BOOBS IN PUBLIC! WATCH OUT!
Ok, that never happens. Breasts are never out in public, they are always put away in a containing device that doesn’t bring any attention to them whatsoever.
Except for beer ads.
And car ads.
And lingerie ads.
And gun show ads.
And vacation ads.
And watch ads.
And jewelry ads.
And mall ads.
And liquor ads
And that’s just what I saw today on my train ride. The lingerie ad was on the side of a bus and each breast was bigger than my head.
But otherwise breasts are totally hidden from view.
Which is good because can you imagine what would happen if we saw breasts? Specially breasts feeding babies.
Breasts are particularly always hidden from children because seeing breasts will
leave them thinking breasts are a normal body part for women scar them for life. Even more so if the manner in which they see breasts doesn’t involve lacy bras or pasties or provocative poses.
We can’t have that now, can we? I mean, how would we explain to kids what is going on if they see a mother breastfeeding? The horrors! The mountain of therapy bills! The child that will think maybe women have bodily autonomy! (Here, if this nightmare should happen to you or someone you know, here’s what to tell a child should they see a mother breastfeeding. We can hold your hand through this, don’t worry, it will be ok.)
Thankfully, most of the time breastfeeding moms aren’t going to encounter any issue when they feed their babies in public. Given how often it is in the news and social media you would think it happens every single time a woman feeds her baby but alas, no. (Does anyone else wonder how all these shop owners and managers have missed the gigantic social media memo DON’T BOTHER BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS OR YOU WILL BE TORCHED ON THE INTERNET IN A HUGE PR NIGHTMARE!) Though the stories of women being harassed are what make the news, millions of mothers around the world feed their babies every day without interference. Shocking, I know. The most negative response the majority of women will ever receive may be a dirty look.
But what if you’re one of those unfortunate women who ends up with an ignorant and pushy individual demanding you leave an area or cover your baby and yourself while you feed your little one? How do you handle it? How do you handle it and keep your sanity intact? How do you handle it and keep your sanity intact and not end up going to jail?
We have a few suggestions. Take them or leave them. They’re not all going to apply to every situation and they may not be the best in the moment but hopefully they’ll provide some levity to the situation and keep you from losing your mind. What’s left of it from baby brain anyway. (You guys, that’s a thing. For real. Science says so. Maybe not quite what you think but it is a thing.)
How to handle negative reactions about feeding your baby in public.
We could go on, there are as many ways to handle such an experience as there are people willing to make those experiences happen. We’d love to hear your ideas, comment below with your suggestions.
I’m going to keep this short and sweet:
LET’S GET MOVING!
It’s time for #TLBmoves and we’re working up a sweat and to an awesome giveaway with our friends from Tula, ThinkBaby ThinkSport, Belabumbum Active Wear, and Eyla’s Imports. Find out more information here.
Whatever it looks like for you, we’re supporting each other on getting moving towards health and wholeness. For many of us, learning about and then actually feeding our babies was the gateway to more conscientious living, a sort of snowball effect. Establishing health habits as a way of life is, of course, a good thing. And the family that moves together is healthy together. (For some inspiration, here’s 100 years of fitness fads in 100 seconds video fun.) Share your journey with us using the hashtag #TLBmoves on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and if you’d like to go deeper, submit your story like Kelsey by emailing [email protected].
I’m enjoying moving with my family and I’m moving closer and closer to Milk! Bringing together many of the people who inspire me, I’ve created Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference with Xza Higgins, founder of MommyCon. Taking place in L.A. July 31st and August 1st, this conference is for health care providers (offering continuing education credits and contact hours) and families. Founded on the belief that infant feeding support makes a difference and can directly influence confidence levels in parents, MiLK focuses on information sharing and mindful support that builds parents up without tearing down, respecting the unique journey of each of us. MiLK aims to actively educate and support infant feeding by connecting health care providers and the families they care for discussing breastfeeding, formula feeding, breastmilk pumping, at the breast supplementing, bottle feeding, cup feeding, spoon feeding… FEEDING. This is not, to be clear, a breastfeeding conference. It is an infant feeding conference with a goal of bringing together health care providers and parents where we can learn from each other. Most importantly, I hope we learn how to really listen and what support can really looks like.
