Originally published at Mothering.com
The breastfeeding selfie: a nurturing act of empowerment, a promotion of breastfeeding, and a counterculture resistance movement which tends to elicit strong opinions.
A common sentiment when breastfeeding photos are shared is, “Why would anyone share this publicly??? This is a private moment.”
Believe it or not, the breastfeeding selfie is not a flagrant act of narcissism. There’s a positive reason behind the movement.
The objection to breastfeeding photos is fairly understandable in our culture, where ignorance about breastfeeding abounds. Breastfeeding is promoted (sometimes) in hospitals but generally scorned in public. There have been numerous accounts of women being harassed and degraded for breastfeeding in public. When people don’t get it, they just really don’t get it. Why would a woman bare her “private parts” in public? Why would a woman commit such an intimate act in front of everyone?? It’s the same thing as someone urinating or having sex in public, right???
Wrong wrong wrong.
Breastfeeding is a lost art in our culture, and that is reflected in our dangerously low breastfeeding rates. UNICEF and other health organizations predict that millions of lives could be saved every year if more mothers breastfed, and yet the rates in the United States and Great Britain are some of the lowest rates in the world.
Why are breastfeeding rates so low in some countries? Why, if breastfeeding is life-saving, do more parents not feed their babies in this optimal way?
There are several reasons, and the blame very rarely lies with the parents themselves. In the United States, most mothers are sent back to work at 6, or maybe 12 weeks postpartum, if they’re “lucky.” The U.S. is one of the only developed countries in the world without paid maternity leave.
When the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding — no bottles or formula — and yet women are sent back to work when their babies are 6 weeks old, how is that supposed to promote breastfeeding success? It doesn’t. And it is the rare woman who is able to pump often enough to supply breast milk for her baby, as some women do not respond to pumping, and some workplaces do not allow breaks nor will they necessarily have a safe place for moms to pump.
Another aspect is the influence of the infant formula industry. There is much to be said about this topic, but to simplify: the formula industry has spent a great amount of money and effort convincing parents that formula is necessary and just as good as breast milk. Through various “booby traps,” many new mothers turn to formula instead of troubleshooting breastfeeding.
But one of the biggest issues with breastfeeding is the lack of support. Women are told to breastfeed, but scorned for doing it in public. Women are told to breastfeed, but we often don’t know where to turn for help when we run into issues. Women are told to breastfeed, but formula is pushed on us from every angle. Breastfeeding is empowering, but the conflicting views, bad advice, and lack of support can be incredibly disempowering.
So what’s a mother to do? Many of us have started a grassroots effort to support breastfeeding by posting breastfeeding selfies, also known as “brelfies.”
Why would we do such a thing? It’s simple, really. Breastfeeding is sweet, and for some mothers it is an intimate moment, but for most of us it’s just eating. Eating doesn’t need to be hidden. Breastfeeding is not sexual, inappropriate, or shameful, therefore it does not need to be hidden.
Some would argue that breasts are sexual, and they have indeed been sexualized, but that is the fault of our culture. Hands and mouths can also be sexual, but we are not told to hide them in public. In some cultures, women are told to hide their hair, their faces, their ankles, and I think most of us can agree that forcing those beliefs on women is oppressive.
We share breastfeeding selfies to normalize the act of breastfeeding in public. When generations of people see breastfeeding, it will become less of a scandal and more of a completely innocuous act.
WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said, “It’s absolutely to be encouraged.”
And there you have it. Despite the opinion of many that breastfeeding is a private moment to be hidden away, the World Health Organization supports breastfeeding selfies.
Post away, mamas!