About Me

MoxieTopics

  • MoxieTopics
    Short PDF ebooks on specific parenting topics, in-depth and focused

Coaching and Workshops

Click through to Amazon.com

Moxie's reading

The 10-year-old's reading

MoxieTopics

  • MoxieTopics
    Short PDF ebooks on specific parenting topics, in-depth and focused

« Q&A: picking up your toddler too much | Main | News:recall, internet safety, placental health studies, free newsletter for young musicians »

Comments

Kay

I agree with the "it depends" approach - for males or females. I usually will ask if someone is planning to bf - I get all manner of coupons for formula and always pass them along. No matter what the answer I get is, yes they are or no they aren't, my reply is usually the same - that should work well for you. If the answer is no - then I offer the coupons and tell them not to let anyone guilt them. If the answer is yes, I share my limited bf story and offer up a "stick with it until you can't" type of message. The main thing is that the mother feeds the baby. Whether it is breast or bottle doesn't really matter to me. To each their own.

That said, I'm not easily offended and I take people's comments at face value and don't look for trouble by trying to read meaning where there is none. I would have given a simple answer. I think some of my husband's friends asked me - and I don't remember thinking twice about it.

I can see how some people could get upset though if they have been through some criticism, so - I agree with Moxie's 3 choices above. I don't think the question should only be "are you going to breastfeed" without some other commentary on the reason for the question. Coupons for formula, shared experience, a legitimate question about how the workplace handles breastfeeding mothers... etc.

I know that didn't help a bit. ;)

Amy

I would really like to know the reason he was asking. I think I would be wigged out by a man asking, if it was out of the blue. It may be "natural", but for a man to ask, I immediately, and maybe unfortunately, think "He's asking about my boobs."

If he was asking because he wanted to know if I could eat/drink something etc., then the question is "Would you like suchandsuch, is it ok or are you bfing?" or "Is this ok if you are bfing?"

If his wife is having issues and he wants to know how to help her possibly, it should be more along the lines of "My wife is bfing and *this* is happening, do you know how I can help her?"

Actually, notice how the questions never come down to "Are you breastfeeding?"

Ick.

Diane

My guess is, if she was offended she's not a breastfeeder. I remember when I was pregnant, and several of my male coworkers kept asking me if I would breastfeed (Their wives did, so they were perfectly comfortable with the idea.) I was embarrassed! But now, no big deal. I've been breastfeeding for a year and have no qualms with anyone asking whatever they want to about it. It just took experiencing it for myself to see how truly normal and natural the process is.

Alicia

I agree with you, Moxie, that it depends on the motivations for asking. And, while it might on the surface seem a bit sexist, I can't really imagine why a random male neighbour would *need* an answer to that question.

Bottom line, for most new moms, a lot of uncomfortable exchanges follow the "Are you breastfeeding?" question. Yes, it's a wonderful, beautiful, natural thing. But it's *her* choice whether her breastfeeding experience is to be made a topic of conversation.

New moms have all sorts of "natural" things going on. Poop and hemmorhoids and vaginal tears, and frankly, just because your wife had a baby doesn't mean you ought to be asking me about that either! But I might share my experience and what's worked well for me with your wife. I think some topics really are for women only, no men allowed. Unless your doctor is a man. Then he can be in the inner circle, too. ;)

M

I don't mean to suggest that this was Joe's motivation for asking, but the fact that the question was asked "at a party" reminded me that I was recently asked, at a party, by a close male single friend, "aren't you still breatfeeding?" as I was getting another drink.

My immediate reaction was to be highly annoyed that he felt the need to police my behavior, this was an extremely rare night out for me and what did he know about it anyway?

Then I realized, exactly, he didn't know, so I was able to explain that I was still breastfeeding my 20-month old some, but not tonight - she was home with dad, being put to bed with a bottle, and I was out having a good time and would take care that the good time had passed through my system before I breastfed her again.

It's a tough call. Sometimes I would not have been in the mood to discuss it at all, but I'd hate for that to mean that the curious should always keep quiet just in case. In the end, I appreciated that I was able to advocate for breastfeeding and clear up some confusion people might have about it.

Today Wendy

My little one is 7 months old, and when I came back to work a month ago I got a lot of people saying "Aren't you still breastfeeding?". And every time I have to struggle not to cry.

I probably need to lighten up a lot...but as someone who tried desperately to make breastfeeding work: drug-free delivery, bonding time with baby, herbal supplements, daily visits from midwife, multiple trips to bf clinic, prescription drugs, "embracing nudity" in an attempt to moderate the damage being done to my nipples, full-time assistance from husband & mother... and wind up with the poor baby on the verge of being diagnosed with failure to thrive as a result of not getting any food...

