The Other Reason We Need To See More Depictions Of What Breastfeeding Is Really Like

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
FatCamera/Getty/Scary Mommy

By now, we’ve all heard about, and probably watched, the Frida ad that aired during the Golden Globes. For me, the ad offered the first truly realistic visual depiction of breastfeeding I have ever seen. With my first baby, I went through everything the ad depicted — I too begged my baby to latch on. I too nearly screamed in pain when the latch wasn’t right and breaking the suction was like needles stabbing my already sore nipples. My breasts didn’t produce enough no matter how many of the lactation consultant’s tips I followed. I too had clogged milk ducts that I massaged out under a stream of hot water. I was exhausted almost to the point of hallucinating; I heard voices in the sound of my breast pump.

There were beautiful moments too, and I’d do it all again just to have those moments. But I have always been frustrated by the lack of honesty about and acknowledgment of how difficult breastfeeding can be for some people. I still get my hackles up when someone tries to troubleshoot my breastfeeding difficulties from 14 years ago as if retroactive hypothesizing about the things I may have done wrong isn’t a form of shaming. I did literally everything I was told. Shut up.

So the Frida ad made me feel validated in a way I’d never felt before. I cried watching it.

And I thought that was the point — for me and for people like me who struggled with breastfeeding to feel validated. To feel seen.

But then as I was scrolling through the comment section on the YouTube version of the Frida ad, one stopped me in my tracks. A man had commented on the video that he “really wasn’t aware of all that.” He thanked Frida for sharing the ad.

I sincerely doubt this ad was made with this random YouTube commenter dude in mind. The ad was made for, and targeted at, women. After all, that’s the demographic for whom their products are meant. But this man saw the ad anyway, and he learned something he almost certainly otherwise wouldn’t have had it not been for the ad.

He learned that women are fucking badass.

This was a huge lightbulb moment for me.

This is why we need to normalize ALL of the functions of bodies that give birth — women’s bodies, nonbinary people’s bodies, trans men’s bodies. These bodies are incredible. The work they do is nothing short of heroic. It is miraculous.

And men need to know. They need to really see it, in all its unfiltered glory. Way before they get married and start thinking about becoming parents, or even if they never plan to have children, they need to know what female bodies can do.

Normalizing periods, pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding is about more than affirming and validating the incredible sacrifices women make. Men need to develop a real, concrete appreciation for what women endure and how strong they really are. The pain, the lack of sleep, the mental health struggles, the feeling that her body isn’t hers anymore, the expectation-shattering psychological adjustment that comes with sacrificing your whole, entire self. Men need to see all of this. It needs to be normal to acknowledge these things.

Husbands, this is why she doesn’t want to be touched. New fathers, this is why you need to get up in the middle of the night with your partner. This is why you need to go above and beyond as a partner and put your wives first during these times. Too many men go into marriage and fatherhood with zero idea of what to expect or how to support their wives through this tumultuous, miraculous time. I realize I’m speaking mostly to cis-het relationship dynamics here — that’s because, in terms of couples, that’s where the ignorance persists the most and causes women to feel the most alone and unsupported.

And yet it’s so important to show this reality to everyone, not just expectant parents. A whole lot of men haven’t yet had the privilege to witness a woman’s strength and are walking around out there thinking they’re the strong ones. Please.

For millennia, we’ve hidden the birth process under a veil as if there is something shameful about it. We pretend it’s too much or too hard to talk about. We’ve buried the extraordinary strength of women under the notion that childbirth is inappropriate to discuss, and because of that, a huge percentage of the population have no idea how intensely difficult birthing and breastfeeding really are, and by extension and perhaps more relevant: no idea how strong women are.

It’s almost as if this was intentional.

Many husbands put pressure on their wives to breastfeed because they misinterpret their wives’ struggle as an aberration. Other women do this with no trouble, so why can’t you? They’re baffled, or even annoyed, at their wives’ exhaustion because they’re asleep during the multiple nighttime feedings. They expect sex, even nag their wives about it, because they can’t comprehend the massive bodily upheaval their partner has just endured. It’s too new to them, too foreign of an idea, no one told them to anticipate this. Or, on the flip side, they see their wives struggling and want to help, want to be supportive, but they don’t know how because they simply were not prepared.

We need to normalize this normal part of being human. The Frida ad was a start, but we need many, many more realistic depictions of all the experiences of female bodies. We need more men like the YouTube commenter to have lightbulb moments — actually, you know what? These kinds of “lightbulb moments” shouldn’t exist. Birth and breastfeeding should be so out in the open, so easily discussed, that it’s inherent in our cultural understanding that women are capable of some serious badass shit. Women are strong as fuck. This should be widely acknowledged. It sure as hell is not something that should ever come as a surprise to anyone.

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