How Public Breastfeeding Photography is Changing the World
I have 4 children, ages 8 to 15. I breastfed them all, but it was a tough journey. Breastfeeding was very important to me, it just did not come easy.
My first 2 babies were premature, and that presented some unique challenges. Advocating for my baby and myself did not come easily, being that I am a soft-spoken person and that I was quite anxious about the well being of my babies. So, I would show up at the NICU, pumped milk in hand, only to discover that they had already given my baby formula. This was not ok with me, but I had a hard time getting through to the nurses, and they had no problem making me feel like they knew what was best for my baby… not me. By the time I’d dealt with latch issues, plugged milk ducts, mastitis, thrush, not to mention reflux and dairy allergies, my supply began to suffer and I threw in the towel at 3 months with the first, and 6 months with the second. I went on to breastfeed my third child for 12 months and fourth for 18 months, but again the journey was peppered with latch issues, thrush and sensitivities. I finally sought the help of a lactation consultant and with that support was able to accomplish my breastfeeding goals. But I was never comfortable breastfeeding in public. That kind of support was not there. Not with friends, not with family. So I was nervous about what other people would think of me, and if they would stare at me, or worse – if they would say something to me. As a result I just avoided the confrontation wherever possible. This of course meant arranging my schedule entirely around my babies.
As a birth photographer, I often document baby’s very first latch. And every time I do I think about what an accomplishment breastfeeding is for some women. Because of that (coupled my own former inhibitions), I’ve developed a passion for breastfeeding photography. I love preserving that beautiful and natural bond for mothers. Over the years I’ve seen that through exposure to these images it has become more “normal” in the public’s eye. More and more people leave supportive comments. And mothers come forward saying that they feel a stronger sense of community and support.
I started a public breastfeeding project on a whim in 2013, when it dawned on me that I could target specific situations where mothers felt uncomfortable nursing in public by photographing them in those situations. It was World Breastfeeding Week and I wanted to take advantage of the increased interest in breastfeeding to get my message out there. I ran a poll on my Facebook page asking “What is the one place you feel the most uncomfortable NIP (nursing in public)?” and used the answers to schedule my sessions. With about 10 moms in all, I set out to a local church, grocery store, the park, the pool, a mother’s workplace and restaurant. The response to the images was incredible. There were so many different conversations going and I was thrilled to have found a way to intersect my passion for photography with my desire to normalize breastfeeding, while reaching so many people.
In 2014 I decided I wanted to make a bigger impact. A global impact. I had seen public breastfeeding sessions pop up here and there from other photographers and a lightbulb went off. I wanted to join forces with other breastfeeding photographers from around the world and flood social media with our beautiful and yet very real images of mothers breastfeeding in real life. In my mind, each image seen would help break down these barriers breastfeeding mothers face. And so, with Margaret Mead’s encouragement in mind (“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has”), I gathered 50+ photographers together and forged a plan. That plan worked. It worked very well. At first I was discouraged because the reach of the images, on Facebook especially, was weak. And then as I reached out to several news sources our images began popping up everywhere – The Huffington Post, Redbook Magazine, The Stir on Cafemom, Best Daily, Parent Dish, and Babycenter to name a few.
I am amazed at what we accomplished in just 1 week. We touched so many different people. We generated conversations which are vital to our cause, whether for or against it. Because that’s how you come to terms with change. To hear words like “campaign” ,”movement” and “initiative” now be associated with what started as a photography project in invigorating. I hope to continue to inspire more moms to feel more confident breastfeeding in public rather than hiding in restrooms, or worse, at home. Both by showing that breastfeeding happens in real life and by supporting it when we turn our head in the grocery store and see it happening right in front of us. PBAP will continue to grow, because I’ve got an awesome team of photographers behind me, and because in front of us lies a world that has apparently been waiting, eagerly, for the stigma to be dropped.