I always knew I would try to breastfeed my baby when she was born, mostly because it seemed convenient and cost-efficient. I really had no knowledge about breastfeeding, other than what I had previously read online or in books. There was a dearth of media depictions of breastfeeding and, sadly, what was out there was usually played for laughs in adult-skewing shows and movies, or for teaching purposes in programs aimed at kids. Once I became a breastfeeding mom and looked around, so much of what I saw about breastfeeding in the media really pissed me off.
Whether breastfeeding is part of your experience raising kids or not, I think all moms can agree that American culture tends to judge parents on all methods of feeding their babies. However, I can’t recall seeing a mom in a non-reality television show get called out for bottle feeding her kid. Our culture seems to be more accepting of babies drinking from fake nipples than real ones, especially if you're to take what we see in film, television and journalism as an indication of how we, as a society, view breastfeeding.
Thankfully, we are seeing more positive portrayals of breastfeeding in the media, but it's been a painfully slow process and those positive representations are few and far between. For every breastfeeding image I see that feels relatable, there are so many more that don’t resonate with me at all. I applaud the media for trying to get breastfeeding right, but the pictures they paint are either super sappy and cloying, or just out of touch. So, with that in mind and in the hopes of combating the unrealistic expectations of breastfeeding these images evoke, here are some examples of breastfeeding depictions in the media that moms, or at least this mom, absolutely hate and could definitely do without:
Yes, I do think I’m doing "the most important work" when I’m nurturing my children, be it by keeping them warm and dry, soothing them after a nightmare, or breastfeeding. However, it rubs me the wrong way to see breastfeeding photos that depict moms "as holier than thou." First of all, I am not a saint. I am a mother who would do anything to ensure the safety and health of my child. For me, that included breastfeeding, but that is not an option for all moms (or dads), so to distinguish breastfeeding moms as more angelic than other non-nursing parents is unfair.
Second, breastfeeding simply doesn’t look like that. Yes, I would gaze tenderly at the baby in my arms and I totally felt the warm rush of bonding hormones flood my system when letdown occurred. However, I reached for the remote or something to read, or I nodded out on the couch for a bit. Breastfeeding was just part of our lives, so it wasn’t as if we stepped out into an alternate, dreamy reality for 45 minutes every three hours, every day, every night. Where are the “Madonna” pictures of the 2 AM feedings? Yeah, there's a reason those bad boys don't exist.
This may be subjective, but I don’t really get these breastfeeding mermaid images. What mostly bothers me about them is the fantastical depiction. Mermaids are mythical creatures, and I love them as such. Breastfeeding scenes in my life have never come close to those in a fairy tale. I think these mermaid images perpetuate this false breastfeeding ideal. If anything, it stigmatizes those who choose not to or who aren’t able to breastfeed their children. I appreciate the nod to breastfeeding being beautiful and honorable, but depicting nursing moms as fantasy characters denies the real challenges and hard won successes surrounding that choice.
Celebrities Killing It While Nursing
I get it. These women have careers too, and it’s wonderful to see other working moms in the world. Except, well, they’re not like me. I don’t get to bring my baby to the office to nurse him while I get my makeup done. I don’t have the financial security to turn down work so I can spend more time exclusively breastfeeding, instead of pumping at my job.
As inspiring as it can be to see beautiful, famous people behaving “just like us,” they’re not just like us. Show me one with an oversupply issue, like I had. Media outlets would be doing moms like me a much bigger service by showing the realness of breastfeeding, even as it applies to celebrities.
Those That Include "Helpful" Men
Is it just me, or are most moms creeped out by shots of breastfeeding women, with their male partners tenderly looking on while also touching them? I could not be touched while I was nursing my babies. Maybe it was some kind of innate defense mechanism, to prevent me from being distracted by anyone else’s needs while fulfilling my children’s nutritional ones. Either way, I didn’t want anyone close to me while I nursed. I needed to be in that space with just my child.
