to at least be aware that this is making her older extended family uncomfortable as this wasn’t done in their generation. What do you think?
A: At least your niece isn’t also giving a lecture on anthropology, like the American University professor recently in the news for breast-feeding in class. I am pro-lactation. I did it myself for a year, and yes, I occasionally had to breast-feed (discreetly) in public places, and often at my in-laws. When I was at their house, I would almost always go to another room, or sit in a chair facing away from them. They were in favor of breast-feeding, but there was no reason to shove it in their faces. You’re absolutely right that with a 1-year-old there is no compelling need for your niece to make everyone observers of this. When your niece arrives pull her aside and say while you support breast-feeding, you’d appreciate it that when she’s feeding the baby she takes him into your bedroom for some privacy. Explain that the older family members are uncomfortable and it would be easier on them if she was the one to absent herself briefly. Then if in defiance she lets it all hang out, you can all go to another room.
Eh… I support making accommodations for cultural or religious or generational differences/preferences/whatever. And it is the letter-writer’s private home, so she gets to make the call about breastfeeding, and the breastfeeder (or whoever else) needs to accept it. But also? It’s a breast. Get over it. If she’s not self-conscious about her father-in-law seeing her feed her kid (or comfort her kid), he shouldn’t be. And if he is, he can go to another room. Body parts can be both sexual and utilitarian — lips are used for kissing (and other, funner things), but they can also come out in public to comfort a child and no one freaks. Let the lady feed her kid. If the older folks are uncomfortable, have a brief convo and let it be a learning experience, and teach those dogs some new tricks. And if your own husband is uncomfortable with a lady breastfeeding in his presence, maybe that’s an issue worth exploring. But it’s his issue. Not the issue of the lady who is just trying to feed/comfort her kid.