A few months back, I received a facebook message from a “friend”. It went like this, “Hi there. I’m sure by now you are wondering why I deleted you from my friends list a few weeks ago. I was offended by all the selfies you post while breast feeding. I’m not trying to be rude, but they are really disturbing. It’s fine that you breast feed, but do you really need to flaunt it to the whole world. Really I get that’s a personal choice, but it’s not a choice I would make, so I really don’t want to have to see it. Furthermore, once again not trying to be rude, just informing you of how it makes some others feel, your daughter is way too old to be breastfeeding still. She’s getting to the age that she might remember it, and could you imagine remembering sucking on your mom’s nipples? That could cause some major mental and emotional damage. Not to mention, even if she doesn’t remember it, nothing you post online ever truly gets deleted. Who knows what she’ll think if she finds those pictures as a teenager? The last picture you posted was just the final straw for me. I just had to unfriend you, because I never knew when a breast feeding photo would pop up on my newsfeed.”
My first reaction when I read this was to gather up all the breast feeding selfies I’ve ever taken, and even maybe ask my friends to send me some and send them all her way. But I refrained. Then I thought maybe it was a joke, but I checked my friends list, and sure enough I was no longer “friends” with this person. Then I was annoyed, and then sad. I told my husband what had happened, and that I was upset about it. He said, “Do you really care that you are no longer friends on facebook with this person?” I said, “No, I honestly didn’t even realize she had removed me before she messaged me. I’ve only met her once, and I certainly wasn’t close enough to her that her opinion of me mattered. What makes me sad about this is not that I lost a facebook friend. She wasn’t the first one I’ve lost. She probably won’t be the last. I’m a strong woman. I can be very intense. I’m an advocate of women’s right. I’m raw. I’m open. I’m honest, and I fully understand that can rub some people the wrong way, and I’m okay with that. I won’t apologize for it, but I get that not everyone will appreciate it. What upsets me about it, is that she really isn’t the only person who feels this way. The truth is a huge part of our society finds the idea of breastfeeding, especially a child older than one, disturbing. Or they are okay with it, as long as, they never have to see it. Many women hide it or cut their breastfeeding relationships short, because society makes them feel ashamed of it.” Below is my response to this ‘friend’, and any other person who has an issue with seeing a woman breast feed her child.
Hi (insert name ;p),
Thanks for sharing your opinion with me. I can’t say that I agree with it, or that it will keep me from posting a Brelfie. Yep you read that right. Breastfeeding selfies have their own name. You should check out the hashtag on instagram, and see all the amazing, beautiful women who are proud of the breast feeding relationship they have with their child. If anything, I’ll be sure to post more brelfies in the future. Why? You may ask. Well I promise it’s not to be spiteful or vindictive. It’s not because I want to “flaunt” it. It is, because you reminded me of something I forgot. You reminded me how a lot of our society views breastfeeding. See since I became a doula and became much more involved in the natural parenting community, I have lived in somewhat of a bubble. A very large bubble, mind you, but still a bubble. I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by women where breastfeeding is the norm. Don’t get me wrong. I have friends that formula feed or exclusively pump or do a combination of both, and each one of them are incredible moms. It’s just it’s rare for me to go to a play date or get together with my friends and not encounter at least one mom openly breast feeding their baby or toddler. Usually it’s several moms doing it, and many times it’s me. You see, breast feeding uncovered is my normal. It’s what I’m use to seeing. However, it hasn’t always been ‘normal’ to me. It’s not something I’ve always been exposed to, and I thank you for reminding me of that.
When I was younger, the idea of breast feeding disturbed me, but then again, a lot of things disturb teenagers. My mom breastfed me until I was two. That thought horrified me. Once again though, teenagers are horrified by a lot. The first time I ever saw a woman breastfeed I was in high school. I was rather uncomfortable with it at the time. In retrospect, I’m glad she did it, but I still wonder why this was the first time I ever saw a woman breast feeding. As I grew up, and became a young adult, I realized that if I were to ever have children, I would try to breastfeed. There was too much research out showing the benefits of breast milk. Still the idea of it bothered me. Then I got pregnant, and gave birth to my first born. I tried to breast feed her. She wouldn’t latch. We used a nipple shield, and she would latch with that. There was absolutely nothing disturbing about breast feeding her. It felt completely normal. It was a bonding time. It was a way to connect and provide for my daughter. There was nothing sexual or uncomfortable about it. Unfortunately, her latch continued to be an issue, as well as, inadequate weight gain, so after about a month I did switch to exclusively pumping. I cried many tears over the fact that I could no longer breastfeed my baby, but I continued to pump and provide her with my milk for 14 months. You see, something I thought would be uncomfortable and disturbing was the furthest thing from it. It was something I was devastated to lose.