To help you move that direction with me, we have a huge giveaway that includes enough tickets for your local breastfeeding group! For that extra newsletter entry option, GET YOUR INFORMATION HERE!
by Kileah McIlvain
This may come as a shock, but I’m not passionate about breastfeeding.
Which is why I hope you all can join me at Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference on August 1st in Los Angelas, CA. This conference is all about bringing together everyone involved in infant feeding conversations to learn how to listen, share information, and offer true support. Support that isn’t possible when we’re judging and shaming individuals.
Nearly every day we hear from moms they concern about how they are feeding their baby. Guilt weaves through their words. With heartbreak they share their story, aching at what they perceive to be failure and hoping we can offer some magic fix. We tell them all the same thing.
Feed the baby. That’s the first rule of infant feeding care, FEED THE BABY. Because no matter what methodology, the baby must be fed. Not feeding the baby IS failure.
If there were a first rule of infant feeding support, it should be “DON’T BE A JERK.” Followed closely by “SUPPORT THE PERSON OVER THE METHODOLOGY.” Being a jerk and supporting a methodology over people IS failure.
Feeding the baby isn’t failure.
Sometimes, the people that should be the most supportive, end up offering unsupportive support.
It is a well known fact that if you don’t make sure you get a baby off the boob by the end of their first year or definitely by the time they are two, they will never, ever stop breastfeeding and you’ll have to go to college with them. This is a fact known by every Tom, Dick, and Harry, Cindy, Karen, and Amanda. If you’re not aware of this, don’t worry, any conversation about breastfeeding beyond infancy in person, on an online article, blog posts, and of course, social media, will eventually become about this very fact. It is an inescapable truth: if you breastfeed past infancy your child will never wean and you will find yourself breastfeeding a teenager or young adult some day. Once they can ask for it you have to cut them off or they will never stop. Clearly breastfeeding is more addictive than chocolate, alcohol, crack, speed, shopping, and independence.
Because everyone knows that 3 and 13 are pretty much the same thing, you just stick a one in front of that 3. Teens are, according to most people, really just toddlers in bigger bodies, with raging hormones, pimples, and a slightly larger vocabulary. The temper tantrums are pretty much the same. Childhood goes so fast, don’t blink because you’ll miss it if you do and the next thing you know your 6’ 1” teenage boy will be folding himself onto your lap and tugging at your shirt saying “nene please mama.” Fact.
*Disclaimer: I have teenagers, they were breastfed as babies and toddlers but they never breastfed beyond early childhood so I can’t say I have any experience with this fact myself, nor have I ever encountered a breastfeeding teenager and unless my friends are lying, neither have they. But thousands of people say it is true. I know, I read it online.
But let’s say you’ve done it, ignored all the warnings and breastfed your child after their 1st birthday and then even after their 2nd and 3rd and 4th birthdays, now what? If you haven’t already, you’re headed straight to meeting them at lunch in high school so they can have mama milk. And if you have more than one child, you really are in big trouble. Juggling all those schedules to get your kids their babas is going to get really challenging.
It’s true, I guess, you’re just going to HAVE to cut them off at some point unless you really are ok following them to college and then some day on their honeymoon. There could be bonding moments in the future as you breastfeed your grown son while his wife breastfeeds their son. If that just won’t work for you though, how are you ever going to get that teenager to stop breastfeeding? When is it really time to wean and how do you do it?
I turned to my resident experts on teens: Earth Baby, 16, and Storyteller, 13. They were a bit shocked when I initially brought it up to them:
Me: “How should a mom wean their teenager from breastfeeding?”
EB: “Wait, WHAT?”
Storyteller: “That’s a thing? I don’t think that’s a thing.”
Me: “It’s totes a thing, I read it online.”
*At this point I got “the look” from Storyteller.
Storyteller: “You should never say ‘totes again’ and now I know that’s not a thing.”
EB: “Wait, WHAT? Are you really asking what I think you are asking?”
Me: “What’s wrong with me saying ‘totes’? And yes, I’m really asking.”
EB: “I don’t think any of my friends have conversations like this with their moms…”
Storyteller: “OMG, I know mine don’t. They also don’t breastfeed. Or say ‘totes.’ People saying teenagers breastfeed are severely lacking in intelligence. You can’t say ‘totes’ because you’re too old.”
