Nursing and nuance: breastfeeding isn’t creepy, except when it is

The Boychick weaned sometime between Christmas and his birthday. I’m pretty sure he was still nursing at Christmas, and I know he was done by his birthday, because part of me was sad we didn’t make it to three years.

But most of the rest of me? Was so, so relieved.

I loved nursing him. I loved being able to look at him for the first seven and a half months of his life and know that, aside from a few thyroid molecules, every atom of his being had come from me. He made himself, but he made himself from my body, and my milk. I loved snuggling him close, and I loved calming him, and I loved never having to worry about hydration or nutrition when he was sick, and I loved that I could help him sleep, and I loved the symbiosis of full breast, empty baby leading to happy me and happy him. I loved nursing him.

I also hated it.

Not all the time, but more and more as he got older, as my period returned, as my milk dwindled. I felt sexual sensations, which would have been fine, except I loathed it. There were times when nothing but my breast would do, and I was crying while nursing him, chanting “make it stop, make it stop, make it stop”. There were times when nothing but my breast would do, and I couldn’t do it, and he and I both cried. And in the end, that was what lead to his weaning. It was at his pace, but accelerated by my need for ever shorter, ever more infrequent nursing sessions.

So when Twitter and the lactivist blogosphere exploded over an op-ed from the UK that, among other things, said breastfeeding felt “creepy”, I cringed.1

Breastfeeding isn’t creepy — except for me, it is, a bit.

Breastfeeding isn’t sexual — except it is, for me and people like me, and for many people for whom those feelings aren’t a bad thing, and they’re not perverted or child molesters, they’re just normal women with a functioning sexual system.

Breasts are sexualized in our culture, exaggerated into caricatures of themselves, used to sell cars and movies and everything else, and that’s a problem. But, breasts are also sexual. Not just because our society says so, though that “helps”, and not just because all the body is sexual, though it is, but specifically, actually sexual; nipple stimulation releases the hormones of love, of sexuality, of life-giving. It contracts the uterus, floods the brain with prolactin and oxytocin, sends blood to the genitals. It can start or augment labor, it can stop postpartum bleeding, it can, all by itself in some women (not me, alas), bring about orgasm. Breasts. Are. Sexual.

Some breasts. Some of the time.

When I say breastfeeding is creepy, I’m not insulting those (including myself) who breastfeed. There is nothing wrong with breastfeeding, and I wish more women would do it, and for longer — we would all be a lot better off, as individuals, as a society. Even more, I wish that all women who wanted to (which is most women) had the support and the lack of “booby traps” to nurse for as long as she and her child(ren) wanted. I smile when I see women nursing in public, when I see pictures of a child in a lap, held close, both parties obviously content.

But when I see a beautiful, naked, close-up picture, when I think too hard about it, when I am reminded of the feelings in my body of the last months of nursing when I had little milk, of the early months of nursing when he suckled for hours, when I think about having a child suck on my breast — I get the creepy crawlies.

And I hate that. I wish I did not feel this way. But I do.

So when I hear someone say that they didn’t breastfeed because it “feels creepy”, I get angry. I get angry at a culture that says breastfeeding is perverted. I get angry at a culture that says my breasts are not my own but my lover’s, exclusively. I get angry that breasts are so sexualized and breastfeeding is so controversial that the only way one can admit in a major publication that the thought of suckling a child feels creepy is by saying that, therefore, she wouldn’t dream of doing it.

And I get angry at the lactivists who have declared that breasts are not sexual, that people who think so are the ones who are perverted, that my breasts are not my own but my baby’s, exclusively. I get angry that I hear her feelings, which are so like mine, dismissed as “disgusting”, and I wonder, what would they think if I told them I felt the same? Would I get a gold star for persevering anyway? What if I’d stopped at fourteen months, when my period returned, and it got a lot harder? What if I’d stopped at two weeks, when I handed him to his father to latch on because it was that or self-harm to the point of permanent injury? What if I, long-time breastfeeding supporter, never started at all? Would I be disgusting? Or would I be OK, because I was on “the right side”, even if I was “broken”?

I am not broken. I don’t know why I feel the way I do while breastfeeding, and while I suspect fewer people would feel the way I do if our culture normalized breastfeeding and decentralized breasts in sex, I might still feel the same. Or I might not. Maybe “wires are crossed” in my brain, maybe I trained myself into it with nearly a decade of using my breasts to help me achieve orgasm before having a child (yet was I supposed to be anorgasmic?), maybe I was just born this way. Frankly, I don’t care, and I don’t want to hear anyone who does not feel this way theorize about why, especially not in a way that pathologizes and Others me and ignores what I have to say about my experiences.