Then the second baby came. You know the one who’s in all those brelfies you’re complaining about. Well I knew from the beginning that I planned to breastfeed her. Or I hoped to anyway. At this point, I knew there was nothing gross about nursing a baby, and I had seen many other women nurse their babies and toddlers. To my surprise, this sweet girl latched on immediately after birth and is still going strong 20 months later. Our goal has always been to make it until at least two, as the World Health Organization recommends, but if she nurses longer, then that’s okay too. I don’t think many people in the United States when they have their first child start out with their goal being to nurse into toddlerhood. It’s just not the norm here. In most other countries it is, but here sadly it is not. However, once you start breast feeding your child, it only seems natural to continue breast feeding. Why is 6 months or 12 months the magic age to wean? Every baby, every child is different. Each need to wean when they are ready. Breast milk does not suddenly become useless at a certain age. It’s nutrients, calories, and immune boosting properties do not suddenly disappear when your child turns one. There are multiple studies out there that show the benefits of ‘extended breastfeeding’. As for her 'remembering breast feeding', I honestly hope she does remember it. What better way to begin teaching her that her body is meant for so much more than just other people's sexual pleasure. If she chooses to, one day her body can grow a baby, birth a baby, and then be that baby's sole source of nourishment. Her breasts and the milk that she creates can literally keep another human alive and allow it to grow. That's pretty amazing stuff right there. Why wouldn't I want her to know and see the power of the female body?
Unfortunately, most of society, chooses to ignore this message and instead embrace the message that breasts are sexual. You see, I grew up with the same messages from our society that you grew up with. The message that the primary purpose of breasts is first and foremost for sexual pleasure, and this could not be further from the truth. If you just took a second to think about it from a biological stand point. Why do we have breasts? Women have breasts to feed their babies. It’s that plain and simple. The fact is, breastfeeding is not in any way, shape, or form a sexual experience. Ask any breast feeding mother if they get turned on while nursing. I can guarantee the answer will not just be a “No”, but a “Hell no”. It doesn’t matter whether the child is 2 days old, 10 months old, 2 years old, or 4 years old. There’s still nothing sexual about it. The fact is women do not have breasts for sexual pleasure. Can they be used that way? Yes, but technically so can hands, and I have yet to hear of anybody finding someone picking up or holding a baby with their hands a disturbing act. Our breasts primary function is to provide nutrition and comfort to our babies.
I post breast feeding selfies for two reasons. One, it is a sweet time between me and my child. It’s a time of cuddling, comfort, and bonding. No one seems to think twice if I post a picture of her asleep in my lap or cuddling with me, but add nursing into the picture and suddenly it is inappropriate. The second reason is that your opinion on breastfeeding, my former opinion on it, is way too common, and it is also wrong. Breast feeding is normal. Breast feeding is natural. Breast feeding is not sexual. Breast feeding is a woman using her body to do something useful and powerful, and not merely to be pleasing to the eyes. Whether you consciously realize it or not, your disgust with breast feeding is degrading to females. You are disgusted with it, because society says women’s bodies are meant to be pleasing to men. If a woman is doing something useful or empowering with her body, such as giving birth or breastfeeding, then it needs to be hidden. This is society’s message. This is a message I REFUSE to accept or abide by. I post breast feeding selfies to help normalize breast feeding. I post my birth pictures to help normalize birth. I post both to show how powerful women are. I post both to show that our bodies are beautiful, incredible, and powerful. I don’t post them for attention or to disgust people. I post them so other women know what is normal. If one less woman hides in a disgusting bathroom to feed her baby, because I posted a brelfie, then it’s worth it. If one less new mother fears going out of the house, because she’s afraid to breastfeed in public, then it’s worth it. If one more mother gains confidence that she can breastfeed her baby or one more mother realizes it’s okay to not have to wean at one, despite societal pressure, then every breast feeding selfie I posted was worth it. And it was worth all the ‘friends’ I lost over it. I appreciate your honesty with me. It has motivated me and reminded me why I do what I do. Thank you for that. I will not apologize for offending you or anyone else, and I hope in time you come to realize how truly wrong you are. It’s okay if one day when you have children you choose not to breastfeed them, but it’s not okay to put down others for it. It's not okay to suggest that a woman should cover up.
Do you stand in line at the grocery store turning magazines around, because the covers are so offensive? No? Then, why are you reporting any breast feeding pictures you see on facebook as 'inappropriate sexual content'?
Are you looking the other way or covering your children's eyes every time you go to the mall and walk past Victoria's Secret? No? Then why are you steering your child away from a breast feeding mother or asking her to cover up? Breasts are breasts. You can't say they are okay in one setting, but not another. I've yet to see anyone attack cosmopolitan magazine or victoria's Secret, the way uncovered breast feeding mothers are attacked.
No? Of course not. No one in their right mind would be offended by these pictures. Well guess what? Then these pictures below shouldn't offend you either!
Because both set of images are showing the exact same thing. Both show a child being fed and nourished. Both show a baby bonding with a parent. Both show a baby being comforted and loved on. And that is exactly what breast feeding is, a way to feed, nourish, and grow a child. A way to bond with a child. A way to show love. A way to comfort a child. So next time you see a mother breast feeding a child, whether in person or online, I hope you realize that it's not disgusting. I hope you know that it has nothing to do with showing off or flaunting. I hope you see what it truly is, love in one of its purest forms!
Now excuse me while I go post a brelfie! ;)
Bottom two breast feeding images taken by Amanda Ditzel at Raleigh Birth Photography