EB: “Our family is weird, isn’t it?”
Me: “They either don’t breastfeed because their mom weaned them when they were young enough or they do breastfeed in secret. Some of them have to because I read it on the internet. Why am I too old to say ‘totes’?”
Storyteller: “You do know you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, right? It’s just dumb to think that kids that don’t stop breastfeeding when they are little will end up wanting to breastfeed as teenagers. Saying ‘totes’ is dumb too. What is wrong with people?”
Me: “I write on the internet, of course you can believe everything you read on the internet!
Earth Baby: “This is ridiculous.”
It took a while to get them to just go with me on this but that was an excellent example of just how hard it could be to wean a teenager. They’re stubborn creatures and smart too, they can argue until you’re blue in the face and they’ll still continue. Weaning a breastfed teenager could be intensely difficult! I can see why there are so many warnings to wean while they are still young.
Besides, can you imagine breastfeeding through the dreaded wisdom teeth stage?
After bribing them, they came up with some ideas. I shot down a few, such as the suggestion that you just tell them no, that it’s all done. Oh puh-lease, teenagers and “no” go about as well together as oil and water. I’m not so great at taking a direct “no” either so I know it’s best to save them for the big things such as “no, you absolutely can not surf on the hood of a truck going down the highway.” They agreed that “no” wouldn’t work given our family’s own personal experience with how well “no” is an effective strategy for a teenager. #itsnoteffectiveatall
Here are the ones we all thought might be most effective though, all approved by the teenagers in my house:
Gentle conversation. According to my 13 year old, teenagers are reasonable.
Bribe them with cake. That’s right, offer cake and tell them if they give up “bobbies” they can have cake. Also acceptable would be cake pops, frappuccinos, mini doughnuts, and iTunes gift cards.
Wean to drive. They can’t drive or get a drivers license until they give up the mama milks for good. No exceptions. It would be so important for mom to hold strong when the whining starts after they’ve started driving and start whining about how badly they need their nene.
Entertainment options. If you’re trying to wean a younger teen or maybe a tween, you could try saying no PG 13 movies because those movies are for big kids and big kids don’t get to breastfeed any more. This will work because all their friends will be talking about the next Pitch Perfect movie and they’ll totally be left out which would even be worse than weaning.
Smart phone. Like breastfeeding, all the teens are smartphoning these days. It’s simple though, mom will have to get another job to afford the bill so she can’t breastfeed any more. If they want a smartphone to fit in with their friends, they’ll be more than willing for mom to hang up her nursing bras and go to work.
Dating. Explain that any possible dates will be a little horrified if they found out they were still breastfeeding. It could really hurt their chances of finding a date… ever. But since embarrassment is worse than death for teens, simply posting a breastfeeding selfie and tagging them on social media would possibly do it. Also, would take care of the whole talking to you thing.
Prom. There’s just no way you could find an on trend yet age appropriate prom dress that has easy boob access. Show them what you’d have to wear to prom so they had mama milks when they needed it. They’ll never want to breastfeed again.
Charge. Teenagers are the largest demographic with a disposable income. Use it to your advantage, my 13yo thought that $1/1 minute sounded about fair if a teen wanted to continue breastfeeding. That would encourage them to wean real quick: buy a new outfit or get some “bob bob” and the decision would be pretty simple.
Just say no. My teenagers maintain that saying “my body, my choice” would be a firm boundary no teenager would cross. Specially if you’re already teaching them to respect themselves and others.
So, tell us, what are your tips for weaning teenagers?
by Jessica Martin-Weber
Breastfeeding in a Beco Baby Carrier Soliel video demonstrating how to position and adjust the carrier, baby, and breast for hands-free breastfeeding:
The Leakies on the Facebook page had some tips to share for breastfeeding and babywearing, no matter your breast size:
What tips would you add?