What I want is to be allowed to talk about it. I want to not be shoved into a corner, head patted and gold star decorated, and told to shut up because my feelings might make the job of “selling” breastfeeding to the masses harder, might give ammunition to anti-breastfeeders who will use anything to call us perverted, any excuse to avoid nursing. What I want is to never, ever hear someone called disgusting for not being able to — or not wanting to — reconcile a lifetime of having a lover at her breast with the thought of having a baby there. What I want is to be part of a movement that doesn’t debase itself to use any means to achieve its goal, no matter how worthy that goal is; what I want is to be part of a movement that honors women and our multitude of feelings, that works not to control our actions but to give us the freedom to do as we wish.

Until we can talk about all the experiences of breastfeeding, until we can recognize that a woman’s breasts are not for sex nor for feeding babies nor for decoration but for whatever the hell she wants to use them for, people will continue to think that breastfeeding is creepy, and thus won’t do it. Those of us who feel this way — a minority even of people who don’t breastfeed, perhaps, but how large or small we don’t know — will continue to get defensive and toss out any excuse to not try and attack and belittle those who do; to reach in tears for a bottle and for the socially-sanctioned fallacy of “I didn’t have enough milk”; to grit their teeth and not seek help and fall into darkest depression; to soldier through and hurt themselves so as not to hurt their babies; to question whether they really want another child if it means going through all that again, alone. We have to be able to talk about it — we, those few (but not so few as you might think) who feel this way — so we can get past it, and get to peace. Whether we choose to breastfeed for nearly three years, or some, or not at all, if we cannot talk, we will be alone, and we will not find resolution.

So make the space. When someone says she didn’t breastfeed because it was creepy, listen to her. When someone doesn’t want to tell you why she didn’t breastfeed, or gives you a reason you know to be false, realize you don’t know the whole story, and grant her her privacy. When someone says she didn’t love every damn minute of nursing, don’t assume she’s anti-breastfeeding.

Mostly, shut up and listen. There are worlds of nuance that are being missed in the all-or-nothing shouting match as it stands, and I can’t stand it anymore.

Just listen.

  1. PhD in Parenting’s post on the topic, linked to here, is excellent, and itself doesn’t contain any of the problems I address in this post.
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48 Responses to Nursing and nuance: breastfeeding isn’t creepy, except when it is

  1. Been there. It’s a terrible feeling to nurse when you don’t want to. It’s a sign that something has to change-in the newborn period with my first we had obvious physical problems and i knew I had to fix those or be done nursing. In his 2nd year, nursing through pregnancy gave me the creepy-crawlies so I began to limit frequency, duration, location of feeds until we weaned-never asking him to stop entirely, but yeah, the weaning process was certainly mother-hastened.

    With my second I’ve gone almost a year past where her brother got to nurse to, since pregnancy isn’t in the picture. After 2.5 i started getting some of these feelings anyway, and once again have set limits. To me it is the natural order of things for a mother to need to set more bodily boundaries the older her child gets. Return of fertility marks a major biological passage, but there are other changes in time, too.

    I think breastfeeding (and pregnancy and birth and bedsharing) has been a great opportunity to confront integrating my body-in all its sexual, snuggly, hormonal milky, etc. ways into my identity-previously I’d been able to compartmentalize off my reproductive functions (sex, menstruation) as something private and sporadic. I have had to own this new stuff because of how public and constant it’s been, and it’s helped me own all of it :)

  2. Bravo for this post. Thank you for helping advance the truth that women, breasts, and breastfeeding are complex and multi-faceted and that mothers should be validated for whatever feelings they have. Thank you also for mentioning the “booby traps”!

  3. Thanks for this – really. because you are right. It doesn’t have to be a dichotomy, one or the other – there are multitudes of women, each with her own experience, feelings both physical and emotional, baggage in some cases, societal input, and so on.

    To be honest, I agree with you – it felt decidedly weird, and freaked me out a bit. I was working to it anyhow because I knew it was the best thing I could do for my child, to try and get past my own head and make it happen anyhow. As it happened, my daughter and I couldn’t get the latch down (I now think my flow was too fast for her & I didn’t know to let some off first), and my son nipped so hard I couldn’t take it, so I pumped for each for a year instead. And to be even more honest, I think I was a bit relieved really deep down despite feeling like I was kind of failing at something I wanted to do for them, or maybe just more comfortable with the pump than with the creepiness. In any case, it was the balance I struck, and they got a year of milk each, so I felt like I did the best I could handle.

    So yeah, I agree about the creepy, I felt that too, especially as someone who is very sensitive there, that it was weird for me. Not necessarily all because of societal stuff, because I do believe in and support breastfeeding, I do believe that’s part of the function of breasts, but I also know them to be sexual. As you say, not just because they are used that way, but because no other mammal has breasts as proportionally large as humans – they are a major signifier of sex and sexual appeal for humans, and generally part of the sexual experience for us.

