Of breast-feeding and Bob Edwards: Readers sound off on whether public breast-feeding is nasty or natural, and whether NPR's ousted "Morning Edition" host is a saint or a bore.

By Salon Staff
Published March 30, 2004 11:10PM (EST)

[Read "Breast Intentions" by Larry Smith.]

As the father of three girls ages 1, 3, and almost 7, my wife has been nursing one or two children since the first one was born. I know a little about nursing women and children. First of all, get over the schoolboy reaction to a woman's breast. Breast-feeding is so incredibly good for the child it should be encouraged. From the compounds that aid in brain development to the digestibility of breast milk (poop from kids who have only ever had breast milk doesn't really stink) to the close and secure feelings created (a surefire way to calm a fussy baby), it is nothing but good for kids. It is also great for Mom, too. Breast-feeding burns 500 calories a day just sitting there letting baby suck! It stimulates the contraction of the uterus to help her get her shape back. It releases the good hormones so Mom is relaxed, not stressed.

Larry, if you're uncomfortable being around a woman who is breast-feeding and you really want to help, go get her a glass of water, because that is the one thing she forgot while pulling off the New Yorker trick. I promise, she is thirsy.

-- Andrew McNeil

As a nursing mom who has nursed on the subway systems of three major cities, at Wrigley Field, in malls, and on airplanes, the thought that I couldn't do so comfortably in front of my husband's closest guy friends is absurd. They handled it with aplomb the first time, and every time.

So here's a tip sheet for men on handling the boob coming out:

1. For God's sake, don't leave the room.

2. Keep the conversation going -- don't act like we've suddenly become invisible!

3. Nope, we don't need any help. But you might offer to fetch us some water or a snack.

4. Personally, I could care less if you watch or not.

5. I could also care less whether or not it excites you, nor do I think you should feel bad if it does. This reaction will fade as nursing in public becomes more normal.

And tips for women who want to nurse in public:

1. Check out motherwear.com for excellent, affordable nursing clothes that help you avoid revealing your tummy.

2. Don't worry about what others are thinking! Your baby is hungry! I have never, in my 11 months of nursing, had anyone stare or make inappropriate comments (even at Wrigley).

Let's remember, people, that in most parts of the world seeing women nursing is perfectly normal. I only hope that it comes to be so in the U.S., as well.

-- Rachel Kimbro

It's not just men who are squeamish about public breast-feeding. I'm a woman (incidentally, who has no plans to have a child) and I really don't need to see breasts in public -- for any reason. It may be "natural," but for me, it's not "normal." It's hard to see breasts eroticized every day in other contexts -- and then, suddenly, they're not, because Mom's showing for the baby instead of showing for beads.

-- Lesley Bingham

As a new father whose wife openly breast-feeds, I was delighted to read Larry Smith's article. I would like to add that my main discomfort regarding public breast-feeding stems from anticipating others' reaction. My wife has repeatedly been directed to use a restroom or even leave the area when she nurses, despite our state law (Texas) that forbids denying anyone a service due to public breast-feeding. Thank god for La Leche League, where women (and their partners) can get together to help each other cope with the most nutritious, economical and natural way to feed your child.

-- Richard Graham

While I have been a member of the indiscreet public nursing club for over two years now and I usually take great offense at the notion that what I'm doing is somehow weird, I would like to thank Larry Smith for doing something that very few people have been able to do since the birth of my son: making me feel like a hottie.

-- Amy Callner

My wife has nursed all six of our children. At first it was a revelation for me to find that, contrary to what pop culture tells us, breasts are not merely ornaments -- "Oh, that's what that's for!"

Of course, this discovery about the breast naturally followed another and even more startling revelation. I had witnessed an anatomical feature I had long cherished as having been created for my personal pleasure function as our child's entrance into the world. The "birth canal"! Who knew?

As to the squeamishness (or obsession) of the men described by Larry Smith, I can only say, Grow up. My wife is by now such an old hand at breast-feeding that she has nursed our babies during church services without anyone realizing it. It's hard to be grossed out by something you don't even know is happening.

Any man who would take advantage of a nursing mother in an attempt to "sneak a peek" -- dude, how pathetic can you get?

-- R.S. McCain

[Read "What about Bob?" by Alexandra Marshall.]

I too have been listening to Bob Edwards since I was a little girl. Alexandra Marshall's piece literally made me tear up. Thank you.

I have signed a petition to save Bob at savebobedwards.com and wrote NPR an e-mail encouraging otehrs to do the same.

-- Lauren Macdonald

I can't imagine what NPR is thinking. Changing out Bob Edwards will be the worst debacle since New Coke.

I don't want any other voice in my house in the morning. Whomever they pick to replace Bob is Not Invited. I also grew up with Bob, and am grateful that I was too young for me to remember any other morning announcer. The very idea is horrible. I've already written to NPR to ask them what crack they are smoking.