Ok, so I'm a really extreme case. But I'm sure I'm not the only one. "Are you breastfeeding?" sounds like a question on a test. Moxie's suggestion is awesome, figure out what you really want to know, and we can have an actual conversation instead of having you accidentally make me super defensive before we've even really said hello. On the actual topic of is it weird to have this discussion with a guy...I think its really great as long as they way they phrase the question makes it clear they're not just feeling guilty about staring at your chest...

Nikki

I breastfed both my kids and would feel strange if a male friend asked me if I was breastfeeding without explaining why he wanted to know! I liken it to other uncomfortable questions that people like to ask - Did you circumsize him? Were they concieved naturally? Did you have an episiotomy? Are you engorged? If these questions are posed by my mother or close friends, fine, but by someone at a party? No way!

He asked if there was a similar question that it would be ok for him to ask another male but not ok for his wife to ask. Men don't usually talk about such personal things (you know, they stick to the weather and sports) but I would imagine his male friend would feel uncomfortable if she asked if he'd had a prostate exam lately or if he had jock itch :)

slarson

In the beginning of my breastfeeding years, I used to think it was weird when men asked me about breastfeeding. But then, I got over all the puritanical associations with my boobs, and I started really liking talking about breastfeeding with anyone, male or female. With my male friends, some of whom happen to be fathers with partners who breastfeed, I now love to talk about it, and I especially respect those of my male friends who can have really good conversations about the various problems/issues/successes that they and their partners have experienced in BFing. I have one single male friend without children who is very interested in knowing about BFing, and sometimes he asks me some pretty personal questions, but I know this is all part of his general tendency to ask questions about everything under the sun. So in the end, what I am trying to say is that the more we can all talk about it out in the open with anyone, whether male or female, the fewer hang-ups we will all have about the whole thing. There is no reason that BFing needs to be overtly or subconsciously sexualized, so let's all try to talk more about it so that BFing becomes par for the course, anywhere and anytime.

Amy

I'm in Camp 1, as long as we're only referring to TALKING about it. I would never be comfortable DOING it in public, but as a subject of conversation it doesn't bother me.

Amy

Although I will add that if an unmarried man with no children asked me about it...that's somehow different than being asked by a guy whose wife has breastfed.

Summer

The question wouldn't have bothered me, even if it came from an unmarried not-a-dad man. If someone is interested in the topic of breastfeeding, I'll happily fill them with information. Idle curiosity is fine with me.

And I did get asked, back when my son was small. I remember that on an Alitalia flight when my son was 15 months, a male flight attendant asked my husband if I was nursing, and then went on to tell him about his wife and how long she nursed their child. (Actually, I think the question might have been if I was *still* nursing, the assumption being that of course women nurse babies.) I still get asked every once in a while if I did nurse, when did he wean, that sort of thing.

I think what would make a difference to me isn't WHY the man asked, but the tone he used to ask. If there was a hint of "ew, grody" about his delivery, that would put my hackles up.

Erin

As another person who just couldn't breastfeed because my milk never came in, (pumping on schedulIe, suplemental feeding system, Reglan prescription, herbs, and repeated appointments with lactation consultants...), it's surprising the number of people, and strangers, who ask if I'm breastfeeding. This was a very difficult time for my son and me, and having to talk about it is hard. Of course, I could just say "no," but that's just such an inadequate way to describe it. I feel obligated to tell the whole story, starting with my 35 hour labor and c-section. It gets long. It gets personal. By the end, I'm so distraught and questioning myself all over again. Also, if I just say no, repeatedly I've had people explain to me why it was that they chose to breastfeed, and why it was much better. So, yeah, I think it's too personal, especially, say, if you're in the pasta aisle at the grocery store.

giddy

I am in Camp 1, and also never had a problem "whipping them out" in public for feedings. (Discreetly, of course.) (I just like to say "whipping them out.")

That said, I do think it matters what an asker's motivation is, male OR female. I usually avoid asking people that question because I"m afraid I won't be able to keep my mouth shut about my obvious biases about it. When friends want advice, they will tell me about their problem, and I can help then. Otherwise I try to stay out of it.

But honestly, I don't think it should be a male-female issue. It's more, "if you can ask the question sensitively and know you will be able to continue being kind and sensitive regardless of the answer," then you can ask. If not, you probably shouldn't. It also might make a difference if it's someone you just met.....maybe not the best question from a random stranger, even if he IS super sensitive.

so despite being in Camp 1, I am still wishy-washy!

hedra

I fall back to Miss Manners on this - the answer to any personal question is 'why do you ask?'

So the answer to 'when is it okay to ask' is to ask yourself the same question, BEFORE you ask. If you do so, you'll end up going through Moxie's self test on motivation.