    Thanks again for opening this up and risking the shitstorm sure to follow.

  4. I think breastfeeding (and pregnancy and birth and bedsharing) has been a great opportunity to confront integrating my body-in all its sexual, snuggly, hormonal milky, etc. ways into my identity-previously I’d been able to compartmentalize off my reproductive functions (sex, menstruation) as something private and sporadic.

    I’m not very articulate at the moment but this is related to what I wanted to say – breasts and breastfeeding and conception and childbirth and the whole hyper-physical shebang is (or I might mean are) sexual, and part of sexuality. This might be going to be a bad analogy but it’s a bit like drug side-effects; if you need codeine for the pain and it also makes you high and happy, that’s ok, but taking it to be high and happy wouldn’t be. In the same way, having (possibly even enjoying, depending on who) sexual feelings while breastfeeding is something which we ought to be able to perceive as ok, a bonus. Um, like I don’t usually *ask* my children to comfort me when I am sad or in pain, but when they do, it’s wonderful.

  5. (and btw – period returned at 14 mos? Dude! Mine came back at 4 months both times. Can’t imagine how much I would have appreciated those other 10 months!)

  6. okay, I’m a touch jealous of the 14 month bleeding hiatus.
    otherwise? thank you so much for sharing this. If we can’t have open and honest discussions about the whole of breastfeeding and motherhood, then we’re never going to move the ball forward.
    thank you for your honesty.

  7. I didn’t get the creepy feeling you experienced, though up until the moment my first child was born, I couldn’t imagine *me* doing *that* – breastfeeding was too much at odds with how I experienced my sexual self. I breastfed each child for 10 months, which I’ve often felt was “not long enough” for most advocates of breastfeeding. But weaning then felt right to me, and both of my kids were in a phase of indifference to nursing, so I really think it was a good time for me, and for us.

    I never loved breastfeeding, though. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t have any real negative feelings. In fact I was very grateful that I had plenty of milk. But for me it was a little like diapering my kids – something they needed, and something I was perfectly willing to do because they needed it, but not something that brought me pleasure. Some parents love every minute of every mundane caring task – or claim to, anyway – but that is not how I felt about the incessant needs of infancy. I love my kids and was grateful I could provide what they needed. I think we can be good parents without “loving every minute of it,” however.

  8. If I don’t think about it, it’s amazing and wonderful and the most natural thing in the world. If I do, it’s creepy and weird, but I do it anyway. I haven’t cut L off entirely yet, but I did actively limit her nursing so that I could get pregnant, and now that I am, nursing is painful and I don’t offer AT ALL. I suspect we’ll stop completely sometime this summer, but I don’t know yet. The little nursing we do do seems important to her, but I don’t think I want to tandem nurse. So we’ll see what happens in the next few months.

  9. Thanks for writing this post with honesty and integrity, I am sure your expression of feelings will be shared by many women. I breastfed for 13 months and never got the sexual feelings you wrote about. However, I also could not have my partner touch my breasts at all for the whole time I was nursing. I wasn’t able to disconnect from the fact that my baby used them for food and comfort and my partner would use them for pleasure. It even took me months after weaning to let my partner even come near my breasts, it took me awhile to feel the disconnect and reestablish my breasts as multi functional!

  10. I have had sexual feelings with breastfeeding. I am usually able to restrain it, but I’m nursing right now and reading this post was actually difficult for me. It’s now passed, though. I am usually OK, but it’s a real problem for me if I see or read sexual content while breastfeeding. It just … ugh.

    This post was very articulate, and it made me think. It made me think about what I’m comfortable sharing, and what I’m not. And how my discomfort might be making things worse for women like me. Women who don’t view breastfeeding as a completely positive, rosy-glow, amazing experience. I think we need to create a culture where we can talk about the many facets of breastfeeding without being seen to tear down breastfeeding.

  11. I don’t know if you’ve seen this already or not, but Her Bad Mother recently wrote a post about the duality of breasts (how they are for babies AND for sex) and how we should acknowledge that both are worthy and fine and right and one does not have to exclude the other:

    http://herbadmother.com/2010/06/ive-looked-at-boobs-from-both-sides-now/

    It bugs me how high-profile public discussions get dragged out to these ridiculous extremes because everyone is afraid if the “slippery slope” and of people “getting the wrong idea.” We apparently can’t trust ourselves to just make decisions based on information, we instead have to simplify and vilify and there’s no room left for nuance or complicated feelings, etc. I see it with breastfeeding, with abortion, etc. It’s damaging, in the end, because it prevents REAL honest discussions from taking place, ones where individuals are free to admit mixed feelings or ambivalence and complicated situations because if you do then you’re attacked, by one if not both sides.

