Supermodel Naomi Campbell posted a topless picture of herself on Instagram to challenge the app’s no NSFW policy. If you come back from Googling that, I’m here to explain to you the many other ways women’s breasts are magic.
1. Obligatory Sex Mention
If I need to explain to you why breasts are great for sex, you’re beyond help.
2. Babies Love Them, Too
Pretty much everything I learned about how breasts work happened after I started having babies and using them regularly. I mean, before that they’re pretty much decoration, right? And an annoyance when trying to do (non-sex) athletic things, like ride horses. (That’s not a random example—I had ponies growing up, and breasts were a pain.)
But nursing, now there’s something serious that breasts, and only breasts, can do. I will occasionally joke how much babies like boobs—”he’s not the only one,” “only one thing on his mind,” etc.—because it’s apparent to everyone who sees a baby get his nursies that, wow, the little fellow pretty much doesn’t want anything else in the entire world more.
Cue plenty of jokes about his feelings later in life. If you can get beyond the boob jokes, however, women who’ve been lucky enough to enjoy nursing their babies can tell you how completely beatific it feels to so easily satisfy a tiny, frantic creature. They go from distressed beyond all reason to utterly blissful in 20 seconds flat. And that’s really satisfying for mommy, too. It can be annoying, but also really special to feel that you are the only one in the entire world who can make that little darling feel so good.
3. Breasts Set Women Apart
Part of the magic of women’s bodies is that they’re entirely different from men’s bodies. They’re beautiful because everyone doesn’t have them. In fact, everyone’s are different. A comment on Campbell’s picture is entirely wrong: “boobs are something babies need to survive not for men to play.” Indeed not. Breasts both have a practical function and a pure-enjoyment function. Both are good, in themselves. They’re one expression of the obvious-apparently-not-obvious truth that men and women are fundamentally different. Being entranced is just one way of acknowledging that truth.
While it’s not fun to be treated like a piece of meat on display at the local supermarket, women also instinctively understand and enjoy men’s (appropriately expressed) excitement over our bodies and the beings entertwined with those bodies. Being different is fun because it heightens the magic and extends the potential for discovery.
4. Breasts Regulate Newborn Body Temperature
Small babies cannot keep their temperature at a comfortable, steady level. Mom’s breasts, however, will do that for them. Yes, really. Women’s breasts will change in temperature according to the needs of the tiny child plopped on top of or next to them. Automatically. What did I tell you? Magic!
5. Breastmilk Changes to Fit Baby’s Nutrition as He Grows
You read that right. Not only do breasts regulate baby body temperature, the milk they manufacture naturally shifts to provide the optimal nutrition for baby as he (very quickly) grows. My littlest guy is just five weeks old, and he’s gained three pounds since birth (yes, he’s a fatty). That’s more than a third of his birthweight. Just imagine if you gained a third of your current weight in five weeks. It would probably give you a heart attack. Little babies grow incredibly fast, in myriad ways. And breasts naturally, with no instructions or even paying attention beyond mom continuing to eat normally, give baby exactly what he needs when he needs it as he changes rapidly in a very short amount of time.
6. Breasts Cure and Prevent Diseases
If your baby has a stuffy nose, squirt it with breastmilk. Same for gummy eyes. The fact that it’s warm liquid is helpful, but the healing properties go beyond that: human milk contains ” literally thousands of different components that support the immune system in some way. Some of these components are very specific, defending against a particular pathogen (bacteria, virus, parasite), while others have a broader function, protecting the baby in many different ways. Often these various components act together, providing even more protection than each would alone.”
There’s more. Lots more. Just a bit: “Most milk antibodies are made of a special form of protein called SIgA… These SIgA antibodies stick to microbes and stop them from attaching to and infecting cells in the gut. They also make their way into the nose and mouth, where they can defend against airborne diseases.”
Babies have very little immunity, so breastmilk extends mom’s immunity to baby, forming a sort of protective shield. It’s not polio-proof, but it does help keep baby safe from horrific diseases that some people have no moral qualms about spreading despite babies’ inability to get fully vaccinated before about age three. Ahem. People who endanger my babies’ lives by not taking things like measles seriously make me very mad, because my littles can’t get MMR-proofed until they’re about a year old. Mommy’s milk helps reduce the danger. That’s a big relief for a mom like me, who takes her babies on airplanes (the last kid had something like 30 flights under his belt by six months old) and cannot trust other grownups to produce the herd immunity necessary to keep those babies safe from horrible but preventable diseases.
7. Breastfeeding Makes Women Happier and Healthier
I can’t resist geeking out on one more thing here. I promise the next, and last, one will be more general interest. Letting breasts do their thing boosts women’s health. Yes, really: “Women with Type I diabetes prior to their pregnancies tend to need less insulin while they breastfeed due to their reduced sugar levels. Breastfeeding mothers tend to have a high HDL cholesterol (Oyer 1989). The optimal weight loss, improved blood sugar control, and good cholesterol profile provided by breastfeeding may ultimately pay off with a lower risk of heart problems. This is especially important since heart attacks are the leading cause of death in women.”
There’s more. Despite some earlier contradictory and poorly designed studies, “it is now estimated that breastfeeding from six to 24 months throughout a mother’s reproductive lifetime may reduce the risk of breast cancer by 11 to 25 percent” because breastfeeding gives moms a break from menstrual cycles and temporarily reduces estrogen levels. Further: “Prolactin, the milk-making hormone, appears to produce a special calmness in mothers. Breastfeeding mothers have been shown to have a less intense response to adrenaline.”
Lower risk for heart attack and cancer, plus increased tranquility. Is there nothing boobs can’t do?
8. Breasts Symbolize and Actively Create Life
John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” features an especially gripping concluding scene. Rose of Sharon, a young female character, has just given birth to a stillborn baby after the father skipped town. Remember, it’s set in the Great Depression. The grieving, newly postpartum mother is in even more pain, because milk inside with no baby to eat it really hurts. She and her family, the Joads, wander off down the road yet again, dispirited. They find an abandoned barn, and inside is a very sick man and his small son. The man is starving.
Ma Joad ushers the family outside, and we see Rose of Sharon pick up the sick man and give him life from the body that had just recently given up death. In a novel filled with despair, this last is an image of hope, not the less so because the image contains discordant and peaceful notes mingled. In the middle of death, life, and in the middle of life, death. Such is our world.
You can go back even farther, to some of the oldest statuettes and images we have, to find images of women with giant breasts. It was a compliment then, just as it’s a compliment now. The life-giving capacity of women has for centuries been cherished, revered, and enjoyed. It’s miraculous what those breasts, our bodies, can do.
This article written, mostly one-handed, while nursing on and off about five times. It ended with baby beatifically asleep for the night, sucking his lips in his sleep.