And that brings you to the conversation, and another way to broach the subject without it seeming 'too personal' (that is, it puts you on the same level of exposure if you present the why I'm asking BEFORE the asking - 'my wife is breastfeeding and' or even sharing that 'I'm so glad the world has become more accepting of breastfeeding, at least since my wife started. Have you found that to be true for you?' or even the ever-typically-male urge to be helpful - 'I don't know if you're breastfeeding, but my wife had some trouble with it and I cannot say enough about getting a good lactation consultant. We had one who was terrible, but this other one... wow, what a difference. Anyway, if you or anyone you know needs a referral, we could pass on her name and number. Struggling alone with the problems was just so hard on my wife, I'd hate for anyone else to go through that.' If it is just idle chitchat on a formerly totally verboten but now maybe kinda more open subject, keeping it general and not personal is the way to go.

I love the 'why do you ask' thing, very much. It has been perfect for fending off nosiness for the sake of nosiness (the 'how were your twins concieved' types of questions, especially... sheesh, people!), and perfect also for opening up conversation with people who are in pain and really need support I can provide (the 'how were your twins conceived' types of questions again - from women struggling with infertility, that's a WHOLE other conversation, and one I don't mind participating in, even though mine weren't due to IF treatments).

So, he wanted a reference to a Major Book, Miss Manners, any of the books would do. Oh, and asking questions about ANY personal habits and practices is not allowed - compare with 'do you brush your teeth twice a day?' or 'do you go to the doctor when you are sick?' ... as a man, you could ask if another man has had his colonoscopy or prostate checked yet, if there seemed to be a good reason to discuss it (but not likely at a party!). For women, breastfeeding, labor, and so forth tend to be more 'girls only' topics due to the need to share details with some depth. That said, my brother is a master of engaging in detailed and interesting discussion of things like mucous plugs with women, and has managed to avoid seeming creepy or weird while doing so - he's not OVERLY interested, and while he's borrowing on his wife's direct experience, he has enough medical background (works in the field) in addition that it comes across, well, as almost clinically gender-neutral. That's a feat most people cannot pull off (crossing genders on those topics), and most shouldn't bother to try. (He also doesn't do this at parties, that I know of!)

My DH has talked about breastfeeding, natural childbirth, and other stuff like that at parties, mixed gender, etc., but he doesn't tend to ask people personal questions, just shares his experience, and lets others share as they wish. He's a big advocate for breastfeeding (et al), and a bigger advocate for getting proper information before making decisions. So he's probably in the proslytizing world more than is technically 'correct'. But so far, he doesn't seem to have offended anyone that I've noticed. (He generally doesn't talk about too much personal stuff unless he knows or has a connection with someone anyway, so maybe that's why he doesn't put people off?)

That's all I have to add, I think. At least for now, LOL! (Now better get back to work... boss out of town, but still...)

electriclady

Like Today Wendy, I am very sensitive about the topic of breastfeeding because I tried so hard to do it and was never able to make it work--struggled with low supply and bad latch, gave up nursing at 8 weeks and carried on exclusive pumping for another 2 months before finally throwing in the towel. So when someone asks me if I'm breastfeeding (or conversely, if I "always bottlefeed"), I feel defensive and put on the spot and like I'm somehow obligated to give my whole story in order to justify myself.

On the other hand, I'm always desperately curious about whether other people are breastfeeding, because I want to know if anyone else has had problems like I did. However, I never ask unless the topic comes up in a natural way--which it usually does when mothers of new babies are talking--and I present it in context, e.g. "because I found it really tough, did you?"

So I'm definitely in Camp 3--and I like Moxie's suggestion of figuring out WHY you want to know and ask that instead. I don't have a problem talking about breastfeeding in a supportive context with other women, but if some guy I didn't know well asked me just out of curiosity, I would have a problem with that. I might retaliate by giving him way more information than he ever wanted to know about my nipples. :)

Melissa

Wow, I'm surprised at the number of people here who profess an "ick" factor to the question.

First of all, I see a number of responders jumping to the conclusion that the criticizer in the story is actually the neighbor that he asked the question of. We don't know this for sure. Maybe the criticizer is someone who overheard him asking his neighbor the question and came up to him later and bitched him out.

Secondly, we know neither the context of the situation, nor the whole conversation that took place. Joe could have condensed his story for the purpose of his letter to Moxie.

All that aside, I guess I'm in the minority here. I full on support breastfeeding and will gladly talk about it all day with anyone who even mentions the word, be it the scientific/clinical benefits or personal stories about my own experiences (which were far from perfect). Breastfeeding is what breasts are for! I very much believe that the more we can open up and relax about it in our society the more support we can garner for women who do it, want to do it, are struggling with it, etc.

Please note, this is in no way intended to snub or shun those that choose not to breastfeed. As one poster said above "as long as you feed our baby".

Melissa

Okay and it looks like another 10 comments were added in between the time I started and stopped my first comment so I guess I'm no longer in the minority! :-)

christie

Dear electriclady: I had those problems too. I pumped for 8 weeks (to my twins' actual due date) and then gave it up. We were MUCH too far into the process before someone told me that the most important thing was making sure the children GOT FED. Duh.

