(The views expressed in guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of Unlatched. I just like giving people a place to voice their views or opinions. – Rachelle Unlatched)
A Breastfeeding Conversation with College Students
Guest blog by Shalaina Leaper-Slark
I am a teacher assistant for a human development class, Family Relationships and Careers. My responsibilities for the first class included presenting the syllabus, explaining plagiarism and leading the students in an approximately 40 min group discussion on a topic of my choice.
On the first day of a new semester, the students are anything but willing to participate in a conversation unless a topic is presented creatively. I assumed that these college students followed local news, so I asked them to retell stories (excluding coverage of murders, drugs, and traffic accidents) that stuck out to them. After a few dull topics, a student introduced the coverage of the Hollister nurse-in, or as she put it, “the breastfeeding moms’ boycott of Hollister in order to get attention.” I decided to not mention my involvement with the nurse-in, but I corrected her lingo.
We stuck with the topic of public breastfeeding and the students had some very mixed, possibly misinformed, views. Students commented how ‘nasty’ and ‘unnatural’ breastfeeding was and many females described how they could never do ‘that’.
Trying to prevent the conversation from being completely one sided, I asked the students to give me examples of when and where breastfeeding was socially acceptable, positive, and normal. They responded with: when a newborn baby is hungry, away from the dinner table, and behind closed doors.
I found myself staring at a class of students who were completely blind to an act that is so powerful. Many of these students have never seen the way a child is completely calmed, comforted, and connected to its mother while breastfeeding. Many of these female students considered their breast as ornaments to attract males, as objects to fill out their clothing, or they refused to acknowledge that they even served other roles beyond that.
I realized that I could not be angry, upset, or offended by their comments. The problem is that our society is simply unaware and uneducated.
I stopped the conversation and logged on to my Facebook account where I revealed that not only was I was a mother, but that I was a breastfeeding mother who was also a part of the Hollister nurse-in. Yes, the students were exposed to a small portion of my breast, but I was also exposing them to a different side of the breastfeeding in public debate. I explained my parts in the nurse-in and talked about my journey from a first time mother who nursed in the bathroom to confident second time mother, who still sometimes wasn’t strong enough to nurse without the cover.
Just when I was ready to wind the class down, the conversation was reborn. The students then started to discuss why society was telling us that breastfeeding was a private manner or even bad, despite all the studies showing the benefits of breastfeeding. I ended the class by encouraging the students to just continue about their business if they ever came across a breastfeeding mother.
I am happy to report that the students are now thinking about breastfeeding in a new light. When the professor opened the next class by asking the students if they had any questions from the class I had led, the first question was about nipple leakage.