Hashtag: Normalize Breastfeeding

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I had a post written, ready to share, about the good that has come out of social media in terms of breastfeeding and the whole ‘normalize breastfeeding’ hashtag that may better be classified as a movement; because hot damn there’s a lot of moms out there sharing – what truthfully is – a significant part of any new breastfeeding moms life. Breastfeeding an infant is pretty damn close to a full-time job. But then I was talking to a friend who confided that she shared different feelings about all these moms sharing about their dedication to breastfeeding and flashing images left and right of them feeding their babies; an over-saturation of sorts with a message that may have gotten lost in the abundance, the point – possibly – distorted. Where perhaps an innocent message of comradery somehow started to translate into a ‘my way is the best way’ message of inferiority. Hard to say if seeing it in a context such as this is produced from the images themselves or through the eyes of the one viewing them. I thought it was an interesting debate so I figured I’d bring it here, so others could weigh in.

How do you feel about moms sharing images of themselves breastfeeding their young? Do you feel that the message ever gets misconstrued; that perhaps some of the authors of these images have a pretentious air of inferiority? Does the author behind the images you see impact the meaning you derive from the image’s content? In other words, maybe it’s not the subject matter at all but perhaps the voice behind an image that may lend to a less-than-desirable translation?

Seeing so many images of moms openly breastfeeding has made me less shy about breastfeeding – especially in public – this third time around. I stressed much more about breastfeeding when Hooper, and then Van, were babies. Staying home felt most comfortable in terms of avoiding having to feed them in public. I remember wandering the flea market with Hooper as an infant and asking a vendor if I could use his car to feed him in. I was there the other month with Sonny and I fed him on the stairs in the middle of the bustling food court. It wasn’t that I yearned for anymore privacy when I chose to use the vendor’s car with Hooper, it’s more that it simply felt more socially acceptable; I wasn’t doing it for myself, I was doing it to protect everyone else.
I can’t say for certain whether it’s different because Sonny is a third-born and my cares have gone with the wind or if the movement of normalizing breastfeeding has spread visually so abundantly that I feel, well, comfortable. I’m even comfortable with others feeling uncomfortable.
I used to think of breastfeeding as such a huge commitment and, sure, it is. But this third time around it doesn’t feel like such a ball and chain; it feels like a privilege. Maybe that’s because I know it may be the last baby I breastfeed. I’d like to think it has at least something to do with this “normalize breastfeeding” movement because, dammit, I need to feel there is some good coming from social media and not just one rolling instagram feed of picturesque kitchens, sponsored posts, and curated mumbo jumbo.

Anyway, curious to know your thoughts. And for those that don’t breastfeed or didn’t breastfeed or aren’t going to breastfeed – for whatever reason – do you feel like an image of a breastfeeding mother is a back handed judgement on you? Do you take images like that personal? I suppose ‘fed is best’ could be a separate post on its own, but worth a mention here anyway. Because, really, fed is best.

Images by Tish Carlson

14 Responses

  • I have two children, I struggled with breastfeeding my first & stopped at 3 months and I’m currently 7 months in to breastfeeding my second and it’s going really well. There wasn’t as many ‘breastfeeding selfies’ going around back in 2012 when I had my daughter but ladies on my baby group used to share pictures and whilst I didn’t feel like they were shoving any sort of breast is best opinion in my face I did feel a little bit like ‘whats the point of all these breastfeeding pictures, is there any need to share so many?

    Now 4 years later I’m feeding my son and have about a million pictures in my camera roll of him feeding and I get it now why these ladies on my group shared their pictures so often. Because it IS an achievement and it IS beautiful and something to be proud of because breastfeeding is bloody hard!

    Of course you do get a select few who do post breastfeeding pictures for the sole reason of shoving their opinion down peoples throats. I can specifically think of one old school friend on my instagram who constantly posts pictures with captions that are basically just rants about formula and I dont like that. But what I do like is women feeling like they CAN post these pictures and show just how proud they are. It makes me happy that it’s not seen as an abnormal thing to do any more and that we can all just support one another! x

    • Oh yes… I don’t think I have any pictures of me breastfeeding my first two… and I so treasure the images this third time around. It’s no easy feat and it’s nice to have to look back on, especially when considering how big of a part of our day breastfeeding is. Glad to hear your breastfeeding journey is currently going well — lots of love!

  • “That perhaps some of the authors of these images have a pretentious air of inferiority”

    Not sure how an image can have this consequence unless the person breastfeeding in it is literally flicking off someone in the background who’s obviously mixing up formula.

    I believe this is the classic “take responsibility of your feelings” rule. Just because there’s an onslaught of images in support of breastfeeding doesn’t mean those women are intentionally putting down women choosing another path. The author of the image (or the painting or the dance or the blog piece) can’t control how someone perceives it, surely you’re familiar with that. They make the art and put it into the world and how it’s received has very little to do with them.