I also love "Why do you ask?" It's great not only for nosy people (who would NEVER just come out and say "Because I'm nosy!"), but for inquisitive children too... :)

Ariella

I'm gonna call BS on this one, Moxie. Breastfeeding IS natural, and if women are truly interested in seeing it become an accepted, normal part of life, then they're going to have to get over any kind of reticence they have about talking about it.

Your sex analogy is all wrong: sure, sex is normal and no one is going to ask whether you've begun making love again, and neither is anyone going around asking for public sex to be legalized. But... women are asking for legislation regarding breastfeeding and the ability to do it whenever and wherever they please, without repercussions.

If that's what they want, then that's what they should get (I am all for the legislation FWIW), but saying that it's a "privacy" thing necessarily weakens the argument that it should be something that's allowed to be done in public.

Reese

For me, male or female, it depends.

Are you a new parent (child under, say, 3 years old), thinking of or trying to start a family, a friend, or partner of a friend of mine? If so, then feel free to ask.

Are you an aquaintance, someone who will criticise me if I'm not, a business partner of my partner, or someone I've "just" met? If so, please try to restrain yourself.

I will say that, whenever someone asked me if we were breastfeeding (or planning to) I would always answer honestly. If I wanted to discuss it further with the asker, I would follow up with "Yes, and we've really gotten the hang of it! She will..." to encourage more dialogue. If I wanted to end the conversation, I simply said "yes" and moved on.

Katy

I don't personally have a problem being asked questions like that - if anything, I'm perhaps too willing to share those kinds of details with people I don't know well!

But I do think it's kind of a personal question, with potentially lots of baggage (behind both the question and the answer), and therefore I don't think it's good manners to ask it of someone you don't know super well, unless it has already come up in conversation somehow. Or if you have a particular reason for asking (and then follow Moxie's suggestion of figuring out and mentioning why you are asking). (And I do love the "why do you ask" response - I'm going to remember that for when people ask me things I do find too personal.)

I think the same rules apply whether it's a male or a female asking (I think it's unfair to say that it would be okay for a woman to ask but not a man), except that I think two women in conversation are more likely to have that topic come up in general, and then asking the question could flow naturally from the conversation.

I also think some of the ick factor of a man seemingly asking about your breasts could be removed by changing the question to "are you nursing?"

shirky

a stranger at the zoo asked me when my kid was two weeks old

what I wanted to say: mind your beeswax
what I could have said: yes, and it's hard, so you better RECOGNIZE
what I did say: he's adopted

I do think it's too fraught a topic to be party talk.

Jan

Man, it would never have occurred to me that people would be offended by a question like that. By some of the follow-ups I could imagine (a leery, "boy, I'm jealous"; "well, you should be"; "I figured that's why your hooters are so fantastically ginormous"), yes, but by the simple question?

Why can't it just be making conversation? Along the same lines of "are your kids going to share a room?" or "does he look like anybody?"

Honestly, are we really that quick to jump to the judgment that somebody has some nefarious intention in mind when they ask a question? It makes me afraid to say anything to anybody!

And, look, I'm not saying that because I think I have the 'right' answer to that question. If someone asks me (when I have an infant, which I don't right now) if I'm breastfeeding, I say, "Not exclusively. I had a breast reduction when I was 18 so I have supply issues. We do a combination of both." If the person I'm talking to seems interested, I'll talk about the SNS (Supplemental Nursing System" and about how I would love to be able to nurse exclusively, but that there are sure advantages to being able to let Daddy feed the little guy, too!

I would love to see everybody assume that the question-asker means no harm and answer the question in a way that they find comfortable.

Frankly, if somebody asked me if I was back to having sex yet, I wouldn't be offended. I would find it too personal to answer (I'd go with, "wouldn't you like to know!"), but I'm just not going to waste a bunch of energy being offended.

Yeesh. Am I the only one that thinks all this is over the top?

Err, sorry. Rant over. :)

Helen

The first 6 months of breastfeeding my daughter were horribly difficult. So I agree that breastfeeding is a painful topic for many women. I can understand why breastfeeding questions at a party could be hurtful to some women, regardless of the sex of the questioner and the motivation behind the question.

But I think talking about breastfeeding, and seeing discussion of breastfeeding as normal, and not taboo, is really important. I resist the attitude that we shouldn't talk about breastfeeding at all. Or that all we should be allowed to say is how hard it is and how it's OK to stop. Yes, breastfeeding involves the mother's body, but it's about feeding the baby. No one would bat an eyelash if Joe or anyone else asked a mother or father at a party if the baby was formula fed.

The thing is, breastfeeding is profoundly influenced by culture (like so many things in parenting, like where children sleep, what solids they eat and when, and toilet training). There was a recent Newsweek article about the schizophrenic attitude Americans have towards breastfeeding -- It's great! But it involves breasts, which are sexy! And it produces bodily fluid, which is disgusting! So breastfeeding is great and sexy and disgusting!

