Everything about having kids seems like fodder for debate these days. In a way, it’s great that we’re having more conversations about motherhood in an age where we can “have it all” (except for the equal pay part). But, on the other hand, I get so frustrated that debating all things mom is just proving that mothers are relentlessly being judged for their choices. How a mother chooses to feed her kid, for instance, is endlessly dissected and judged and discussed, ad nauseam and with no end in sight. The media gets very little right about breastfeeding, in my opinion, and that seems to only add to the endless debate on what's "right" and what's "wrong."
Other than documentaries, the sight of a breastfeeding mom on a screen is solely a set-up for broad, slapstick humor or to somehow shame the mother choosing to breastfeed. The woman is either chastised for being so bold as to breastfeed in front of other people (like Sofia in Modern Family) or the woman's choice to breastfeed is being used as a severe character flaw (like Lysa Tully in Game of Thrones) or it's just some really funny, hilarious thing because boobs. I love physical comedy (I mean, you’ve got to have a sense of humor if you’re raising kids) and I'm all for complicated and complex characters, but do we need to cue the laugh track or denounce breastfeeding every time it is depicted on screen, both big or small? Like it or not, our views and opinions and even beliefs are shaped by the media we consume, and I just can't help but think that if we had a better representation of breastfeeding, the decision to breastfeed (or not to breastfeed, for that matter) would be used as a reason to judge and shame mothers.
I never really noticed how horribly television depicted breastfeeding, until I had a kid and was able to breastfeed myself. Now, the things I didn't used to notice are the things I wish the media would get right.
That Breastfeeding Is Even A Thing
When’s the last time you remember seeing a baby breastfed on a TV show? If a baby was a character on television, you can bet it was bottle fed. Obviously that's fine, as plenty of babies are bottle fed, but it's definitely not an accurate representation because, well, plenty of babies aren't bottle fed, too.
Babies Actually Move
I’ve seen too many “dead weight” babies passively nurse on television. I don’t know about your kids, but mine did a good deal of wiggling around, crossing and uncrossing their legs, unlatching and latching and unlatching again, patting my chest with their hands while they nursed. Don’t believe the babies on TV when they latch on and freeze. It’s a myth.
The Football Hold Is An Option
Has anyone ever seen a breastfeeding mom position her baby in the football hold in a scripted TV show? I sure haven’t.
Not Exaggerating About Any Discomfort Being In The Same Room As A Breastfeeding Mom
Too often, the fact that a character is nursing a baby is the only reason to have a scene of a character nursing a baby. Like, the narrative stops so that we can witness someone downplay their discomfort or disgust being near a breastfeeding baby. It's made to be a big thing, when it really isn't. Can’t these characters evolve, just a little bit, and get over it?
Extended Breastfeeding Isn’t Wrong
Was it the "Time" cover on motherhood that started it all? The media loves to play devil’s advocate when it comes to how long a mom breastfeeds her kid. True, most of us don’t see 4-year-olds nursing as often as we do 4-month-olds, but does that give anyone the right to judge a mom for doing what works best for her and her kid, especially if she’s not hurting anyone in the process?
Characters Don't Need To Comment On The Event
Again, scenes in which moms are nursing babies serve mostly for other characters to express some sort of opinion on the matter. Even if it is played to illustrate the character’s ignorance, and for the audience to sympathize with the nursing mom, it’s tired and played out and not indicative of what really happens when a woman breastfeeds. Sure, some people will say something, but for the most part, a mom breastfeeds her kid and no one says anything because the kid is just having a meal.
Breastfeeding Is Not Usually Glamorous
We love seeing celebs like Chrissy Teigen and Gisele Bundchen in all their breastfeeding glory, whether for a cover story or just an Instagram pic. However, even if their intentions are pure, it doesn’t exactly normalize the act. They are models and they're not just like us and, well, breastfeeding usually doesn't look that way. So while we love having these ladies in our breastfeeding corner, I can’t help but feel like I could never live up to the glamorous depictions of their nursing sessions.
Breastfeeding Is Not Nearly As Funny As It’s Depicted To Be
Breastfeeding in movies and TV is mostly played for laughs. I guess it’s nervous laughs, indicating that people just can’t get comfortable with the idea of a woman using a sexualized part of her body for anything other than, well, sex. I don’t recall one hilarious thing happening while breastfeeding my kids (except that time I totally shot my kid in the face during a forceful letdown). But I do remember feeling really close to them, and really relieved to be sitting down. That may sound boring, but I would really appreciate it if someone captured that in a scene. Breastfeeding can be boring; breastfeeding can be uneventful; breastfeeding can just be a normal part of anyone's particular day.
Pumping Is Often A Major Part Of The Deal...
Some moms pump. Really! It’s true! Rarely do you get a glimpse of that on a screen. Or even a reference to the act, or a meaningful plot point. It would be nice to see that part of my life accurately portrayed in the media. And not just from the male point-of-view, like it was in "The Big Short."
...But Maybe Pumping Wouldn’t Have To Be Part Of The Deal If We Had Better Family Leave Policies
With each of my kids, I pumped at work for a year, until they had transitioned to cow’s milk during the daytime when I was at my job (I still nursed them in the mornings and at night until they were over two). However, I wouldn’t have even had to pump if I was offered paid leave. Yes, I was guaranteed 12 weeks of FMLA, but my company’s pay policy at the time was, well, lame; I got a few weeks of disability at 60% of my salary and then, if I wanted a paycheck, I had to use my vacation time. If I could have afforded to stay at home longer, I wouldn’t have been forced to lug that breast pump everywhere and stress out over scheduling pump sessions around meetings and deadlines.
While the media talks up the “benefit” of working moms an highlight the fact that companies are required to provide them with a clean, dedicated, private space to pump milk, perhaps the bigger issue is having to get back to work so quickly in the first place. I’m sort of over hearing how offices are accommodating working moms with pump rooms. How about they accommodate us with more paid time to transition back to work when we aren't the primary sustenance-providers for our babies?
That We’re Not A Statistic
We read the reports on the benefits of breastfeeding; we analyze the data; we want the best for our kids. But, at the end of the day, breastfeeding is not math. So much goes into the decision to do it; financial factors, emotional factors, work-life balance (ha!) factors., medical factors and whether or not it's even an option. I, personally, had to supplement with formula with my first kid because I wasn’t producing enough milk for a while. With my second, I had an overproduction issue. Breastfeeding isn’t an exact science and it isn't "easy" and it would be awesome if the media would show the difficulties associated with breastfeeding, so that more women like me wouldn't feel alone or defunct.
That We Don’t Just Feel One Way About It
Some of us breastfeed, but don’t love breastfeeding. Some of us want to breastfeed desperately, but can’t. Some of us love it and are crushed when our babies wean. Breastfeeding, like parenting, is not an all-or-nothing scenario. It’s complicated.