Brelfies Aren’t TMI — They Celebrate a Power Exclusive to “Mom Bods”

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Have you shared a “brelfie” (breastfeeding selfie) lately? A brelfie is a good thing, and here’s why.

We absolutely need to see positive, educational breastfeeding images on social media and to encounter these maternal norms on a daily basis. Women learn how to breastfeed by example and observation, as is the natural design, rather than by instinctual expertise. For a new mother, breastfeeding is like using a muscle she’s never used before — NOT like picking up an exercise routine with the blessing of muscle memory (even with breastfeeding experience, she still must learn afresh how to breastfeed each new child).

Not everyone is on board with this, however. If breastfeeding mothers aren’t sharing their “brelfies” and nursing portraits, apparently disapproving strangers will just sneak pictures of them anyway, like in the recent harassment case at TGI Friday’s (one of many similar). The Today Show hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb opined about breastfeeding’s appropriateness on the May 21st segment of “OK! Or Not OK!” Gifford and Kotb’s comments:

“Kathie Lee: “There are two types of people, Hoda; those who feel the need to share their most precious moments… and those who’d like to keep it private like I prefer… but God bless us all.”

Hoda: “I say breastfeeding is beautiful and natural… but sharing it on social media? TMI… And that stands for Too Much Information.”

In light of Gifford and Hoda’s public broadcast, breastfeeding advocates circulated a Change.org response petition called Stop Shaming and Censoring Breastfeeding Moms (it’s waiting on YOU to sign it, please and thank you 🙂 ).

Now here’s why I’m personally ruffled by the public branding of breastfeeding photos as “TMI.”

24 year-old Jacci Sharkey posted this picture of her and her daughter breastfeeding during graduation. It caused enormous controversy and even inspired racist comments.

I Shouldn’t Have To Worry About This…

“Is this particular photo exposing ‘too much’ skin?”

…when the limit of my concern should be:

“Is this particular photo overexposed?”

Or worry about this:

“Will someone think I’m using this photo-op as an excuse to show off my body?”

..when I should be thinking:

“What a perfect photo-op to show off my baby!”

I shouldn’t have to worry:

“Will I, God forbid, offend or embarrass someone whose opinion matters to me?”

…when I should be wondering:

“Will I, God willing, inspire or motivate someone close to me?”

This shouldn’t be normal:

“Will someone think I’m weird and obsessed with breastfeeding?”

…when it makes sense for the non-breastfeeding populace to become quite interested in this inborn infantile need themselves.

Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardo posts a selfie of Wanda Nara breastfeeding in the delivery room

I Breastfed ALL DAY For The First Few Months

No exaggeration. It was a milky blur.

Cluster feeding is a function of normal development for a young baby. Constant, responsive nursing on demand in the first weeks and months is what establishes long-term milk production, making it easier to provide enough milk for the rest of the breastfeeding journey. It’s hard, tiring, normal and as necessary as keeping a baby dry and warm, taking him out for fresh air and sunshine, allowing plenty of skin-to-skin contact, and other known needs.

For a few months, all a baby (seemingly) does is breastfeed, poop, and sleep. In that time, all a new mother does is breastfeed, clean up poop, and wish she could sleep. Whoever demands visual updates of a new mother friend’s life should keep in mind the reality. Would they prefer pictures of diaper explosions, or will the nursing selfies suit just fine?

For a long time, it seemed all I did was breastfeed. I was incredibly successful at it, but also terribly alone in it. I ask that you explore this idea: What is the time-bomb threat in allowing mothers to reach out through their pictures that act as mosaics of joy, pride, loneliness, perhaps disappointment, and the thousand more words that each is worth?

The epidemic of oppressed motherhood is charged by the notion that mothers don’t have needs of their own. The need for acknowledgement, appreciation, support, and — dare I get too selfish — celebration of the things a mother does for her family — like growing, carrying and birthing her babies, breastfeeding and nourishing them, all while her own life has been turned upside down and she must navigate it in a totally foreign (and powerful) postpartum body, after spending nine months in an ever-changing, totally foreign (and powerful) pregnant body.

Postpartum isolation, depression, and anxiety are very real, common, widespread and passed over in the category of serious societal concerns. There’s no justice or benefit in making mothers feel like infant feeding, which encompasses a large area of their waking and sleeping lives, should be hidden.

Must a breastfeeding mother hide at home with her baby just because our society paints babies as opportunistic manipulators and new mothers as an embarrassment to the ideal of sexy-womanhood (let’s not forget what got them pregnant) or anti-breeder feminism? Must she downplay the fact that she feeds her children with parts of her body that are (in the context of their primary function) wholly appropriate, non-provocative, self-responsible and ideal?

Must she, really.

Liverpool moms protest Facebook photo-sharing policies online with their breastfeeding pictures. Via Facebook

We Should Feel Honored That Mothers Share Special Breastfeeding Photos With Us

I don’t want a pat on the back for breastfeeding (but… I kinda do).