This is the cultural context in which women are trying to learn to breastfeed. Most of us have never even seen a baby being breastfed before we first try to nurse our own babies. But we've all seen bottle fed babies. That's always OK in public. And we know we're not supposed to let even a sliver of breast show when we're brestfeeding a baby in public, lest we be too titilating. Or too disgusting. Not an easy cultural atmosphere for a new mother with sore nipples and a hungry baby to be comfortable with nursing.

So I guess what I'm saying is, pointed questions of individuals on breastfeeding are dangerous because they can stir up painful feelings and leave the questionee wondering what to say. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about breastfeeding at all.

LEB

I'm with Jan & Ariella, I don't see what the big deal is - I can't see why it's anymore private than asking if you schedule your kids or what carseat/pushchair you use. I regard it as a perfectly normal conversation topic - if this an example of US breast issues?

If you don't want to breastfeed fine, if you wanted to & didn't manage that's a shame - turning breastfeeing into a taboo subject not to be mentioned in polite society won't help anyone.

As far as the male asking goes that isn't an issue either - I'm always happy when a man is interested in breastfeeding, as lack of support from male partners is a major factor in women stopping BFing when they want to continue.

AmyinMotown

Whenever anyone asked me, I would immediately put the deflector shields up and give a guarded "yesssss...." because of the, ummmm...have we come up with an alternative to the unkind perjorative that rhymes with "Noob ROTCs?" I know a few in real life so I have a BIG reluctance to discuss what my choice was with anyone for fear of getting beaten over the head with someone's Cause of the Day. And that extends to the other end of the spectrum too, the "You're STILL nursing?" when she was like 6 months old (I only made it eight). I did ask people though, usually when I was pregnant and had TONS of questions about it, and it was only to people I knew well or new moms from the neighborhood or friends of friends. I vaguely remember one guy who I don't know all that well asking me, and it was clear from his tone he was intending to be supportive (and he was also holding a bag of food he and his wife sent over, so he got lot of leeway there!).
I think Moxie hit the nal on the head about thinking about what you really want to know, and asking that or keeping your yap shut if it's just to lecture them one way or another. I do disagree that just saying "I am so glad my wife is breastfeeding!" is OK--if the person in quesiton is not, she'll feel like that sentence should end "because she's such a great mom unlike you, you fake baby milk pusher" and if she is, that would fall for me under the category of "okaaaayyyyy...."

electriclady

I should add that I don't have a problem talking about breastfeeding in general, and I will gladly discuss all the problems and challenges I faced (and how I dealt with them) in great detail if someone wants to hear about them. I'm proud of how hard I worked for my baby, and I agree with the previous commenter that we need to have all this stuff out in the open in order for women to get the best help and support possible--I wish more people I knew had been open about their breastfeeding struggles.

I generally don't assume that the person asking means any harm; they are just curious. I am not offended by the question itself; it's just that being asked brings up MY issues and MY insecurities. I freely admit that my reaction has everything to do with me and nothing at all to do with the other person and their intent. Perhaps when I'm several months removed from my bfing challenges (instead of a couple of weeks) I will be able to say "No, it didn't work out for us" (or simply, "No") without embarrassment.

The problem is that a lot of people use the question "Are you breastfeeding?" as a way to categorize you as a parent--breastfeeding=good mother, not breastfeeding=bad mother--which is why it's often a lot more loaded a question than "does he look like anybody?"

Bobbi

I would have to agree with the "what's the big deal" camp here...I cannot understand how we can push and push for the right to nurse in public because it's beautiful and natural yet make the same subject off limits in pleasant conversation. And I'm saddened that somehow an innocent question immediately get some of your defenses up. Why does that automatically make you feel like you are being judged? I guess I don't see why that can't be part of a simple "you have an infant" conversation...there's way too much being read into it here (although I DO understand the discomfort with the subject for those of you who've had extreme difficulty with nursing).

liphovela

I've gotta put myself in camp 2 (and I bf'd 6 months exclusively and 12 months total). Unless this is close friends and family it is really not your business. People volunteer what they want you to know, mostly, right?

lynn

Just an aside, when my mom was pregnant with me 40 years ago, the doctor's question to her was "you're not going to breastfeed, are you?" Much more of a loaded question...

lb

I think if it was part of a general conversation on babies and parenting, then it would be fine from a man or woman. Like say if we were talking about poopy diapers (a common party topic!) and it was something like "Oh but forumula-fed diapers are much ranker - are you breastfeeding?" or "Oh, he's still getting up at night to feed? My kid did that until he was 7!! Are you breastfeeding?" Something like that were it was relevant would be fine.

But if it was just out of the blue "So Hi! Is that your kid? Are you breastfeeding?" Then I would be a bit creeped out.

