Breasts… What Are They, and Who do They Belong to, Anyway?

My mother had an interesting conversation with my four year old the other day. For some reason, he’s become fascinated by nursing, and often pretends he’s a baby puppy or kitty and some other grown up woman is the mama mammal, and he pretends to nurse. Now, there’s no contact, he’s not actually trying to latch on or anything, but we’re in that grey area between what parts of his body belong to him, what parts of my body belong to me, and what parts do we still sort of hold in common? He’s not an exhibitionist, but he has no body shame, and I’m walking a fine line between teaching him to protect his own personal parts and respect the parts of others, without singling out a particular zone to be vilified, revered, considered strange, dirty or other… It’s a difficult dance.

So my mother, when the nursing mammals game came up, gently explained to her grandson that well, Grammy’s breasts belong to her, and are not toys to be played with. The kid got that. He was less clear on who owned his mama’s breasts, however. So she took him through the chronology of weaning, that push and pull to let the strings that bind a dyad together grow longer, without ever snapping. When he was a baby, who did mama’s breasts belong to? “ME!” he announced with supreme confidence. But when we stopped nursing (21 months, for anyone who’s counting), then slowly, mama’s breasts belonged to her again, didn’t they? which brought a solemn nod. From there, it was a gentle, easy conversation about what kind of touch is appropriate, what parts of the body belong to him and him alone, and should only be examained by doctors, nurses, and mamas–and only then, with permission.

But it’s interesting to see how my open, honest, easy-going attitudes towards body parts, sexuality, and skin in general goes against the norm. I read a story about a little girl who finally noticed how well-endowed her Barbie doll is, pointed at the outrageous members and asked, “What are those?” She was outraged that she, at three years old, would have to wait another ten years to have breasts! But what struck me strange was that she didn’t know what breasts were, in the first place. I’m hoping it’s just because Barbie’s unnatural proportions made it hard for the little girl to recognize them. And another woman made a passing, wistful remark about her toddler who had to stop nursing because he ‘has too many teeth’, but she wishes they still could.

Huh? Breasts are not rubber chew toys. Neither are they things to be hidden away and whispered about at the back of the playground when kids are older. If that woman wants to nurse her son past canines, so be it. My son got his first two teeth at five months, and his final molars two months before his second birthday. He learned quickly that biting meant no sustenance, and ditto to pulling, tugging, and otherwise severely abusing the mamaflesh.

We had a perfect snowfall two weeks ago, fluffy, fat, not too cold, and just right for rolling big snowmen. We build one with the neighbor’s daughter, an adorable little five year old whose imagination fueled my son’s like a matched set. Until he decided that we were building a snow lady, not a snow man. “She needs breasts, mama,” he declared, and began to pack snowballs. The little girl looked appalled. I finally said to her, “My son never took a bottle. I nursed him, instead. He thinks of breasts differently than other folks. He’s just pretty matter of fact.” They are just breasts, with all the magic, comfort, silliness and nourishment that such strange, wonderous things provide.

But we’ll see if her parents let her play with us anymore.

breast feeding, breastfeeding, breasts, child, children, Culture, Growing up, mama, mother, motherhood, Mothering, nursing, sexuality

Please rate this article
(click a star to vote)