Last week on the Today Show, Kathie and Hoda discussed their disapproval of the brelfie (breastfeeding selfie) on their segment “OK! Or Not OK”. Hoda explained that she preferred to keep those moments private and Kathie called sharing them “TMI.” Nursing moms everywhere were rightly outraged.
When I had my son a few years ago, I knew I would breastfeed. What I didn’t know is how difficult it would be. We faced a myriad of issues, such as poor latch, reflux, oversupply, mastitis, and more. Not only that, he wanted to eat at least every two hours, ’round the clock. I was a sleep-deprived and self-conscience new mom and I was struggling. At the time, I hadn’t really been exposed to women who nursed openly. The online communities encouraging breastfeeding moms were just gaining momentum and not many had taken to Instagram and other social media outlets to post their photos and stories. The only breasts shown in the media were clad in lingerie and overly sexualized and the phrase I heard over and over from people was “I support breastfeeding, but I just think women need to cover up/be discreet/I don’t want it in my face.” The message to me as a new mother was loud and clear: don’t you dare show your breasts for their intended use. So I bought one of those breastfeeding covers that all the nursing women I knew in real life used and took off to Target with my newborn in tow.
It was a disaster. Latching a newborn seems to require about 3 more hands than you are given and doing it under a sweaty cover that hampers your vision… Well, suffice it to say, we both gave up and left crying. We resigned ourselves to staying home until we could get the hang of it. Only, we never really got the hang of it. That winter was long and lonely, and the postpartum anxiety I experienced following my son’s birth was only exacerbated by the fact that we felt trapped in our home. Even worse was that when we did actually have no other choice than to venture out into the world for groceries or household necessities, it was timed around a schedule full of constant feedings and (rare) naps. I was stressed out and trapped.
And then one day, many months later, I met an angel – a breastfeeding angel. I was shopping for shoes at T.J. Max and I turned to see a woman with a baby girl around a year old, snug against her mama in a carrier, happily nursing away. The woman caught me staring, so I smiled and asked how old her daughter was. She smiled back and told me. I then commented how impressed I was with her ability to use the carrier and breastfeed at the same time- something I had never been able to master. She laughed a little and explained that it was the only way she could keep her daughter content when they were out and about. We chatted for a while, but I was in complete awe. Here was a woman, openly nursing while shopping in the middle of a crowded store, and no one seemed to care. Or if they did, she certainly didn’t care. She was my hero.
Brelfies aren’t about attention or showing off, they’re about awareness and encouragement. Encouragement for new moms like me, who had enough anxieties and insecurities without the judgement of a stranger. They provide inspiration to those of us who desperately needed to see women nursing openly and be told that it was ok- that if my baby became hungry, I could stop and feed him, without worry of those around us. And most importantly, it’s about desensitizing a world that’s hellbent on covering women unless they are being sexy, even if it interferes with meeting the basic needs of their child. If these photos truly offend you, then maybe you aren’t the intended audience. Look away and keep your thoughts to yourself. Because if you’re one of the people who have said “I support breastfeeding, BUT I just think women need to cover up/be discreet/I don’t want it in my face,” or any other moronic statement following that “but”, then you do not actually support breastfeeding (I’m looking at you, Kathie and Hoda). Women have breasts to feed children, and supporting them means supporting their legal and moral right to nurse wherever and whenever their babies are hungry.
If you do have an issue with women using their breasts for what they were made for, then I urge you to ask yourself why. More than likely, it has to do with the hyper sexualization of breasts (and women in general) in our society. We’ve been exposed to images of boobs in bikinis, bras, or bare, along with the message “these are sexy” for decades now. And while there’s nothing wrong with breasts having a sexual side (plenty of other body parts, such as mouths, can be both sexual and non-sexual), it doesn’t negate their biological function. But while Americans have had breasts thrown in their faces for years through media and advertising, I think it’s time we show another angle – the baby feeding angle – and the brelfie is doing just that.
Long live the #brelfie. #normalizebreastfeeding