    While I don’t take pictures of myself breastfeeding my child and I, like you, choose usually to do it privately unless circumstances truly prevent it, I don’t mind the movement. More power to em!

    • I agree, we can control what we put out into the world but we have little control over how it is perceived. I think there’s a lot that goes into how things are perceived that obviously have nothing to do with the creator / author and everything to do with the viewer.

  • Let me preface my comment, I am a mother of five, I successfully breastfed my first three into toddlerhood, with my fourth, he stopped gaining weight at 4 months and we pressed on until at 8 months old, we intervened with formula to fortify my pumped breastmilk, he finally gained weight. I was so looking forward to a normal nursing relationship with my fifth and last baby.

    It didn’t happen, for whatever reason, her suck or my physiology, the milk would not transfer for her, and so I pumped for 3 months, I spiraled into postpartum depression with feelings of anxiety and guilt until I finally “let go,” I preferred that over “gave up.” She is 3.5 months now and gets one precious bottle of breastmilk a day, for probably another 2 weeks and then it will be gone.

    I am an advocate for breastfeeding, I know it is best, I know it can be magical, I know that it helps bonding and development… I know all these things but I’ll admit, when it pops up on social media, it does feel like a slap in the face, not that I assume those posting are intending this, but it hurts.

    And like the comment from Ama, I know my perception is different than others, and so I scroll on. I want breastfeeding to be normal, I want it to be accepted and celebrated and I don’t think every photo posted needs to have a disclaimer of not wanting to hurt the feelings of those that wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t. But, when is it too much? When does it feel in your face instead of quietly held sacred by those that are blessed to be able to do it successfully?

    How do I keep the reverence of it while wanting my children to be exposed to it so that they can keep the normalcy movement going forward when they grow into teens that don’t sexualize breasts and mothers and fathers who know that this is biology at it’s finest and the way it is truly intended to be?

    I don’t know the answer and someday when the scars of defeat are not so close to the surface, I’ll gaze upon the beautiful images shared instead of putting up my wall and scrolling past them as quick as I am able.

    • I’m thankful for your words, grateful that you have shared. I think when we’re in our own process of letting go it’s easy, and normal, to feel angry when being confronted by others – be it in public or through imagery shared via social media – who are not sharing our same difficulties.

      And yes, I hope – through our children – we are able to keep the normalcy movement going forward and to replace any sexualization of breasts with an appreciation for their role in nurturing the young.

      Mad props to you too, mama. Five children is a lot to be grateful for. I can only imagine how hard it was to have an expectation set for what you thought your breastfeeding relationship with your fifth would be. It’s a reminder that we can’t control it all and oftentimes life is about accepting and moving on with the knowledge that it (whatever “it” may be) may not be what we intended it to be but we can only do our best with the cards we are given. There’s so much to be grateful for, letting go of so many expectations is a great way to find freedom.

  • This is an interesting topic. I breastfed both my boys for 3 years each and nursed in public carefree and easily with both of them until they were about 2, when I started trying to get them to keep it was a private affair. Which, really it is a private affair for older children. It’s a choice that every mama and child have to decide on for themselves. Nursing an older child is definitely not as well accepted in public as nursing a baby is. You might get a smile and a nod from some while nursing a baby in public, but that same person who smiled and nodded won’t be so open minded when they see you nursing your (Gasp!) walking and talking toddler.

    However, that’s not to say that breastfeeding is not normal. It is and should be seen as normal and seeing pictures of women breastfeeding and seeing women in person publicly breastfeeding is the way to normalize breastfeeding. Women should be able to breastfeed confidently in public and they should be able to do so without feeling that they are being ostracized, shunned, or be misconstrued that they are arrogant mamas who bash non-breastfeeders.

    Recently my FIL took my boys to a Ninja Warrior Class at a gym and while he was waiting for them, he saw a mom who was also waiting for her child sitting in an alleyway outside the gym. According to him she was extremely big chested and nursing her baby very non discreetly for everyone to see. Needless to say, he was disgusted. Though he did preface this convo with the fact that he is all for women breastfeeding and thinks they have every right to do so. He also said that he thinks with that right comes the responsibility of public appropriateness. I brought this very topic up in my LLL meeting last month. It seemed that most of the women are not at all bashful to breastfeed in public (esp. if it wasn’t their first). Some use a cover, though most didn’t and even the ones who do thought it was difficult to keep a cover on with their babes. They were most likely to be more discreet in a private setting like at their in-laws house or a friend’s home. Their reasoning being they don’t want to offend someone they know personally rather than caring as much about offending someone in public. Most of them also felt they were able to be fairly discreet while nursing in public without a cover. Especially if they wore their babies.