Meeting my breastfeeding goals, or at least being able to satisfy many of my baby’s needs at my breast, have been great accomplishments like any other. For our family, breastfeeding usually brings peace to the crazy times. It’s a reliable comfort when he feels unsure about our surroundings. It’s a bear hug or a tissue to blot the tears. It’s like sharing an ice cream cone with one of your favorite people (very few of whom hold such a special place in your heart).

So yes, it deserves a Kodak moment accreditation.

We’re expected to share our pregnancy photos (“Let me see that BUMP!”) lest we get seen as selfish or shy (“We just want to share in your JOY!”). We’re also encouraged to share our postpartum weight loss before and after pictures, too. One could argue that these are intimate and personal instances. But as soon as the same mother posts a photo of her baby nursing, it’s out with the pitchforks and “TMI!”

Think of it as taking a selfie at the gym and Instagramming it with the caption: “Getting closer to my fitness goals!” Do you respond with “Good job!”, “Proud of you!”, “Keep up the good work!” — or “That’s TMI!”?

When my child breastfeeds, we’re not looking for challenge or confrontation. Sharing breastfeeding photos and stories is not anti-formula feeding, nor is it intended to shame those who never attempted to breastfeed or weren’t successful.

There’s an unlimited amount of happiness in the world; sharing the happiness contained in special breastfeeding moments between a mother and child can neither take away from the happiness of others, nor can it promote their misery.

Toronto mom’s Instagram account was shut down after posting a breastfeeding selfie. Via Tumblr.

What Would Your Mother Think?

One who considers breastfeeding “TMI” was likely not breastfed themselves, didn’t breastfeed their children, or has developed a spoiled view of familial attachment for whatever reason. I posit this with commiseration rather than assault of judgement.

Really, I have to ask, Brelfie Shamer: whether or not you were breastfed, what would your mother think of the shaming comments, especially out of your own mouth (or keyboard)? How about your daughter, if she decides to breastfeed one day? What role will it play for your son in the matter of breaking women down by their objectified parts?

Per the Change.org petition:

“The Today Show has shared the following in contrast to the content aired on this segment:

1. Approximately three hours after the airing of this segment, Alesandra Dubin of The Today Show published an article titled “Breastfeeding Model Covers a Major Magazine (And Readers Love It!)”. This article was shared on the Today Show’s social media (Facebook) page with the accompanying caption: “We gave birth, we are women, we are mothers.” This article offered praise for celebrities who choose to post photographs to social media. http://www.today.com/style/breastfeeding-mom-covers-magazine-t22341

2. On the April 1, 2015 airing of the Today Show, Kathie Lee and Hoda’s bodies were blurred out to give the appearance of nudity – which was accepted and approved by the Today Show Production Team. http://www.today.com/video/today/57193070

3. On February 7, 2014 airing of The Today Show, a segment was aired in which Hoda Kotb encouraged women to show some cleavage while out on a first date. http://www.today.com/popculture/hoda-women-who-are-dating-show-some-cleavage-2D12074568

What has The Today Show taught its audience?

1) Breastfeeding photos are only acceptable if the mother is a celebrity model; 2) the illusion of full nudity for no apparent or relevant reason is okay, but an insignificant bit of nudity for an important biological, family-friendly purpose is not okay; 3) women should purposefully expose more of their “sex breasts” to impress dates.

Thing is, breastfeeding is always modest. Yup. Always.

In my post “How to Nurse in Public – With Modesty!” I wrote:

“I feel that all aspects of mothering are inherently modest, therefore need no filter, censor, or sheath. But it seems everyone has their own mind made up about both of these M-words, mothering and modesty, as if at times one risks defying the other.”

NATALIA

Gorgeous breastfeeding portrait posted by model Natalia Vodianova on her Instagram account, which drew tons of admirers and support.

Let’s Stop Defending Ourselves With:

“Nothing Was Even Showing!”

“It’s not like you could see anything! Nothing was even showing!”

I hear it all the time  -– women defending themselves for breastfeeding in public. And what was the offensive target of display exactly? Cleavage? Areola? Nipple? In any case, so what if it was showing, especially for this purpose?

Is “but I turned away during latch-on out of respect for others” admittable evidence for the appropriateness of comforting a child? Why aren’t breastfed-upon breasts normal to see on one’s newsfeed, especially if it’s densely populated by new family updates of other kinds?

The amount of skin I see on a daily basis on social media (for many purposes — fashion, product promotion, exercise programs, plastic surgery marketing, art, you name it) is immeasurable. Let’s not pretend a swatch of female cleavage really deserves an opinion piece in the local newspaper, especially not when a baby is involved.

In our supposedly progressive and freedom-forward culture, the skin of a breast somewhat obscured by a baby’s head makes many people feel weird. Really — many Americans find the idea of breastfeeding to be “creepy” even at absurdly young ages, like when the child can’t even mumble “goo-goo ga-ga” or sit in a highchair without assistance.

