I’ll cut to the chase right now: the answer is both yes and (sometimes) no.
It’s been said that breastfeeding is an art. The art of photography highlights the importance of this honest statement about breastfeeding.
Here we begin to view it as the beautiful, innocent, inherently harmonious and peace-giving activity it is (if we don’t do so already). And we notice it’s more than an activity, really. It’s a relationship.
In this way breastfeeding photos (and other art forms) reflect the many nuances involved in the relationship between a mother and her nursling. One that can’t be negated even when a mermaid costume, computer-generated rainbow, endless fields of lavender, or fog machines help set a more surrealistic scene (I know you’re curious, so just go ahead and Google those already!).
The subject matter is the same regardless of the brand of camera that captured it, or whether natural or artificial lighting was used. What we’re looking at is simply breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding photos are always candid and improvised even if attempts are made to pose. If you watch a breastfeeding photo shoot happen firsthand, you’ll understand the only one directing the scene is the nursling!
Were we breastfeeding in this field? Yes, we really were. No dummies were used in the making of this photoshoot!
Was my toddler actually in the mood to nurse? Yes, because no one can force a nursling to latch if they don’t want to.
Did he actually sit as still as the pictures make it seem? Did I really feel as relaxed and content as I appear?
Yes, for the most part — yes! This is breastfeeding!
The sun was setting behind us, we had an amazing source of natural light, my earthy baby was happy to be outside in the fresh air, I was wearing white cotton so I didn’t worry too much about my diaper-free child possibly peeing on me.
I was very tired when we showed up for the shoot, but the joy in my smile is real. The inability to resist smelling my baby and touching my lips to the soft little hairs on his head? Real.
A few times I’ve heard the opinion that showing breastfeeding in this light reinforces unrealistic standards for new and expecting mothers who plan to breastfeed. I understand the concern, but I disagree that displaying this kind of breastfeeding portrait is detrimental.
I don’t agree that it contributes to false expectations (for that, we can thank the misinformation about how breastfeeding works, deeply embedded in our culture) or that it frames breastfeeding mothers as living in a kind of self-indulgent fantasy land.
I don’t believe it promotes the idea that breastfeeding is a perfect system, is effortless, or that a heavenly glow illuminates a halo over a woman’s body every time she brings a baby to her breast (not visibly, anyhow!).
No, in elegant photos like these I don’t bear some of the telltale marks of early motherhood: knotted hair, peanut butter under my nails, recycled clothes…
These are surface things that can be erased. What’s left is that other telltale sign: a baby attached to his mama, head to heart.
There is no agenda in depicting breastfeeding with sophistication or, in some cases, high glamour.
Photos with purposefully refined aesthetic help us to accept breastfeeding for its primary purpose of nourishing both the mother and her baby as they transition into truly knowing each other. We believe what we see with our eyes and when we see a positive or emotion-evoking portrayal of breastfeeding, we’re more likely to accept it as a wonderful thing. (For those who are thinking “But we already know this…,” the truth is many still don’t).
Any art history museum in the world will easily prove breastfeeding has always been a popular topic for beautiful portraits. And breastfeeding has kind of been around a while.
I don’t always breastfeed in a meadow wearing crisp white with a peaceful little soul in my lap and a photographer expertly capturing flattering angles for time immemorial.
But when I do, it looks like this.
This isn’t always breastfeeding, though.
It’s a journey, it’s transformative, it really does change depending on our moods, baby’s age, location, availability of seating, presence or lack of supporting individuals. It’s even affected by our choice in clothing (Fun story: I forgot our intended photoshoot outfits at home and ended up in my white / his fabric-free combo as pictured).
So sometimes (or often) breastfeeding is messy, aggravating, contained in a dark bedroom or a lonely couch, barely held together by a leaky pump flange or a damp nursing bra that wore down its seams long before the nursling’s first birthday.
If breastfeeding had eyes, you could say breastfeeding has seen it all. So bring on the special effects or keep it au naturale like a mother-made picnic in the grass — either way, breastfeeding is still keeping it real.
One more thing: Please, take breastfeeding photos! I can’t emphasize this enough.
Start with the first latch. Take photos of yourself working hard with a double-pump, if that’s part of your reality. Get photos of nursing your baby to sleep, of your first time nursing in public, of any breastfeeding milestone that’s important to you. Your primary breastfeeding supporter can help you with this.
Even when (perhaps especially when) a mother has experienced infant feeding challenges, a beautiful breastfeeding portrait session can affirm the great value in her efforts. It’s one special way to commemorate the giant new heart she grew through feeding her baby.
Get a variety of everyday nursing photos. Don’t forget the ones in which you feel like a hot mess and the background is drowning in mismatched baby socks and stray Legos.
It may seem pointless in the moment, but I promise one day your mind will jog back to these blurry, quick-moving days when you established mutual affection, love and trust with a person you’ll watch grow for the rest of your life, and you’ll wish you’d paused to take more pictures (or let others take pictures of you with your baby).
Then get dressed up in something that makes you feel beautiful and formidable. Go out to a pretty place in nature at sunset or sunrise or stand under a rainbow after the clouds part or walk out hip-deep into a lake with your baby. Grab a friend or hire a professional photographer to follow you.
Enjoy this moment because it’s really happening — you’re having a truly magical breastfeeding moment. Now all that hard work was worth it, huh?
All photos credited to Houston-based Tender Nest Portraits. See more photos from this shoot as part of the Latched series here.