Breastfeeding in public, at once a basic concept (feed the baby when the baby is hungry and no, moms can’t and shouldn’t just never leave the house) and somehow a complex and controversial issue. As mammals who happen to be higher thinking and social creatures, it’s also unavoidable. Often I am asked by moms how to breastfeed in public or how I became comfortable with doing so. At the time I wasn’t really aware of my journey, I just had to feed my baby. Initially I went some place private and covered (just in case someone came in) but as time went on that not only became impractical for my life realities, the isolation I experienced with a frequently feeding baby made me decide I didn’t care what other people thought. With my second baby I ditched my cover as well and just went about my business of feeding her after a male nurse that played in the worship band I was leading told me that I should just feed my baby and stop fighting with her to keep the cover on because “it’s just boobs, we’ll all live. Just feed her.” It was a progression and with each of my children I became more comfortable and more skilled with feeding in general, feeding in public in particular. What do you do when your breastfed baby gets hungry and you’re out in public? Is there anything that can make this easier for anxious breastfeeding moms? If I had to break it down into the most important tips though, it would be something like this:
Don’t rush yourself. If you’re worried or anxious it may be best to wait until you’re really ready. Your baby picks up on your stress and you both deserve a relaxed feeding time.
Get familiar with what breastfeeding actually looks like. Look at images of other moms Breastfeeding. If you’ve never seen anyone else breastfeed it can be intimidating to feel like a pioneer in your area. But you’re not alone, millions of women all around the world breastfeed in public. Check out the hashtag #BeautifulBfing on Instagram for a stream of breastfeeding photos.
There is no should. Whatever makes you and your baby comfortable and helps you accomplish your breastfeeding goals and not being stuck at home is what you should do. Covered with a pretty Bébé au Lait or a lightweight baby blanket, without a cover at all, finding a private spot, using a bottles of expressed milk, or mixing up a bottle of formula; this isn’t a pass/fail in mothering, it’s just another progression in the parenting journey. Do what works for you and your baby and helps you reach the goals you’ve established for yourself.
Dress for success. If you find yourself needing to practically strip to feed your baby, your breastfeeding in public experience could be greatly inhibited not to mention stressful. A form fitting dress with a high neckline, non stretchy fabric, and a zipper up the back isn’t going to work out so well when your baby is hungry. Dress how you are comfortable but make sure you can get a boob out when necessary. Breastfeeding tops or dresses specially designed to make it simple are super easy (see Amamante, A Mother’s Boutique) or try layering a tank- either a regular one with a stretchy neckline or some kind of nursing tank (I’m a fan of Undercover Mama, the Naked Nursing Tank, Rumina, The Dairy Fairy nursing tank, and Melinda G‘s nursing tank) so you can pull your top up and the bottom layer down (demo video here), and necklines that stretch enough to pull a breast out are all good options. If you’re not sure then check and try it at home before you head out the door.
Practice makes easier. Like everything else about parenting, there is no “perfect” in breastfeeding so practice won’t make anything perfect but it will make it easier. If you’re uneasy about breastfeeding in public but really want to, practice with a cover in front if a mirror, then without a cover in front of a mirror. See what it really looks like and how much of your body actually shows. Then branch out and take a few selfies of you breastfeeding from several different angles and don’t worry about posting them on social media unless you want to. After that, try breastfeeding while attending your local breastfeeding support group or other gathering where there will be other breastfeeding pairs. From there expand to Breastfeeding in front of trusted friends within your own home, their home, and finally in the general public.
Be informed. Know your legal rights. Find out for sure what the law is where you will be and have it written down and with you. It’s highly unlikely you will be approached but it can help you relax to know your rights and be prepared with that information. And as silly as it may seem, understand the difference between feeding a baby in public vs. taking a dump in public, urinating in public, or sex acts in public.
Be confident. Feeding your child and meeting their needs is not wrong. Even if you have to pretend to overcome nervousness, having a confident air can go a long way in developing your own confidence and could just make anyone that would think twice before messing with you. Don’t be looking for trouble, be all eyes for your baby or cheerfully smile at people you see notice you. If you seem comfortable and relaxed then it’s likely the people around you will be as well.
Get comfortable. Remember that to take care of someone else you have to be taken care of too. If you need support for your arms or your breast while breastfeeding at home, you’ll be more comfortable in public with that too. A diaper bag can double as a pillow, so can a baby blanket or baby carrier and there are some neat portable nursing pillows on the market. Have a bottle of water and a little snack for you and if possible, find a spot with some back support. If you use a nipple shield or must hold your breast as you feed your baby, the more you focus on getting you and your baby comfortable, the quicker you will be through any awkward stage of the latch so try not to worry about what others may see.
