Breastfeeding in Public

A hot topic, easy for making headlines, is breastfeeding in public. Though the truth is, mothers have been breastfeeding in public for centuries.

I went to an exhibit of Dutch paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and saw plenty of breastfeeding women in the art work. I thought ”This is what people would see in the normal course of their day and this is how people learned”. The babies and mothers in these scenes were doing all the same things babies and mothers are doing today. So my visit to the museum was similar to a home visit.

Notice this mother and baby in the above picture. They’re doing well. The baby is looking up at his mom, smiling and they’re making eye contact. You do that, too.

This baby’s body is at ease, the little hands are open, his arms down by his sides. That’s a sign of a well fed baby. (When babies are hungry, their hands are clenched and up by their faces). See how the baby is reclining in the crook of her arm? The mom has one hand free for adjustment. She is guiding her nipple towards her baby, touching his cheek, probably waiting for cues that he is ready to feed. Right now, he seems content, his mouth isn’t open wide so he’s not ready to nurse yet.

In time, the baby will turn towards the mother. In time, the mother may tuck him in closer, belly to belly. At the moment, they look content. This is how mothers and babies learn with each other. And this painting of nursing, shown in public, is a good learning experience.

(This is from a painting by Rogier van der Weyden. Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin  c. 1435-1440)