Slim

I don't see why those of us who support laws that would encourage breastfeeding are therefore required to discuss it with all and sundry. There are a lot of fraught topics out there, and people who want change can work for it in ways that don't include discussions with random strangers about feeding choices.
"Are you breastfeeding?" "Did you have him circumcised?" "Did you have natural childbirth?" "Did you vaccinate?" "Did you conceive on your own?" -- I think asking about hot-button issues is a dangerous conversational gambit, because whether you mean to or not, you may end up opening (or irritating, if they haven't healed yet) some old wounds.
If someone wants to talk about the hot-button issues, she will do so without being asked directly. "How is it going?" "Are things going the way you planned?" "What's the biggest surprise been?"
I'll talk about this stuff to anyone. If someone else doesn't want to, no worries. Others of us are putting it out there.

Carmen

I do think it's a personal question, meaning I wouldn't expect to have to answer to complete strangers, but I ask other moms I know, and I'm happy to answer questions to people I know, regardless of whether they're boys or girls.

I did get asked a few times by male friends of ours, and it didn't really occur to me that this was strange.

However, I do appreciate the pain asking can cause people who had bf troubles, and maybe it's better not to ask than to make people feel judged.

To go back to the original question, though, I don't think that the gender of the person asking should make a difference only because it ivolves your boobies. You might as well start worrying about lesbian ladies asking...

Sara

This story makes me think of my husband's habit of asking everyone we meet with babies whether they're sleeping through the night. Granted, not as immediately personal but also potentially loaded, and I think it comes from his curiosity about how other parents are doing, and sleeping is the thing we happen to be struggling with now - at 3 weeks, it was nursing. (Actually, now he asks everyone when their babies started walking, and then goes on about how our little guy isn't, issue for another column.)

In my experience, dads are often blissfully unaware of the complex emotions surrounding breastfeeding (same goes for working/not working), so they see the question as an innocuous prelude to a parenting discussion they might bond over (where to get good prices on formula to choose, which pump they like, whatever). Most people who've asked me out of the blue have been professional acquaintances, so I assume they're wondering about the logistics of being a working mom.

I guess my point is, the new dads I know are not so good with the lead-in, *especially* on personal issues.

My son is 15 months, and I am shocked at the number of people who blurt out "you're still nursing!" when they find out that I am (or even better, they say to my son "you'll have to give that up soon buddy!") I find this more annoying coming from women, who I imagine should know better.

I feel like this issue is a lot like the "do you work" or "do you stay at home" question - many us have some guilt/frustration/sadness bound up in the choices we've made or the constraints put on us by our bodies, finances, etc. If it's a loaded question for someone, being asked by a man at a party might be a big bummer. If it's not loaded for you, a great conversation might ensue.

The more we can make these issues less emotionally charged, the easier it will be to skirt the issue by saying something like "that's a long story for another time" if we don't feel like answering.

(And to me, telling a mom who didn't breastfeed why you did, or why breastfeeding is better, is just rude. Understanding that people have different experiences and/or priorities than you is the most basic of manners.)

Amy

Definitely a very personal question, and not the best party conversation. Like the moms above who had a hard time breastfeeding, it can be a very painful topic - I went through a lot of grieving over the fact that breastfeeding did not work for me and my daughter. When people asked me about breastfeeding (or, worse, when they just assumed that I was and it came up in conversation), I felt like I had to tell them the whole long story, which inevitably felt like I was making excuses for using formula. The whole thing just made me cringe. That said, it was somewhat easier to answer this question to men than to women (I felt less judged). There are so many other topics a person could bring up if they want to start a conversation about parenting!

Missy

I too think that there is nothing wrong with that question. People ask questions about babies all the time and make dumb comments - how big was he when was born, whose eyes does she have, you should have a hat on him, is she wearing sunscreen?. I think that as breastfeeding becomes more a normal part of our culture (and I really hope we are headed this way), it is a good thing that it becomes just something else for people to ask about. I don't think we need to feel obligated to answer, but I really don't think it should make us uncomfortable. Annoyed, sure. But there are all kinds of stock answers - yes we are, no we are not, no it wasn't the right choice for our family, we were hoping to but it didn't work out. As a breastfeeding mother, I hope I am raising my kids (sons included) to think this is just a part of life that can be talked about.

rudyinparis

Having mulled this over for a bit, here is what sticks out for me:

Certainly breastfeeding should not be a taboo topic. It also should not be a required topic, so I guess I echo Slim's point here, that we can be an advocate without having to discuss our personal experiences with every person we see on the street. And undeniably it is a culturally loaded topic which any person interested enough in it to ask about at a party should know.