    I have a few photos (though none as beautiful as yours) of me breastfeeding and I cherish them. Whenever I see a lovely pic of a nursing pair it makes me smile. I hope that young women who see a beautiful picture of a mama nursing her baby is more likely to think of breastfeeding as something she might want to do. Unfortunately, there are women who sometimes can’t breastfeed or maybe it’s fortunate for them because they decided for whatever reason that they didn’t want to breastfeed. They need (and deserve) confidence in their own choices and their reasons for feeding their babes in the ways that they needed to.

    • I feel the same way — in the hospital, for example, I feel a lot of support (verbal support, not actual physical support, wink wink) for pumping milk for my baby… but that support seems to waiver some once I pass the year mark and I’m still pumping. It is what it is… I’m glad you mentioned large-chested women because I feel they must face their own discriminations when nursing in public… I wish it weren’t that way… Boobs, after all, are intended for feeding… it’s us, as a society, that has sexualized them… Thanks for sharing your thoughts. xo

  • In the beginning when I was struggling with breastfeeding and ended up having to formula feed both of my kiddos there were times when all of the breastfeeding photos and normalize breastfeeding posts were very much a slap in the face. Some women really do believe that is breast is best and everything else is inferior, but I realize now that that’s the minority. My children are older and I very appreciate why women post breastfeeding photos and I think they are beautiful. I always feel a tug at my heart that I wasn’t able to breastfeed my kiddos, but it is what it is. I think all women should be able to feed their children in peace whatever way they can. I support all women who breastfeed and don’t feel they should ever have to hide it. I also support women who bottle feed and wish they didn’t feel like they were less.

  • The years spent trying for a baby, enduring fertility testing, and a heartbreaking diagnosis of infertility made many images and situations difficult for me. Motherhood in any form was hard to see.

    Now, I am beyond blessed to be nursing our second son at 21 months. When a debate such as this stirs up, I first think how lucky all of us are, to discuss motherhood and its challenges, because we have our precious babes. Infertility is my reality check for so many things…you really don’t know what you would do in another’s situation and should not feel criticized/judged/included/excluded when another is sharing part of their story.

    • I’m glad you brought this up. I have a dear friend that has struggled with multiple loses and I know the discussion of something so seemingly trite as how we feed our babies makes her angry… because we’re really just lucky to have babies to feed. It’s a good dose of perspective. Thank you for sharing.

  • I am all for normalizing breastfeeding. But, it seems rather normal to me anyway. I am breastfeeding my third baby. I did the first two as well, the second making it to 2 years, 4 months. I breastfeed wherever and whenever my baby needs it and have done it in public many, many times. However, I really view it as something between myself and my child and tend to either cover or go somewhere more private to feed baby. That doesn’t mean I hide, but it also doesn’t mean I sit on the play structure at the park and feed my baby uncovered with my entire boob pulled out from the top of my shirt. My kids see me do it all the time uncovered at home, but that still doesn’t stop them from making comments about women’s “boobies” when someone is doing it less than concealed and me getting a nasty stare for my kid making a comment. All that to say, to each their own. Feed your child however you please. Be confident in that decision. Don’t let others berate you for it. But be prepared that no matter the choice you make (breast or bottle, formula or pumped milk), someone will always have something to say about it.

    • I think finding our own footing is priceless… making a decision and standing by it is empowering. Because, like you said, there’s always going to be someone that makes a different decision for themselves.

  • I was actually wondering about your feeding situation since you Said in another post that you Are back into the working Flow. Is your parent Time over? In spain (I am spanish) mothers only have four months of parent time, which is really not enought. In theory babies have to be exclusively feeded with milk for six months….. I currently live in Germany, here the goberment support a Break of fourteen months! That a better perspective for motherhood.

    However, I am 24 years old and my first child is 3 month and a half. So i got to be mother Inside the whole flow of images of women breastfeeding or giving birth at home (sometimes it feels like you should Share a Photo of it in Instagram or you Are out of the movement). I am from a generation where talking about women empowering and freedom is the daily Bread (nowadays, every Female Teenager is a feminist). I also live in Berlin, a City of freedom where everybody do whatever they want to. It is really Common Seeing mothers breastfeedin in Public, therefore easier for me to do too.

    I personally don’t want to glorify breastfeeding, Even less since I have to do it myself. It is a beautiful experience, but also a really hard Job and commitment (as you said). But I also think there is the Need to normalize nudity and Female breats. So i take Part and make pressure to those that still reject it.
    But honestly, I breastfeed in public with no further thoughts about it because Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to Go out of my home, I mean…. This Little monster always want the nipple, and sometimes is for comfort rather than hungriness.


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