Focus on what is important. Look at your baby, see how much they need and enjoy being fed. Taking a moment to remember why you’re doing this can help take the pressure of on how to do it and everyone else will think and puts it on why. Your baby is the best reason there is.
Just do it. While you don’t need to rush and force yourself, at some point you just need to jump in and do it. You may be surprised at the confidence boost you have when you realize it’s no big deal.
Share the experience. You’re not alone and most people want to see you reach your goals, even goals for breastfeeding and being comfortable feeding your baby while out and about. Talk about it, in person and online, maybe even with photos. You’ll end up getting cheered on, hearing support, and probably encouraging someone else who has been anxious about leaving the house with their baby too. Yes, there may be nay-sayers but they aren’t as common or as loud as it seems, specially not when you can remember all you’ve gone through to get this far for your baby.
Happy breastfeeding wherever you feed your baby!
This and other breastfeeding support and information can be found at theleakyboob.com.
by Jessica Martin-Weber
This isn’t a statement, it’s not even as significant as a photo op. It’s just a moment. An average, regular, normal moment for my daughter and me. In 2 years of breastfeeding, she and I have had thousands like it. Taking public transportation on our way for a day downtown with the family, she got tired, wanted a cuddle, and a little mama milk. And I snapped a few breastfeeding selfies because this regular, normal moment is important to me and a big part of my life. A life I share with my online community and when something is important pretending it doesn’t exist and never happens is lonely.
At first I distracted her and put her off. I didn’t want to breastfeed my 2 year old in public and face possible harassment for doing so. Though I know the law protects me, I also know many people are uncomfortable with breastfeeding babies in public let alone toddlers. I didn’t want to be the source of the discomfort of others or worse, possible conflict. At 2 she’s old enough to wait and can have other food and drink for snack.
But I had just returned that morning from a three day trip and my littlest missed her mama. Being close, having mama milk, was all a part of our reconnecting. Could I really place the possible discomfort of others above the need my little girl had for comfort and closeness? Yes, we could have comfort, connectedness, and closeness in other ways but breastfeeding was still her favorite, should my 2 year old forgo what she enjoyed the most because some strangers may not understand what a woman’s breasts are really for?
I decided no, I would not do that to her and my daughter would come first. And I breastfed her. On a packed train headed downtown on a Sunday afternoon. There was no agenda, no ulterior motive. In that normal moment with my daughter, though I had a pinch of anxiety that someone may take issue with me feeding and comforting my daughter at my breast, my focus was on her, not normalizing breastfeeding. Because that’s not why I breastfeed.
It isn’t normal to see breastfeeding still in most western societies. Though breastfeeding is elevated and preached, it’s hardly visible enough to be considered normal. We’ve allowed ourselves to accept a definition of the female breasts limited to just the sexual nature the mature mammary glands can have. With that we’ve lost sight of the biological and anthropological norm. Something I write and speak about often. Working to change such perceptions is part of why I do The Leaky Boob at all.
But still, that’s not why I breastfed my daughter that day. Or any day. I fed her because she needed it. Because I’m her mommy and feeding and comforting our children is just what moms do.
And that’s just… Normal.