It's not too late, NPR. Don't do this!

-- Megan Fidell

Right on, Alexandra Marshall!

Bob Edwards is an absolute foundation in radio journalism. National Public Radio should be looking for more people like him to emulate his style, to hopefully someday live up to the high standards he has set. Instead they're replacing him with God knows who.

For me, Bob Edwards has become the Mister Rogers of my adult life. His ability to report and explain all facets of news stories in an even-keeled, compassionate manner has allowed me to accept and understand even the most difficult and horrific events of the world with a sense of optimism.

While we don't yet know for certain why Mr. Edwards has been ousted, if it's because NPR is looking for something more tabloid and flashy in a morning host, it's a sign that the institution has sold out to a common, unwelcome trend. I hope to God that there is a good reason behind this decision.

NPR: Explain yourself and do it well; you're on thin ice as a result of a seemingly very bad decision.

-- Jeff Lupo

Gotta write this anonymously, sorry. I'm an NPR reporter, and I have to say that those of us inside the newsroom are dumbfounded by Bob Edwards' enduring popularity. He does the show in his sleep. When he does "two-ways" with us (i.e., interviews with correspondents about late-breaking news), he reads the questions we send to him verbatim. No follow-up questions, no engagement, nothing, because he's simply not listening. The whole show is scripted.

It's like anyone else, in almost any kind of job: He's been doing it too long, and he's gone stale.

Public radio "fans" are some of the most conservative people on earth when it comes to this stuff. Weird.

-- Anonymous

Alexandra Marshall's article about Bob Edwards was dead on. Less than two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the voice that guided us through those terrible times will be gone-- and for what? That pleasant milquetoast Steve Inskeep? Why, NPR, why?

I, for one, have sent my first letter of complaint to National Public Radio. I hope your article will inspire others to do the same.

-- Bridgett Taylor

To answer Alexandra Marshall's question, "What could NPR possibly be thinking?" by removing Bob Edwards from his comfy breakfast nook: NPR might be thinking that it's not Edwards that is drawing listeners: it's the content and format of the program. There are plenty of good voices on its team to choose from these days.

Edwards made wise use of the voice he was given. Over the years, though, his voice has changed, and is now as often inaudible as it is audible, it has dropped so low. Just take a look at the lights on your audio system if you have an equalizer: The low frequency of his voice has become so low that it's practically inaudible. His "soothing singsong" is more like a lullaby -- and it does NPR no good if its listeners are lulled to sleep.

Marshall ought not take this sound change so personally. Maybe it's time to work out those issues with the absent dad: The assumption that replacing Edwards will lead to unreliability instead of routine is a displaced fear of change.

Give NPR more credit: The others will continue eating "Morning Edition's" dust because NPR's listeners tune in for the quality of its program, not the honeyed croon.

-- Karen Camloh

Alexandra Marshall hit the nail on the proverbial head with her piece on NPR's Bob Edwards. Perhaps it's time for the 13 million NPR listeners to stop sending in money until they put Bob back in the driver's seat for our commutes? After all, it is public radio, right?

And what about the timing of this? The 25th anniversary of "Morning Edition" is coming up in November. Couldn't they have had the common decency to at least let Edwards remain the show's chief steward until then? Frankly, as Marshall alludes, this "shakeup" smacks of something the big corporate TV networks might do, driven by greed or focus groups rather than heart and gut instinct.

-- John Hill

I have listened to "Morning Edition" off and on for several years, more so recently. I confess I am not a fan of Bob Edwards. He seems to me to have grown uninterested in most of the news, hovering on the border of disrespect in his tone at times.

However, I understand that his departure is personal for many listeners, and I am not happy at the news. I don't know of any viable replacement. Steve Inskeep is weak, though perhaps he has potential. Renee Montagne's tone is far worse than Bob's ever was: Sometimes she actually comes across as contemptuous, though much more often merely flippant. NPR had better do some serious thinking and headhunting, and make sure that their interim solution does not become permanent.

-- Blake Ferger

Thanks to Alexandra Marshall for perfectly expressing the same feelings shared by many NPR listeners. I expect this kind of callous behavior from traditional networks -- it was probably naive of me to hold NPR to a higher standard. When it ain't broke, why fix it? I admire Edwards even more for honestly voicing his disappointment at being discarded.

-- Mary Owens

Mine may be a minority opinion, but I for one will not miss Bob's muddy baritone and perfunctory, lazy delivery. As he reads scripted questions to guests, I often hear boredom in his voice. And as long as you're comparing Bob to other NPR hosts, why pick on straw man Simon? Compare Bob instead to the incomparable Robert Siegel. If he too reads from a script, at least he has the voice and grace to come across as truly prepared and engaged.

-- Jim O'Grady

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------