The “twins”, saddle bags, titties, ta-tas, “the girls.” Men have a lot of words for breasts. Most of them speak to their fleshy, mound-like qualities. Men ogle them, fondle them, dream of being enveloped by them. Yes, we know you like them, either big and bouncy or petite and perky. But they have other, more important, purposes, in case you haven’t heard. Breasts are the only body part that produces food—the only food with unparalleled immunological properties that infants need and preventative health benefits for both mother and baby. So it’s important to end all male mis-education about breasts.
And this is the week to do it. It’s Black Breastfeeding Week—our annual time to understand the beauty and power of breasts to shift infant health patterns in our community. Numerous studies and CDC data prove that our sky high infant mortality rates and increasing incidences of diet-related diseases in our young children can all be reduced by increased breastfeeding among black women. But too many black women (and white women too) don’t breastfeed because of their male partner’s attitude. Studies show that male perceptions greatly influence a woman’s breastfeeding initiation and duration rates. With our infant health and the health of mothers at stake (breastfeeding is proven to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer and heart disease), it’s important to get right about our perceptions about the breasts. And by “our” I mean, you, sir.
1. Brace yourself, for this shocker, guys: Breasts, are actually made of fatty tissue and mammary glands. Things to make milk. The breast contains 15-25 milk glands connected to milk ducts inside the nipple all held together with fatty tissue. In fact, the word "mammary" comes from "mamma," the Greek and Latin word for the breast, which derives from the cry "mama" uttered by infants and young children, sometimes meaning "I want to feed at the breast." So breasts were biologically designed to feed. And did you know, human are the only mammals with permanently enlarged breasts. In other animals, breasts develop only during pregnancy and nursing and then disappear. You can thank God later.
2. Yes, breasts bring pleasure to the owner and any visitors. In fact, there are thin muscle fibers and loads of nerve endings in the nipple that make them become erect, signaling arousal and also make them sensitive. This same pleasure principle often causes confusion for some men and women, who only see the sensual nature of the breast. Many men watch a lot of porn, which only fosters the oversexualization of the breast. But it has other, life enhancing functions. Let me put it this way, your mouth is also a sexual and sensual tool, but you also eat from it and vomit out of it. No one—ever, never has felt uncomfortable about eating because they used their mouth as a sexual tool. If we can accept that the mouth has both functional and sexual purposes, let’s give breasts the same courtesy. What do you say?
3. Breasts have super powers. “What I find especially cool about breasts is their ability to make the milk appropriate for the infant's age, making fore milk and hind milk to satisfy the infants thirst and hunger respectively, and to make antibodies that protect the infant specific to what the mother are exposed to,” says Melissa Bartick, Melissa Bartick, MD, MSc an internist and Assistant Professor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
4. Fascinating fact: The breast is an immature organ, one that only fully matures after going through a full-term pregnancy and lactation process. “Organs that have a job to do starting from birth like the brain, heart and kidneys, have a much lower risk of cancer. But an organ like the breast, whose job is to make milk, is immature and in waiting mode until the long maturation process is over and it can finally be put to work–which is why it is more likely to get into trouble,” explains Marissa Weiss, MD, president and founder of BreastCancer.org.
5. We need you. Our men matter. And when mothers report being uncomfortable about breastfeeding in front of male relatives, or that they didn’t breastfeed because their husbands and partners were unsupportive, it robs mothers and babies of an important nurturing and health preventative experience. Women need to feel encouraged to give their baby the best first food there is and that we can still also be desirable, sensual women when we are ready to be that. So, men, I implore you, for the sake of the babies, freely give your beloved breasts. Then stand back, cheer her on and be proud of what you’ve contributed to having a healthier, stronger, thriving child. Don’t worry, “the girls” will be back to you soon enough.