I wonder when people started treating boobs as objects used just for sex. A long time ago did people respect moms and their breasts feeding hungry babies? Even though they didn’t see women as equal did they know that breastfeeding was the healthiest, easiest, and natural source of nutrients to feed the baby and nothing to shun? There was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote but could freely pull out their breast and feed their baby and today it seems like we have flipped those. In some ways we have come so far in how women are treated and viewed in society but in other ways women, particularly mothers, are dismissed as their real value being only in their appeal to the opposite sex. I wonder if we’ve lost something. Then I wonder what that means for me and I’m only a 14 year old girl. When I was younger I didn’t know breasts had amazing powers to produce milk even though my mom breastfed my sisters and me. All that I knew was that I had little boobies and I couldn’t wait for the day when my nipples would transform into breasts. I don’t remember when the fact that mature breasts can give milk really stuck in my head but when it did I thought humans were related to cows. Sure, humans and cows are both mammals but when I was a kid I thought maybe women actually were cows. Today I know that’s not true and I also understand there is a lot of attention given to the sexiness of the female breast and that makes me uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because now that I have breasts I find myself wanting smaller breasts in part because I’m a ballerina but also because I know that bigger breasts are supposed draw attention from guys, are seen as more sexy, and could decide how I am treated by others. Part of me feels that if I want to be liked I have to have big breasts. I want guys to notice me but I don’t want guys to notice me (yes, I know this is a contradiction) and I really don’t want them to think I’m just here to have sex with. I’m just not ready for that and don’t know if I ever will be. To me, I’m so much more than my sex appeal. So I’m careful about what I wear, I don’t want communicate that I want attention based on sex but that frustrates me too. The clothes I like the best and find most comfortable are more form fitting but if I wear yoga pants that fit my butt well will it be communicating that I want the wrong kind of attention? Or in a leotard are my breasts speaking louder than my mind or my art? I hope not. I want to matter to others for more than just my body. As a dancer, I work with my body a lot and I work hard to make it strong and healthy but not for attention. That work is to help me tell stories, to use my body as an artist and an athlete. Struggling with my body every day is part of my lot as a dancer and I have a love hate relationship with it and I’m ok with that. What I don’t want is to question my natural biology simply because of how others say it should be. Sometimes it feels as though society wants to punish those with female body parts yet tell us we’re equal without having to act like we really are. I don’t get it, I understand that breasts are considered sex things but they don’t seem any more “sexy” than most of the other parts of my body such as my lips, my arms, my shoulders, my legs. Men may find them sexy (is it that way in every culture or just ours?) but they aren’t sexy to me, they feed babies. Looking back to what my childish mind was thinking and comparing it to some people’s opinions about moms openly breastfeeding in public, I wonder if they too see breastfeeding moms as cows? Do breastfeeding mothers need to be fenced and herded together, separate from everyone else? I know there are people that think about moms that way but not everyone does. A lot of my adult friends have different opinions about breastfeeding but they don’t think poorly about my mom and they don’t ask her to cover when she’s feeding my little sister. It doesn’t bother them that part of my mom’s breast is visible. Pictures of beautiful and sexy women show off breasts at least as much as a mom’s breast is seen when she is breastfeeding. In our culture, what is the most sexy part about women’s breasts? The breast that is popping out of a too small shirt or the covered nipple? Why? If it’s the nipple, why is it such a big deal about breastfeeding in public if the baby is hiding the nipple? Maybe it’s understandable because of the messages we get from certain parts of society, they might think it is sexual because a person’s mouth, even if it is a baby is on a woman’s breast but they need to get a grip and review their history lessons. And also learn how breastfeeding works. Why is it ok for men to show off their mammary glands but women can’t? Why aren’t women “allowed” to expose their chest as much as men can? Why is it considered indecent for me to be topless by my neighbor across the street can walk around just in his shorts and nobody has a problem with it? How is that equal? How is that not discrimination? Stop telling me I can be equal to my male counterparts but then tell me I have to hide my body more as if there is something wrong with me. I’m not sure I even want to have babies but if I do I will breastfeed them though I have to admit the idea of breastfeeding in public scares me because I know how people think of breasts, women, and moms. That kind of attention isn’t what I want for myself. I don’t know what I will do though because I know too much about breastfeeding to not breastfeed and I don’t think I’d want to just stay home all the time. How sad is it that anyone would be afraid to feed their baby in public? I’m a little disappointed in myself for feeling this way, I mean, my mom is The Leaky Boob, I feel like she’s the queen of breastfeeding. But that’s where I am right now. Fortunately, I have a long time to figure that out and I know I have a family that will support me along the way. If all this obsession with female breasts didn’t actually happen, what would life be like? If we could change the attitudes against breastfeeding would we actually change attitudes about women? I hope we can learn from our mistakes because I think people are being hurt by the accepted cultural attitudes of social norms. And I’m still young, I have to have hope.
What do you think?
Do you feel attitudes about breastfeeding are related in any way to our attitudes about women in general?
How did you think about breasts, breastfeeding, and your own body when you were a teen?
Completely unrelated to this post, this video shares the author’s story of dance, her dance aspirations, and her current project.
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.