True, when I was nursing my second child, my toddler broke that rule constantly, but she was still so little that I didn’t have the same kind of visceral “get away from me” reaction. I get that partners want to be involved in the care of their children and breastfeeding is not conducive to that experience. It’s just, like, can you sit over there, dude?
The Ones That Show The Moms Only Using Her Arms To Support The Baby
My breastfeeding pillow was literally my best friend in the first year of my babies’ lives. I could not imagine holding my little ones in my arms for the duration of their nursing sessions. My hands would fall asleep. I’d get cramps.
I appreciate that, as kids get older, they can sit upright a bit so pictures with older babies nursing may, logically, be devoid of support pillows, and nursing on your side is a great option, if you have the space. But come on; stop showing me pictures of a 3-month-old cradled in their mom’s arms as they are nursed, if you’re not also going to show me the mom’s face, distorted by her cramped discomfort.
Pictures Of Moms Nursing In The Sun
It’s not recommended to use sunblock on babies under six months of age. Plus it’s hot in the sun, and I’m already quite toasty with my baby pressed up against me to nurse. I know sunlight is beautiful for photos, but shade is much more practical, and safe, for breastfeeding moms and babies.
Images Of Moms Nursing In Nature
Part of the beauty of breastfeeding is that it can be done wherever you are, whenever the baby’s hungry and as long as you feel safe and comfortable. However, I see images of women nursing their babies in these meadows and I have to laugh. Grass is itchy. There are bugs crawling everywhere. Unless she has found herself stranded on a hike with her infant, what breastfeeding mom would choose to plunk down in a field for a good 20 to 45 minutes to nurse?
To be fair, I’m a city girl and maybe this is a scenario I could never relate to, but this situation just seems ridiculous to me. Breastfeeding is natural, but we don’t have to literally abandon signs of civilization and comfort to drive that point home.
When that wave of oxytocin hit with letdown in a nursing session, I felt invincible. Like everything was right in the world and I was on top of it. Five minutes later, that feeling subsided and it was business as usual. So, maybe I’m overreacting here, and all these images of moms giving these serene smiles while gazing tenderly at their babies are just capturing that one particular moment.
However, since not everyone experiences such positive effects from hormones during nursing, I think we’re over-representing the number of "happy" breastfeeding moms. I’m all for positive depictions of nursing, because my experience with it was mostly pleasant and I’d proselytize from the rooftops about it. Still, I can’t discount those women, and I know many, for whom breastfeeding was not an option, and should not be made to feel bad about it. They had to do whatever works, and most breastfeeding mothers are too; it’s just that, even things are working, we’re not usually grinning like Stepford Wives about it.
…. Or Totally Destitute
On the flip side, those images where moms are not conveying joy and serenity, they look totally haggard and stressed. Don’t get me wrong: there are nursing moms in dire situations and we need to see that realness. Stories on the hardships of mothers trying to do the best they can under extremely challenging circumstances need to be shared if we are, as a society, going to evolve our marginalization against women who breastfeed. I am not suggesting we deny space for these images.
We just also need to make room for the variety of emotions around breastfeeding. It is not all sunshine and lollipops, nor is it all selflessness and stigma. Women are complicated because humans are complicated. It’s OK to have different feelings about motherhood and all that it entails, including breastfeeding. There is too much polarized thinking, in my opinion, on how we feed our babies. We don’t all come with the same set of circumstances or family history or socioeconomic status or anatomy. However, we all want our children to be well-fed. If we breastfeed for a day, or a year, or never, and all our children are playing together at the park, do you think you would be able to tell how they had been fed as infants?
No mom should be shamed for her choices when they are made in the best interest of her child. And we should remember that even she has second thoughts about what’s best. I am glad to have been able to breastfeed both my children, but I don’t look back on those times with pure fondness. It made life hard sometimes. There were smiles, and there were tears.
I guess you really can have it all.