On both sides of the bay these days, fabrics adorned with fanciful flowers, pink plaid, or purple polka dot, are delicately draped over the shoulders of hundreds of breastfeeding mothers. Worn as a cloak of concealment, these triangular breastfeeding blankets, also known as Hooter Hiders, have become a regular accessory — and a reminder of our society's hang-ups.
Sadly, even during the height of the farm-to-table movement, sales of the Hooter Hider continue to soar. No doubt, giving breast to baby offers the best, most nourishing noshings. So why, then, has nursing in public become such a taboo, forcing many children to eat under a kind of tot tarp? After all, who wants to dine in a tent while eating out?
It's simple: People feed their babies from their bodies. So why hide it?
When we gather with friends and family to share in a meal, we also create and celebrate togetherness. Chestfeeding, in truth, is the initiation of these food-sharing rituals, and it's a practice to be revered not reviled. When babies feast, they source their nutrition from their parents, while simultaneously laying the neurological pathways for a lifetime of interconnection.
I view the widespread use of Hooter Hiders as possibly pointing toward societal longings. Perhaps we're shielding our psyches from a kind of suppressed, primal desire for familial tenderness and symbiotic awe. Perhaps the Hooter Hider keeps under wraps a need that's hardwired into our brains for a felt, body-based connection — one that gives a kind of assurance of personal survival. Perhaps this phenomenon has developed similarly to the way we don't often see the farms from which our food comes. There's nothing innately inappropriate or offensive about natural nursing or, for that matter, tilling the soil. Originally, it was do or die.
Bra burning of the 1960s represented the freedom to be natural, to no longer uphold stereotypes surrounding the breast. I am not suggesting to actually go about torching the titty tablecloth. (I am, however, thinking that they could be turned into something of practical use; perhaps made into menstrual pads, diaper wipes, or burp cloths).
Just as we have the right to choose how and where to birth our babies, we have the right to choose how and where and with what we feed them. Supportive spaces in the East Bay that openly embrace natural nursing include public libraries (because they're smart there), farmer's markets (because they know that naturally harvested, raw food is good for you), and, of course, the Oakland Zoo (because non-human mammals have mammaries too). Additionally, Berkeley's annual Boobie-Palooza Festival welcomes natural nursing.
I wonder what would happen if breastfeeders — those willing and able — shook loose their trendy yet staid suckling sheets. Let's really consider the benefits of beholding, not blanketing, baby's inherent and blissful bond with the breast. One does not have to be a lactivist to see that breastfeeding is not only interpersonally precious and ideally nutritious for baby in the long-run, but it is a boost to public health as well. To this end, when considering natural nursing in public, the question is simply this: Is it really too intolerable to bare?
If you have a question for Meghan Lewis or one of our other parenting columnists, email Express editor Robert Gammon at Robert.Gammon@EastBayExpress.