The #Brelfie and #NormalizeBreastfeeding Movements are Doing Everything but Normalizing Breastfeeding

While I appreciate the cheers and congratulations from people in the park, I’m cool with nursing in public without the applause.
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Publish date:
June 22, 2015
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kids, breastfeeding, babies, social media, Brelfie

As a mother of two who has successfully breastfed one child for nine months and currently am in the throes of it again with my four-month-old, I was ecstatic when I saw pictures of women across the world breastfeeding. I silently cheered them on with each breastfeeding selfie posted--a #brelfie, if you will. With each jab or unfair treatment of breastfeeding moms, I felt even more convinced of the #brelfie and #normalizebreastfeeding movements.

However, that feeling was short-lived. Eventually, I tired of seeing women breastfeeding. When people started putting up Facebook profile pics with covering their heads and not their boobs, I eye-rolled. With that eye-roll, I started to wonder how these brelfies helped to establish breastfeeding as part of normal care-taking.

I recalled a time when I was at the park with my child. It was one of those large green spaces in the midst of a bustling downtown. Frisbees soared through the air against a backdrop of skyscrapers. Since it was a Saturday, children and adults of all ages filled the park. I made sure to feed my baby prior to leaving for the park and didn't bother to grab some pumped milk before leaving. I figured I could just nurse her at the park.

For me, I'm most comfortable when I wear my nursing cover, but I left it at home. My child's internal hunger alarm clock sounded and I knew I had to feed her quickly. I made my way to a park bench near some guys throwing a football and nursed away. It wasn't until someone stopped me to congratulate and cheer me on that all eyes seemed to dart onto me. Things quickly went from normal to strange.

Now, I don’t actually know if those guys were against me breastfeeding near them. When I sat down, I proceeded to unhook my nursing tank as discreetly as possible and feed my daughter. I know some of the guys took notice initially, but continued to play catch. However, there were some that did not notice -- until someone said something. Once all eyes were on me, I felt as though this person who innocently enough congratulated me had invaded my privacy.

Yes. The privacy, relative peace and ease to breastfeed in public had been shattered because someone had called attention to it.

Very few things posted on the Internet help normalize behaviors. If that were the case, we should rally against those posting pics of themselves doing the Kylie Jenner challenge, because ruining one’s lips could become normal behavior. If anything, most individuals tend to mock what’s posted on social media.

Since joining Instagram, I started documenting the food I prepare for my family. I absolutely love to take pictures of the meals I create which often come from new recipes I’ve dared to try. I convinced myself that photographing my meals will create this desire in me to cook more. I started to believe that I could #normalizecooking in my world.

That didn’t happen. I still struggle to cook daily and weekly for my family despite the pictures that show otherwise. And you know what? I get mocked! Just recently a friend of mine called out my husband and myself for posting pics of our food.

While my loose comparison is very loose, so is Jennifer Brenan’s notion that breastfeeding in public will become normal if we document it on social media. What’s even more damaging is her assertion that the "bressure" on those who bottle-feed isn’t real.

“Now I am hearing that bottle-feeding mothers feel that they are being shamed by all the brelfie posting. They have dubbed the pressure to breastfeed "bressure," and they are fighting back against the brelfie.

But, I have to ask: Why? Is anyone upset at seeing women take bottle-feeding pictures with their babies? No, I don't think so. And what about the pressure on breastfeeding women to conform to what society deems acceptable? We are handed formula as we leave the hospital and told to use covers and only breastfeed modestly. Please...”

In fact, Brenan’s inability to see the similarities in the bressure that both formula and breastfeeding moms experience further adds to the mommy-wars that tear women apart.

While Brenan notes that she was not encouraged to breastfeed even in the hospital, my experience was extremely different. With both of my children, I was determined to breastfeed, but with my first child, I did not realize how difficult it would be to get my son to latch. I had the luxury of delivering both of my children at what would now be deemed a semi family-centered or baby-centered hospital. I use the prefix “semi” because the hospital did have a nursery to which I could take my children. However, from day one I was encouraged by the nurses and lactation consultants to breastfeed.

It seemed like each time a lactation consultant came to visit, she was helping me correct my son’s latch, but after every visit I failed to nurse him. When we left the hospital, we left without formula and we were told to call the lactation consultant and come in for an eighty dollar visit if needed (I should note that insurance will reimburse, but the paperwork is ridiculous). My son didn’t eat. He lost weight. A lot of weight. His pediatrician finally said, “Give him some formula.” So, I did. He gained weight, he latched and within a week I was back to breastfeeding exclusively.

Rather than post brelfies, let’s work to normalize breastfeeding by starting a dialogue and stopping the shaming. In our moms groups, instead of touting one form of feeding as more superior than another, let’s make those groups places where women can feel comfortable feeding how they see fit.

And while I appreciate the cheers and congratulations from people in the park, I’m cool with nursing in public without the applause. However, what would help to normalize breastfeeding in my book is for someone to support me and stand up for me if and when someone acts as if my breastfeeding in public is offensive. Normalize breastfeeding and normalize all feeding.

Promo image credit: gabi menashe / Creative Commons