by Jessica Martin-Weber
What is the deal with all those breastfeeding photos moms are doing? Breastfeeding selfies, professional photo sessions, family snapshots, they’re showing up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, even birth announcements and Christmas cards, and hanging on walls. This hasn’t always been a thing, has it? (Check out these and these historic photos that show it isn’t quite as new as you may think.) When TLB was kicked off Facebook in 2011, allegedly for posting breastfeeding photos, I was asked frequently why post breastfeeding photos in the first place. What is the point, they wondered, why do women feel the need to share such an intimate moment with the world? I have been patiently explaining this phenomenon for years, sharing blog posts like this one from Annie at PhD in Parenting, this one from sons & daughters photography, and personal stories as to why and content to leave it at that.
Still, comments on websites, social media threads, and some times in person continue to come in comparing these photos to sharing an image of someone taking a dump, calling the women posting them “attention whores”, and sometimes even accusing them of sexual abuse. The reasons why these people may be uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding totally aside (and here are 9 potential reasons), it’s obvious they don’t understand why this would be important.
Over the years I’ve seen the power of breastfeeding photos being shared. Much like images of other aspects of every day life, seeing breastfeeding photos reminds us of the importance of the mundane in our daily lives. There are more reasons than I can list, but there are real reasons none the less.
Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering support. Many women haven’t seen breastfeeding or have only seen it briefly. Seeing breastfeeding and hearing the breastfeeding stories of other women supports women where they are in their journey and gives them the space to ask questions and know they aren’t alone.
Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering information and options. For some women, breastfeeding is as natural as breathing, everything just works. Others encounter difficulties. Seeing how another woman navigates the obstacles she experiences in breastfeeding, such as when Jenna shared an image of feeding her daughter with a supplemental nursing system, mothers who had never heard of such a thing suddenly had a new option.
Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering community. Because breastfeeding has been replaced in some cases with alternative feeding methods, some breastfeeding mothers find themselves feeling isolated. Thanks to the global community now accessible via the internet, mothers can connect with others that can relate to their journey. While many are willing to walk alone, it is comforting to know you don’t have to. Sharing the visual builds a community built on more than words.
Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering encouragement. When Serena Tremblay shared her photo of breastfeeding in the ICU with the help of a nurse, she never imagined how it would touch and reach so many with encouragement and inspiration. But that’s exactly what her photo did.
Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering recognition. It’s not for attention, the sharing is more about connection and celebration. But when a woman shares her breastfeeding journey through images, she is recognizing (and helping others recognize for themselves) this very important aspect of her life. She does it day in and day out, it consumes much of her time, and sometimes it can feel quite invisible. Or worse, shameful. Recognizing the time and commitment breastfeeding requires can be a reminder of why it’s all worth it.
Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering normalization. More times than I can count people have written in to say that before they joined The Leaky Boob community they thought breastfeeding was gross and creepy. They didn’t want to see it because they thought it was like watching sex. But then they saw it and learned that it wasn’t that at all, in fact, it was oddly normal. Then there are the mothers that discovered they weren’t freaks for continuing to breastfeed past the first 12 months when they discovered there are many others like them.
Sharing breastfeeding images is important in rehumanizing. I know, I know, that’s not really a word. But the objectification of women has reached such high levels that unless a woman is airbrushed, painted, surgically altered, pushed up/in, and posed, she isn’t seen as being a woman. A woman’s worth is almost entirely wrapped up in her looks. Women are barely seen as human or at least, aren’t allowed to be human. Images of woman that aren’t airbrushed, painted, surgically altered, pushed up/in, and posed remind all of us what living, breathing, human woman really look like. Breastfeeding women remind us that a woman’s body is for her to use as she pleases and her worth not dictated by how sexually attractive she is.
Sharing breastfeeding images is important in celebrating. Parenting is hard work and much of it goes unnoticed and under appreciated. Celebrating the milestones and goals reached, be they breastfeeding, potty learning, educational, or any other important aspect of parenting, is energizing. Celebrating them with others even more so.
Leilani and her daughter Ava featured in the photo at the top of this post, understands this, which is why Leilani sent this beautiful photo in with her story:
I made the decision to try breastfeeding while I was still pregnant. I read Ina May’s guide to breastfeeding (religiously), and it gave me the confidence I needed during that very first time Ava latched on. Knowing that I was capable of producing the best nutrition for my child is what inspired me to nurse. There were a handful of bumps in the road during this past year of breastfeeding, but I’m proud to say, we surpassed them. My daughter had jaundice (pretty bad) her first week of life. Due to an incompatible blood type between her and I, the doctors encouraged me to supplement, in order for her jaundice to go away faster. I refused, and as scary as it was, the jaundice went away, and she didn’t need one drop of supplement to assist. I also thought I needed a pump and bottles to nurse more effectively. Turns out that the pump caused my supply to dwindle, and I forced to deal with a baby that wasn’t getting the correct amount of milk she needed. Rather than giving up or supplementing, I was patient and nursed her as often as she’d allow. My supply finally was back to normal. Between those hurdles and moving cross-country TWICE in two months (military family), I am proud to say that Ava at (almost) thirteen months is still nursing and the bond we share is something even more special than I imagined.