The whole gender aspect of the original question is bizarre. I kind of see it as a red herring, though. So what? Someone was an idiot and made up some arbitrary gender rule. Common sense should dictate here. You don't need an etiquette manual to figure that out. Whoever said that is just one person with their own poor social skills. That person does not represent a widespread, pervasive rule. Shrug it off.


rudyinparis

In my previous post what I mean is that the original poster (Joe) who asked the question doesn't need an etiquette book. I mean, please. However, I loved the poster who mentioned the Miss Manners "Why do you ask" tactic, which I thought entirely appropriate and a good point.

Sarah

I've been thinking about this question all morning. Yes, breastfeeding should be allowed and tolerated and women should be made to feel comfortable breastfeeding in public. Having said that, everyone's different in their comfort zone. I have no problem breastfeeding in a semi-private area in public or in front of family or close friends. However, I'm not comfortable openly breastfeeding in public or in front of my mostly male collegues. It's all about my personal comfort zone. It strikes me as a somewhat awkward question to ask. I too would be thinking to myself, "why does this man want to know?" and in the heat of the situation I might not come up with the Miss Manners response. I might not even be ballsy enough to come out with the "yeah, not going to talk to you about that" response either. I might just say yes and move to the next group of people. I think the reason we're all over the map with regards to the question is that it's a truly personal experience for some women and just as with other things in life, some of us are willing and open, some of us are more private. Joe may just see breastfeeding as a natural way to feed a baby, kudos to you for doing it, want to encourage us and all that, but what he doesn't realize is that not all women are all about openess and sharing with regards to breastfeeding. Just because women should be allowed to breastfeed in public and be given rights in the workplace to do so does not automatically mean that all women are giving up their right to treat it as a private subject. I'm not even sure if I can get my point across--I feel like I can't quite put it into words why the tone of his question bothers me, but it does. And I'm someone who hasn't had trouble breastfeeding, bucked the norm in my family by breastfeeding longer than my peers, but I still respect that it's not a topic that every women wants to discuss in public with a neighbor. He may not see the question as being as personal as the "making love" example, but some people might. I come into contact with alot of patients and assure you that some people have the hardest time speaking of relatively benign problems related to their body, while others are making out with their partner on the gurney as we discuss their gynecological history. So to sum up--everyone is different, sometimes topics can be a minefield that you don't realize you wandered into and the next time you get together with these neighbors, discuss the weather.

Charisse

I heart Miss Manners--she is awesome on just about everything! I personally wouldn't be much offended by the question, but then again I was and it was easy and I live in San Francisco where nobody bats an eye if you do it on the public street. (Well, not in Cole Valley anyway.)

But I would wonder why some guy was asking...and I have to say I felt a little weird when my VP at work asked me about whether I was pumping "in there" (our offices were next-door)...but his wife had EP'd and he was just being sympathetic in the end. I'd be OK with curiosity of the non-skeevy variety as a reason--in fact I have a couple of gay male friends who were just fascinated by the whole thing in a friendly way, and I was happy to talk about my experience.

I think the best reason to avoid it is just the fact that it may be a painful question. Kind of like "when are you going to children?" to someone who is secretly TTC but may not care to discuss the details. You just don't know. On the other hand, if you ask if the baby is eating well, which seems more like general concern, you will very likely get an answer that will tell you. (My case: "can't get her off the boob"...once she goes there, feel free to follow up.)

Liss

Here's what I think. Breastfeeding should be something that we all have the freedom to do what works best for our families without judgment. Just like we should be able to practice religion, ascribe to political beliefs, marry whom we choose. Of course, there will probably always be judgment about all of those things. But there shouldn't be. But, just because we ought to be able breastfeed, or decide not to breastfeed, or not be able to breastfeed, without judgment, doesn't mean it's a topic for social conversation. Just like the rule never to discuss sex, politics, and religion (and in the South, football), at the dinner table. Dealing with etiquette and nothing else, it's not really polite to bring things up at parties and other sort of "light" social situations that may make people feel uncomfortable. That applies to women as well as men. And of course, that is not to say that there aren't many situations where discussing breastfeeding - or sex, politics, religion, and football - aren't completely appropriate.

Diane

Speaking as someone for whom breastfeeding did not go as planned (been EPing for 6 months now ... I certainly never planned on THAT), I honestly think people need to become thicker skinned. If someone asks you, and you reply "no" or "I tried, but it didn't work out for us" and the other person judges you ... so what? If it is someone you are close to, you can overcome it. If it's some stranger at a party, just let it pass. Seriously. The person who passes judgment on you is the smaller person.

I'm getting tired of the attitude in this country being that you shouldn't ever say anything to anyone about anything, because OH NOES! They might be offended! Some people might be offended if you ask them about breastfeeding. Other people will write you a doctoral dissertation on the subject. If someone asks you a question you feel is personal, is it so hard to say, "I'm sorry, but that's a personal question" and be done with it? Do we really have to go home and spend days feeling judged by what we think one person's motivation might have been?