    I admire mothers who do extended nursing. For me, by the time we got to a year, I was ready to get my body back. We nursed for about 14 months and it was wonderful at times, and also really sucked at times, and I felt like my entire self belonged to my kiddo and I was ok with that for the first year… but I needed to get a break before doing it all over again. As parents we focus so much on our children’s needs and those ARE very important and often take precedence over our own needs… but sometimes we have to put ourselves first, too, because what we feel and need DOES matter.

  12. craftydabbler

    What a wonderful post. There is so little in life that is black and white. Trying to pretend that breastfeeding is one of those things is a disservice to everyone.

    Just because I have to share, I didn’t have that feeling that you describe, but about the time my daughter was 3 years old I started to feel a revulsion to being that intimate with her. We continued to nurse until she was 3 years and 8 months. I felt like it was a good decision to quit even though she wasn’t quite ready.

  13. i love you so much for posting this.
    right now, for me nursing isnt comfortable.
    her suckling has become only the lightest of flutters, while her latch is still an extreme suction. the feelings drive me BATTY. my spine gets the creepy crawlies to the point of making me nauseous.
    there are times where i can ask her to stop, and she will. there are times when i will have to set a time limit “when we are done signing/singing the abc’s we will be done” and then there are times when the only thing that comforts her in the world is the breast, and i have to choose to either sit and let her nurse while i feel like i might actually die inside, or have to physically unlatch her with her screaming and clawing at me.
    i dont want to encourage her to wean because she obviously still needs to nurse, or she wouldnt be asking for it. i am a firm believer in CLW for myself and my child, BUT at the same time i just want to be DONE already. i want my body back for myself 100%.

  14. I fucking love you so much. I’ve said this the first time we met “virtually”, and I’ll repeat it to my grave: you have a way with words – eloquently putting into text what resonates in my heart so much.

    For me, weaning Clementine at 2.5 years old was bittersweet. I knew all three of us (her mama, me and her) were ready, but I also knew that this was a connection I had with her (not my biological child) that I never had with my biological daughter. She still, at 4, grabs my breasts without even thinking nearly all the time.

    I just like to think that most people would want to touch my breasts. I know I like them. :)

  15. Thank you so much for this. I haven’t had a child yet, but when I do I don’t know that I’ll be able to breastfeed.

    I was sexually abused as a child, and most of the abuse targeted my breasts. As a result, having them touched at all was triggering for many years. I still feel instant discomfort and shame if they’re touched without my express, spoken consent, and I can only consent when I feel really ready for it – which isn’t always. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to disassociate from the triggers just because an infant was at my breast. The very thought of my breasts having to be available on demand, even by my child, no matter if I was up for it or not, is kind of upsetting to me. And I’m not sure I could do it.

    I was really embarrassed by this when I first started thinking about it. I knew if I told anybody the reason for my reluctance, they’d think I was weird or out of my mind. But I did some research, and found a *ton* of material about helping abuse victims get past their triggers if they want to nurse. So clearly this isn’t uncommon, and I’m sure it can be just as much an issue for some women whether they have a history of abuse or not.

    I wish we could be more open about discussing these things, and I’m really grateful that you’ve come forward and said something.

    • I was also molested as a child and my breasts were targeted as well. For me, breastfeeding wasn’t a trigger most of the time. Now that my child is over two, she’s demanding of my breasts, and wants to twiddle the other nipple while feeding, it has been more difficult. It’s not creepy, just an uncomfortable feeling for me and I don’t like that she doesn’t respect my boundaries. She wails and has fits. At this time, we’re going to continue breastfeeding and I know that modeling boundaries, especially when it comes to my body is important.

    • I would advise looking for a therapist who is comfortable with both sexual abuse and lactation issues if at all possible. If the abuse also included vaginal penetration, and you’re not pregnant yet, please get therapy ASAP or you could possibly trigger during labor (or even during pregnancy if you start feeling cervical pressure or during a prenatal exam). You *can* get past this, you are stronger than what was done to you and you *can* pick a path of better health (physically and mentally) for yourself and your future child(ren).

    • I agree, I went to a talk by a woman at a La Leche League conference who specializes in this type of therapy and talked about the incredible healing that happened for many mothers as a result of working through this. I had some abuse issues as a child as well, but they weren’t really focused on my breasts. I still new I would never be able to deal with the “twiddling” thing and absolutely limited that with my babies.

  16. This is a wonderful piece (but you know I think that already, right?)

    Even though I haven’t experienced this particular sensation myself, I have struggled with other kinds of discomfort when feeding my second and third daughters, a strong psychological discomfort around increasingly feeling forced by a demanding toddler to make my body available whenever and wherever, and a sense of fatigue with that (my first, fully weaned at 15 or 16 months, didn’t feed long enough to evoke these feelings, I found). In extended breastfeeding circles where I live, to talk openly about ambivalence with breastfeeding a toddler is verboten, along the lines you’ve referenced – “it won’t help the cause” etc.

