Glamorous Photos Don't Do Much To 'Normalize' Breastfeeding

by Valerie Williams
Image via Shutterstock

There’s a breastfeeding image making the rounds on Facebook of a mom tandem-feeding her twin toddlers. It’s yet another romanticized and glamorous depiction of nursing under the guise of “normalizing” it. It’s a noble goal but begs the question — what about these stylized photos is “normal” and how does it do anything to encourage other nursing moms to keep at it?

The photo is from Mama Bean Parenting, a blog that regularly features photos of nursing moms accompanied by their nursing stories. The mother, Marina, nursed her twins for two years and decided to commemorate it with a photo shoot:

Marina talks of her struggles with tongue ties and nursing strikes, noting that her husband supported her throughout her journey. That’s sweet, it really is. What’s off-putting is the notion that this image in any way encourages other moms or “normalizes” breastfeeding. She’s lying in a meadow, perfectly coiffed and posed, looking anything but real. This is not the image most moms have of themselves when it comes to nursing.

Nursing can be messy. Nursing can be difficult. It’s literally nothing like lying in a peaceful green with your eyes closed dreamily, lips pressed romantically to your partner’s face and placid babies strategically covering your nipples. In fact, this photo arguably does the exact opposite of normalizing breastfeeding. It makes it so pretty and glamorous, almost to an unattainable point. The image is styled in a way that would make a “real” mom feel inadequate or disgusting while performing the very act the photo is promoting. It’s nice to have a picture like this at home, but publicizing it and suggesting it’s something other moms should strive to achieve seems pointless, as this depiction is largely not achievable in life.

And while it’s understandable that this mom would want to celebrate her accomplishment, why is it somehow more worthy of being passed around the internet than photos of moms feeding their kids in a different way? Would a photo of a mom pumping at her desk, artfully posed and filtered, be considered quite so touching? What about a mom mixing a formula bottle and heating it up? Not so Instagram-worthy? Why is it only breastfeeding that gets the stylized and ethereal photo treatment?

Not to mention, it could be hurtful to see the amount of praise heaped on “real” moms who nurse, as the author of the blog calls them. Don’t “real” moms pump and formula feed too? Don’t “real” moms often nurse with their hair sticking straight up while wearing a tattered bathrobe with her older child begging for breakfast and cartoons? This isn’t “real” to me, and it’s nothing any mother should feel pressure to strive for.

We hear so much about breastfeeding “backlash,” but you could find thousands of photos like this on the internet. Not so many of mothers lovingly bottle-feeding their child or rushing to pump a few ounces on their lunch break. Can’t we all feed our children however we need to and not put one version on a pedestal? It would be lovely if we could just move on from this brand of mommy-shaming. It’s truly getting old.