And it truly breaks my heart that women beat themselves up over breastfeeding that doesn't go as planned. In 5, 10, 25 years, no one is going to know or care how your child was fed. It's not on the college applications. I've yet to see it on a resume. It's not even on the health forms you fill out at a doctor's office. You're all amazing moms.

Lucy

I think Joe falls into the category with most men who are naturally curious - more like tranced out - by breastfeeding. When I was breastfeeding men would go google-eyed at my cleavage and ask if I was breastfeeding. Doesn't make them (or Joe) pervs, just blokes.

I agree the topic is loaded and can be very painful to talk about - but that probably means we should give it some air.

Liss

By the way - whether the topic should be brought up in the first place, based on etiquette, and whether the woman addressed should be offended or embarrassed, based on her own experiences and social pressures, are completely separate issues. And the whole point of etiquette is to make everyone around you feel comfortable and at ease. Hence the ban on basically any topic of discussion anyone feels strongly about! That's why we need Moxie to give us this great forum for discussing stuff like this.

Another Erin

I've been asked this question many times by strangers, most of whom want to know why I am not giving my fussing baby a bottle or pacifier (which, by the way, I am absolutely desperate to do but which she has continually refused). But sometimes they then go onto say something complimentary, or they commiserate, or make a joke about babies and boobs. I tell people whatever they want to know - and part of my openness is my acute awareness that I need people to understand why I bf wherever I find myself. (She's now almost 8 m.o., so increasingly this is not an issue, but I've breastfed *everywhere* - the mall, my office, meetings, the bus.) I have no idea if the trauma the whole no-bottle thing has caused my family (not to mention the drama) is comparable with the pain other posters have described - but I agree with Lucy - we, both men and women, need to feel some freedom to ask these sort of questions so we can better understand where we're all coming from.

Jenn

I've been asked many times if I'm breastfeeding my twins and it never occurred to me to be offended by the question. I think though it's because we overcame quite a few difficulties in the beginning and I'm proud we've made it this far. If it hadn't worked out and I'd had to stop like I thought I would, I would probably be upset by the question.

liz

I'm with the folks who are saying it's a personal question because it's so fraught, not with the boob angle, but with the politics and the difficulty for some women and babies. Muffin Man, f'rinstance, refused categorically to drink from me. So I pumped. And I got lectured for bottle-feeding once. And I said, "Lady, there's breastmilk in the bottle. And for all you know, he's lactose intolerant, so lay off."

So, no, it's not an okay question right out of the blue.

lydia

For me, the question is problematic not because it's about boobs, but because it's one of those topics where many (most?) people feel strongly that one way is better than the other. So the questionee might feel A JUDGEMENT lurking in the conversation.

Whether you find the possibility of giving offense enough to prevent you from asking a question is a personal decision, in my book. There's hardly any question that can't possibly offend anybody. I think "He can't ask because he's a man" is just silly.

As for me, I'm breastfeeding my second child now. When I was pregnant with my first I did kind of resent questions about whether I intended to breastfeed. Now, I love any opening to talk about how it's much harder than most people think it is!

Sinead@BreastFeedingMums

Great post! I don't personally have a problem with a man asking me that question, although I do understand that a lot of women feel uncomfortable discussing breastfeeding per se with men.

And for that the blame lies squarely with society in general for sexualising breasts - something that's unlikely to change anytime soon!

I have breastfed all three of my children and openly discuss it with anyone who cares to bring up the topic. The more open we as mothers (and fathers!) are about the health benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and child, the more likely we are to change attitudes about breastfeeding being the normal and natural way to nourish a baby/ child.

Liza

PERSONALLY, I'm also in the "go ahead and ask, I love to talk about it" camp.

But, I love the "Why do you ask?" response and the suggestion that the questioner may want to clarify that before asking.

IMO, most of the random breastfeeding questions I've gotten -- and there have been many -- have either been from advocates or people just making conversation.

The advocates I thought were a little pushy -- and I *did* exclusively breastfeed until 6 months and am still breastfeeding my 16 month old. But something in their tone made me a little defensive, even though I thought they would approve of my choices.

The making conversation just seemed like parent-talk to me. But a safer opening would probably be "how's the baby sleeping?"

The comments to this entry are closed.

Search Ask Moxie


Sign Up For My Email Newsletter

Blah blah blah

  • My expertise is in helping people be who they want to be, with a specialty in how being a parent fits into everything else. I like people. I like parents. I think you're doing a fantastic job. The nitty-gritty of what you do with your kids is up to you, although I'm happy to post questions here to get data points of how you could try approaching different stages, because, let's face it, this shit is hard. As for me, I have two kids who sleep through the night and can tie their own shoes. I've been a married SAHM, a married freelance WAHM, a divorcing WOHM, a divorced WOHM, and now a WAHM again. I'm not buying the Mommy Wars and I'll come sit next to you no matter how you're feeding your kid. When in doubt, follow the money trail. And don't believe the hype.
Blog powered by Typepad