    Until we can acknowledge that a woman’s experience is her experience, with breastfeeding (or birth, or menstruation, or sex, or work, or whatever else we are discussing) and that there is as much variability in it as there are women on the planet, we can’t have conversations that really acknowledge that, as you say, women are people. Radical notion that it is.

  17. Thank you so so so so much for this post. I’m due in a few weeks with #2 and really struggling with this as I remember back to DD nursing. I know that, for me, nursing is a huge priority and that I will work through all my conflicted feelings and strange sensations and the massive dichotomy of roles that my breasts play in my life, but it still feels good to have those feelings validated. We need to talk about these issues more, and I salute your bravery. I weaned DD at 18 months in part b/c I dealt with the “creepy” feelings by completely removing my breasts from my “adult” life, but that was hard too and I desperately needed my body back sooner than CLW was going to allow.

  18. This is absolutely one of the best pieces I’ve ever read on the issue of breastfeeding. THANK YOU.

  19. “… to soldier through and hurt themselves so as not to hurt their babies; to question whether they really want another child if it means going through all that again, alone.”

    Thank you.

  20. @Swiftly: I was sexually abused as a small child by my mother and grandmother. I didn’t remember much of that before I had my children, but I actually found breastfeeding quite healing. I felt so contaminated as a woman, but breastfeeding was an experience that I was undamaged as a woman. I had enough milk. There were some odd comments that meant a great deal to me, such as the day care worker who told me my pumped breast milk had more cream on top than others.

    For me the scary thing was to re-integrate anything from mothering back into my sexuality.

  21. Pingback: Sexing the breast « Spilt Milk

  22. Awesome post Arwyn!

    @Marcy – I also thought of Her Bad Mother’s post (actually I linked to that on a post I just wrote on this topic myself). I think she wrote a really great analysis of some of dangers of criticising how others use their breasts.

    I didn’t say this in my own post (I can’t write about sex on there) but I can in comments: breastfeeding changed my sex life. I wanted to be okay with my husband touching my breasts, I wanted to be okay with the possiblity of let-down during sex etc. but I just wasn’t. It freaked me out. I have read about women who enjoy ‘feeding’ their partners and, hey, that’s fine – but I honestly could not have done that. (Relieved my husband didn’t want me to at all!) So even though I didn’t have sexual feelings when breastfeeding, I feel that I did actively work to draw a line between lactation and my sexual activities. I know a lot of women are this way and don’t like their breasts to be fondled by their partners while they are lactating. This seems to be presented as normal in a lot of parenting/breastfeeding books, as if there is a subtle message that separating breastfeeding and sexuality is a good idea. I wonder sometimes if people who have sexual feelings during breastfeeding feel alienated by that. You are so right Arwyn – we all need to be allowed to open up and talk about this stuff, our most intimate selves, so that we can find support and acknowledgement. Thank you for this.

  23. Thank you for sharing this. I teach (very small) childbirth & breastfeeding classes and get questions. Some women’s breasts feel “asexual” during breastfeeding. Some women don’t feel comfortable with their breasts being a part of love-making. I’ve even heard a mama say that she (not the baby) had nipple confusion. Some women can transition from breast-involved sex with their partners to nursing a baby back to sleep, and back to sex with their partners with little or no “ickiness” at all. There are so many shades of gray.

    Like others who’ve posted, being a birth professional, and later a mama, has led me to broaden my idea of what the word “sexual” means.

    I didn’t experience “sexual” feelings with nursing until I was pregnant and tandem nursing. It made the whole experience very uncomfortable for me…until I talked about it with a wiser, more experienced birth professional. She said to enjoy it….very shocking concept to me. I found that when I let go of the culturally-imposed concept that it was wrong, I didn’t orgasm, I didn’t want to breastfeed all the time, I wasn’t abusing my kids….when I let go of the cultural concept of wrong, it just stopped feeling…well wrong. In a way, it didn’t feel sexual (in the contemporary sense of the word) anymore. This didn’t work for me all of the time (cultural whispers run deep), but it did a lot.

  24. Put me in the camp where I don’t have sexual feelings breastfeeding, but I do have issues currently with having my breasts touched sexually by my partner. That‘s where I get the creepy-crawlies and the please-please-stop, so I do understand those kind of feelings, and they suck. (Yes, you could ask why I allow it then, but I’ll just say it’s a choice I’ve made and my husband doesn’t know.) I’ve often wondered why I would have that switch (because I loved having my breasts touched sexually before breastfeeding) and wondered whether it was a societal thing, a prudish thing, a necessary psychological compartmentalizing — well, I came to no conclusions, but I’ll just say I appreciate your willingness to discuss such experiences.