A cultural and generational blockage prevents the American heart from feeling comfortable enough to even express its discomfit aloud. It suspects a rude awakening to its blissful ignorance. It seeps out through the keyboard on anonymity-promising social media and on profitable broadcasting like The Today Show.

It’s the people you probably wouldn’t expect who understand the importance of breastfeeding in child-mother bonding without applying inappropriate or sexual overtones. One teenage boy shared his encouraging thoughts on sharing breastfeeding photos in a post called “Food for Thought: Is Breast Feeding More Than Feeding a Baby?” after noticing the flack breastfeeding mother Alyssa Milano received online.

“Personally, I feel that too many people have had something to say about the photos. Milano has every right to share her motherhood, and any mother should not have to be subject to the judgment of others… I do not find anything uncomforting about [breastfeeding]. I think that a mother caring for her child is more important than what people may have to say about her being partially exposed. People should feel worse for a woman having to breastfeed in a dirty bathroom…”

Actress Alyssa Milano via Instagram

The American Heart Is Stubborn

Upon the sight of a proudly and strongly lactating breast, the prudish American heart beats loudly, “Hey, I didn’t ASK for all of that!”

Logically and innately, it understands there’s nothing wrong with “all of that.” All of that being a newborn mother continuing to give life to her newborn baby, they a pair with new eyes for the world, figuring each other out as each other’s chosen masterpiece now, like a living Renaissance painting. To them, this is precisely how it feels.

“Virgin of the Green Cushion” (also known as “Madonna of the Green Cushion”) by Andrea Solario

“Breastfeeding is great, but women need to have some dignity and cover up,” I’ve heard so mind-numbingly often.

The predisposition of Amercans to displaced prudishness on this issue is to be expected, but what does it say about our culture that breastfeeding mothers feel compelled to petition as a last resort to meet their children’s needs without fear of further social retribution? To need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they’re not doing anything obscene or damaging?

We breastfeeders aren’t buying into this stubborn American heart, though. Once we’ve been introduced to the “lactivist” movement, whether voluntarily or not, even for a splinter of time, it seems we can’t be turned otherwise.

We are ruthless and ready mothers now, after all. We have good reason worth its weight in a golden child to fight and defend our importance to children and the importance of their needs.

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I Share Breastfeeding Photos In Solidarity

I didn’t know any friends or family who were currently breastfeeding (or had ever, as far as I was aware) for at least my first year postpartum.

Still, somehow I got public nursing down to something better than science. Trial and error taught me how to prevent and treat mastitis and thrush. I trusted my son to not bite my nipple when he got feisty because I knew to draw the boundary before his conscious brain might question it. I also knew when he burst into a giggle-fit on the breast, he thought the little jokester had tricked me into continuing nursing even after he’d stopped drinking.

I knew all of this through stories and pictures shared online by other breastfeeding mothers I didn’t know in real life.

You see, sharing our breastfeeding pictures is how we encourage women to not only initiate breastfeeding, but to stick with it after the first three months (things get much easier once you get past the stage of milk production when supply seems to first scarily, suddenly vanish and then ultimately regulate). It’s how we become relatable examples for the upcoming breastfeeding generation. This is what breastfeeding mothers do for their daughters, and how they teach their sons about responsibilities of the non-breastfeeding partner.

It’s important to normalize this act of infant feeding (and toddler feeding) in front of diverse populations: prospective new parents, parents-to-be (“See, I’m going through the same things too”), children who will grow up having seen breastfeeding, and older generations who will benefit from updated education.

From my post “How to Nurse in Public – With Modesty!“:

“…I want my son to grow up seeing women feeding babies with their breasts, to know the power, sweetness, and beauty of it. I worry that if he sees enough women nursing under covers as the norm in his world, he’ll learn to view it as shameful, embarrassing, or inappropriate. I want him to grow up feeling comfortable with normal functions of the human body, and normal functions of a mother’s love.”

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TMI = Total Motherhood Inspiration

I’ve received many messages thanking me for sharing my breastfeeding photos. Some from mothers struggling with the feeling that they’re in this alone. Others from people who said they wished they’d breastfed, and if they’d actually seen it in an everyday format they’d have felt much more comfortable to do what they needed to do.

If you made it this far, I leave you with this: We know there’s nothing vain or selfish about breastfeeding, or sharing pictures of it. Breastfeeding is intimate, yes, a healthy interaction like that with a favorite family member. Cuddling and conspiring and canoodling like kids (and apparently their warm-bodied, loving mothers) do.

I wonder when the word “intimate” became so conclusively gritty, dirty, disposable — when did it become a bad word? In any case, history knows breastfeeding isn’t intimate like one’s own diary-writing activities. It’s not intimate like fiery embraces with one’s sexual partner. It’s not intimate like a prayer between a person and his or her God or angels.

It’s something equally, passionately as satisfying yet completely, incomparably different.

Now aren’t you curious to see?

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