    As much as I appreciate and enjoy breastfeeding (now at 3 years), and as much as I know my child still needs and wants it, it’s not black-and-white for me. There are many times I get aggravated at not having my body to myself in a particular moment, or not feeling comfortable nursing in public anymore. So I also appreciate your willingness to add nuance to the conversation.

    The very first time I breastfed, in the hospital, I couldn’t stop myself from glancing around furtively, expecting someone to call me a pervert for sticking my baby’s mouth on my breast. There’s definitely something to that.

  25. Pingback: At least one of y’all think I’m Most Inspiring « Raising My Boychick

  26. Pam, I can understand that. I think if I could work past the physical trigger, then nursing might very well become a healing experience. I’m glad it was for you.

  27. Just wanted to say thanks for this! I’ve had the same kind of feeling, just nice to know I’m not alone.

  28. Pingback: I won’t ask you why you didn’t breastfeed | PhD in Parenting

  29. I loved breastfeeding, despite mastitis, despite nips when the teeth came in, despite everything, and have never understood why everyone doesn’t do it. I’ve always felt annoyance at people who are bottle-feeding babies who are obviously newborn and the urge to go over and talk to them, vehemently, about why they should be breastfeeding, is strong within me, and only my own sense of “mind your own business” stops me. And now I’ve read this and I think “oh, women feel like this? I never knew.” I’m sorry for all the anger I’ve felt towards any woman who doesn’t breastfeed for this reason and for what must be hundreds of other reasons. This reason must be so horribly uncomfortable and I feel so badly for you. Thank you for writing this piece. I needed to know this.

  30. Jake Aryeh Marcus

    I am not familiar enough with either the British publication involved or the writer of the “creepy” piece but the sense I got reading it was not that she was taking the issue seriously and sharing her experience. It seemed flippant and deliberately offensive. it had that same Hanna Rosin “I am superior to all those humorless activists” tone.

    I would never question that breastfeeding feels “creepy” or to another woman. I can’t judge how another women feels or how she feels about how she feels. I breastfed so many kids for so long I couldn’t list all the different physical and emotional sensations – negative and positive – that came along with it. And I would never assume my experience was like anyone elses. Wasn’t the British writer saying breastfeeding is creepy for everyone all the time? In these times, the only reason a writer publishes that is to draw traffic to the inevitable furor. Them it isn’t about respecting our privacy and our diversity. Then it is about exploiting the intensity of our feeling.

    • Jake, the article is surely flippant, and full of misinformation and offensive statements — and I’m fully support the misinformation being corrected, and the offense being pointed out –, but here exactly is her quote about “creepy”:

      They’re part of my sexuality, too – not just breasts, but fun bags.

      And when you have that attitude (and I admit I made no attempt to change it), seeing your teeny, tiny, innocent baby latching on where only a lover has been before feels, well, a little creepy.

      Which is talking only about her feelings, not everyone breastfeeding all the time. (She made several other comments which WERE universalized, but I’ve read and reread that one, and it really seems to be about her feelings only.)

      Further, she has been attacked (called “disgusting”, had her mental health questioned — a problem in its own right –, been told she was the creepy one for calling her breasts sexual, had her “real” reasons — because of course that couldn’t be a real reason — impugned, and had I can’t count how many people say “what is wrong with her?”), specifically because of the “creepy” comment. Because she admitted to feelings which I share. And that’s what I’m taking objection to in this post.

      And you know? I understand wanting to retreat to flippancy and superiority when admitting something that no one else talks about, something that could be easily taken wrong, something that is bound to be attacked. Yes, she brings attacks on herself when she starts out attacking, and deserves to have every one of her inaccuracies corrected, and the magazine needs to be taken to task for publishing such potentially dangerous material — but I still cannot help but sympathize. It’s fucking scary to put oneself and one’s feelings out there like this.

      • Jake Aryeh Marcus

        I hear you, Arwyn, but I still think you are taking that paragraph out of context because you relate to it. I reread the essay (or at least the closest I have to it since it is a print only pub
        Ication from what I can tell) and I am still convinced that the author seeks to offend, not defend.

        I think the issues you present – openly acknowledging that many women have negative feelings about breastfeeding at some point and we are under an inordinate amount of pressure to pretend we LOVE every minute of it, supporting our safely discussing our feelings about this and all aspects of motherhood – are incredibly important. We can do it without dumping on each other. I haven’t read nor would I support people questioning the writer’s sanity. I do question her motives.

        • Jake — Does it matter what her intent for the overall article was? She stated a feeling, about herself (in the context of an otherwise massively faily article, yes), and for that statement (as well as for the fallacies and myths and offensive opinions around it) she is being attacked. That’s not OK.

          Even if her motives were “impure” (which I have no desire to speculate on), what does that do for all the hundreds or thousands of women who might feel the same, or who feel some other way never talked about, and who see that and the attacks on her? It hardly increases the comfort or support for anyone else coming out with unpopular feelings. That’s not an environment I want to contribute to.

          • Jake Aryeh Marcus

            Yes, I believe her motives matter. Her motives effect her credibility as do the motives of her attackers effect their credibility. I don’t believe she speaks for those who fear speaking for themselves. I think she reflects a journalistic culture that exploits mothers’ fears of imperfection and makes money from it.

  31. Thank you for a great and honest post! I also had lots of conflicting feelings around breastfeeding. Mine were largely around nursing someone who pinched constantly, really wanting to have my breasts back, and having the major complication of a breast abcess.

    Breastfeeding is a complicated activity and I really don’t like the amount of judgment that exists around breastfeeding and the degree to which many women’s decisions about breastfeeding are based on pressure, guilt, and shame, rather than their own feelings about what is best both for them and baby. My wife is looking toward weaning our second and recently wrote a post about how she feels pressure to already have stopped nursing and to keep nursing for longer. It took a while before she was able to quiet those voices and decide what SHE really wanted to do (http://firsttimesecondtime.com/2010/06/worry-weaning-breastfeeding/).

  32. I felt a sense of dread when I read the ‘creepy’ comment because it was in the context of so much FAIL, that I knew it’d be dismissed or picked apart and the thing is, that makes other women with similar fears or feelings feel as if there is something wrong with them and as if the breastfeeding advocate community doesn’t support them. Which is why Arwyn is totally awesome for writing this and ‘fixing’ that.

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  34. quazydellasue

    You know what I wish? That women who are about to become mothers could be given all kinds of supportive, helpful information before nursing begins – along the lines of:

    1. It might hurt – a LOT
    2. It might make your breasts looks different afterward (I, for one, have inverted nipples now)
    3. It might be a little creepy at times (or a lot)
    4. It might negatively impact your sex life with your partner
    5. Anything I’m forgetting that they DELIBERATELY don’t tell you because they don’t want you to avoid nursing.

    I think women are given way too little credit. The notion that if we tell them the downsides to breastfeeding they will never even try is insulting. Instead, we encounter the downsides we were NOT expecting, feel that something is wrong with us for experiencing them, and give up in frustration.

    Personally, I’ve never had the “creepy” sensation, and I have really loved and cherished breastfeeding. My daughter is still nursing at 27 months and it breaks my heart that she might wean during my current pregnancy if my milk dries up. But my personal experience is neither here nor there, for my present argument. Which is that airing, discussing, educating, venting ALL our POTENTIAL AND ACTUAL issues with breastfeeding will actually further and promote it.

    Of course there are constructive and destructive ways to air the issues. The UK article is an example of the destructive – your piece is an example of the constructive.

  35. didn’t have time to read the wohole post and comments as I usually do before leaving a comment but this is such an important issue that I want you to not feel alone even tho my issue is slightly different.

    For me, my breasts really aren’t a primary erogenous zone, and especially weren’t before I got pregnant. I was very large busted very early in life (wore a 32F when I started high school at 14) and it seemed like the nerve endings were just so far spread apart that I didn’t get much sensation, much less pleasure, from having my breasts stroked – until sometime between my 2nd and 3rd pregnancies. I think I’ve developed more never endings or sensitivity or something (I know I”ve got some new duct connections going by my leak pattern – I have a new weird little leak ON MY AREOLA about an inch above my nipple that puts out a drop of milk every time the new baby latches that wasn’t there before!). I have so much pre-breasts-being-erogenous-zones breastfeeding experience (my 1st and 2nd both weaned around 30 months old) that I don’t think I’ll have any of those cross-over sexual zings from breastfeeding this time either.

    For me, the issue is my neck. My neck is my strongest erogenous zone, having my neck nuzzled or stroked is a pretty immediate response-getter, sometimes so forcefully I feel the need to go change underwear. And that’s regardless of who does it – it’s just an automatic response for me. I have had full-on orgasms from being hugged and having my neck nuzzled by my husband.

    So, because I admit this, should I not be allowed to hug my children, lest they nuzzle my neck and I have this automatic response in my genitals? Or maybe from the standpoint of those “if you have a sexual response while breastfeeding you should breastfeed” should I have abstained from having and raising children altogether?

    Just because you’re getting that response from a specific part of your body that your baby makes frequent use of doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you, or with your physiological response. Some people get off on hand massages/finger sucking – they shouldn’t be allowed to touch their babies and allow their babies to use their fingers as pacifiers then, right? It’s hypocritical to say it’s OK to have that kind of biological response to physical sensations to one part of the non-genital-region body but not another.

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  37. I really need to read your blog more regularly because you so often post things that just floor me. There are some posts of yours I think about every.single.day. I don’t often comment because the things you write sometimes hit me so deeply that I know I am going to be processing them for awhile and don’t even know what to say.

    This subject, however, I have already processed and reprocessed and reprocessed some more. I knew, as I already mentioned, I could never stand the twiddling thing. It is just too much like something I enjoy during sex. I didn’t get the creepy feelings… at first, not for a long time in fact. I mostly weaned O while pregnant with A because it just HURT. But I told him he could nurse again later. When I tried, the sensation of it was SO creepy and I was HORRIFIED. Not sure if it was due to that whole forgetting how to latch thing so it felt different. It seemed odd (and even more disturbing to me) that I felt that way from him and not the baby. He nursed here and there over the next year, very infrequently, and I felt fortunate he wasn’t insistent about it and would actually say that the milk was for the baby.

    Then there is this whole other thing others have mentioned. I really believe, at least for me, that breastfeeding and cosleeping has negatively impacted my sex life. I just have no interest in general, and it seems like part of the reason is that I have to separate these parts of myself. There is something about the close physical contact with my kids that puts that as my primary physical role. I think this is where the abuse comes in…. When I look back at my relationship with my daughter, I realize I started to push her away at some point, probably about 5 or 6. Being really touchy feely and kissy with her started to feel WRONG. I don’t want to be that way with my youngers, and yet…. I just can’t seem to figure out how to do both! I would like a sex life again some day but worry I will have to choose. (Yes, I know I need therapy about this but keep putting it off because I figure they will just tell me to kick my kids out of bed).

    I have read things about women feeling pleasure with breastfeeding and enjoying it, just like people talk about orgasmic birth. I WISH this was me and I could enjoy pleasurable sensations without sexualizing them all, but it just isn’t me. :( Recently I saw a friend of mine cuddling with her teenage daughter, and that also just looked SO CREEPY to me. It was an “aha” moment for me for sure, realizing I have no ability to separate affection form sexuality. So when I am breastfeeding, it is like I need to completely turn that part of me off. I am surprised I even got the creepy sensations!

    So yeah, way to go as always with your honesty. It is so important for women to be able to talk about this stuff!

  38. This is such an important topic and I appreciate you writing about your experience so truthfully, Arwyn. I’ve also appreciated reading the experiences of others.

    I felt my uterus contract the first time my son nursed, moments old- and it was painful right after birth. But hours after birth, I began to feel sensations of arousal when he nursed. I was not sure how to process this- because in all of my childbirth preparation I had never heard of anything like this.

    Like so much of mothering- I decided to stay open and curious, and to trust the process. I tend to feel more aroused nursing my son when we are home and nursing in the mid day, and I allow my thoughts to drift. Many times when we nurse I don’t feel arousal, but sometimes I do- and it’s a private reflection- something I accept without completely understanding it, as normal.

    When I have the most difficulty nursing my son is when I am deep asleep and awake to him nursing—- or when I have some other obligation or am stressed about the day’s schedule— and he unexpectedly wants to nurse longer than he usually does. During those times, I will get an almost creepy feeling about nursing- but I haven’t noticed this to coincide with the feelings of arousal I sometimes have. Also, it seems there is a hormonal rhythm to my moon cycle and at certain points along that cycle, I want to nurse less than at other times.

    My son is 3 1/2 now and we still enjoy a close nursing relationship. I refuse to feel shame for nursing him, and am fortunate to not have had sexual abuse in my past, or issues surrounding my sexuality that might preclude me from just accepting “what is” as normal and natural, for me.

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  40. I read this a while back and I was so glad that I had, because when I became pregnant with my second child, I started experiencing the same thing. My son likes to “twiddle” and though breast stimulation wasn’t a huge turn on for me before, suddenly I found myself getting turned on in spite of myself every time he nursed. It is uncomfortable, but I was glad to know it happens to other women and I was able to go with it. Obviously, I am not turned on BY my son, but by the hormones in my body and the breast stimulation. So be it. Like Rachele said above, I am lucky not to have any sexual abuse or hang-ups from my past, so I could accept it and not feel shame about it. For women who do have these issues though, it is all the more important that they hear about it, and know it is normal and OK. Thanks for having the courage to talk about this. I really appreciate your very brave and honest blog.

  41. Im so glad I found this blog **while researching alternatives to disposable pads and tampons lol** and sooo glad Im not the only mum who gets that ‘creepy’ feeling

    sometimes im just completely annoyed that i need to feed a baby. i feel horrible when i get annoyed, but i just feel like my body isnt Mine anymore. I feel like im constantly in demand and to be quite honest, its wearing down on me…

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