Lactivism, ‘brelfies’ and ‘bressure’
Today on the blog I am happy to welcome my friend George. She’s not a blogger, in fact she is a blogging virgin and this is first post, so we shall have to be kind. A self-confessed lactivist with a passion for breast-feeding. She still feeds her 4 year old son and 18 month old daughter – sometimes at the same time. A braver woman than me! But certainly a great achievement. She wanted to get off her chest the current media obsession with ‘brelfies’ and ‘bressure’. So here are her thoughts on the occasionally emotive subject.
I’m thrilled to be writing a guest post for Laura. For my first foray into blog writing, I thought I would start with something uncontroversial. Anyone who know me, knows that I am the shy, retiring type who doesn’t like to rock the boat! I will start with a quick introduction so that you know where I am coming from. I am George, I am unapologetically a blue-haired hippy. I am a full time mummy to 2 little bundles of energy, laughter and insanity. Sausage will be 4 this month and Sweetpea is pushing 2. I breastfeed, baby wear and try my best to be a gentle parent. I am also a breastfeeding supporter.
So, ‘lactivism’, ‘brelfie’ and ‘bressure’. Three very emotive, controversial words that divide opinion, women and mothers.
The current media storm began about 6 weeks ago when someone coined the phrase ‘brelfie’ (breastfeeding selfie) and it hit the headlines. According to some, taking a photo of yourself feeding is ‘exhibitionism’, ‘using your child as a commodity’, ‘making a political statement’, ‘immodest’, ‘unnecessary’, ‘making non breastfeeding mothers feel guilty’. I have taken such pictures. I have even posted them on my Facebook page. I have had a day photo-journaled for the we do it in public photo project. It probably won’t surprise you to hear then, that my response to all of these statements is – what rot! Wait, wait, please hear me out before you click that little cross. Let me explain.
I hate the phrase ‘brelfie’ and the reason for this is that I don’t see myself as taking a BREASTFEEDING selfie. Breastfeeding is not the reason I have taken the picture. When I take a picture of my children, whatever they are doing, it is because I want to remember that moment. It may be Sausage wearing one of his quirky outfits, or Sweetpea being caught red handed at something. It might be a touching moment or something that has made me laugh til I cried (or worse). I have some amazing pictures of my children and in some of those they happen to be breastfeeding. I can call to mind some that I particularly love. I have one of my son at 14 months gazing at me from behind a breast while I kiss his little fingers. Another of the first time I fed both of them together, the day after Sweetpea was born. His little hand reaching out to stroke his tiny sister’s hair melted my heart. So when I say it is rot, what I mean is that for me, and every other mum I have spoken to who has taken these pictures, there is no agenda. We are not trying to push breastfeeding into people’s faces and there is no political statement. Nobody questions the motive in a photo of a baby with a bottle in its mouth, yet I would imagine it is the same. Someone thought it was cute or funny or heartwarming. I don’t believe it is immodest as the whole reason breasts exist is to feed babies (but that is a whole separate discussion point). As for exhibitionism, I feed my babies when they need to be fed. I don’t hide under a blanket but I don’t wave my breasts about either. I just get on with it. To me it is not a statement but a necessity of providing for my children. It saddens me how many women are scared to feed their child wherever is necessary, for fear of recrimination. I watch women hiding under volumous nursing covers, struggling to comfortably latch a squirming nurseling and wonder whose benefit the cover is for.
The last point about brelfies feeds into the newest word in the media. Bressure. The press has been full of it this week, with accusations being hurled at breastfeeding mothers that the very act of them feeding their child is causing guilt and pressure to those who can’t or choose not to. A horrible word for a horrible divide between mothers. Parenting is damn hard and of all of the aspects of parenting, the most emotive seems to be feeding babies. If at this point you are thinking ‘it’s ok for this smug so-and-so, she has fed 2 babies so how can she ever understand’ I wouldn’t blame you. But I do understand. Yes I fed 2 babies and am still feeding them both, but it did not come easy. When Sausage was born he did not latch, could not latch. His tongue tie was so restrictive that there was no way. I pumped every 3 hours around the clock. I offered the breast, he screamed, he squirmed away. I cried. He cried. My husband cried. We sat on the bed crying together. I bottle fed him, with expressed milk. My judgement of myself for giving a bottle was so strong that I perceived that everyone was judging me. I wanted to wave the bottle and shout ‘it IS breast milk!’ Worse yet, if I had run out of expressed milk, despite the incessant pumping, I gave formula and felt like a failure. It took 3 months, 2 tongue tie ligations and a transition through breast shields before he was feeding from a breast. Sweetpea was also tongue tied and although I was informed and pushy it still took time to sort. I still had excruciating pain when she latched. The point I am making is that I haven’t had it easy. I know how hard it is. I know that there is not enough support, I know that there is not enough information, I know that in our society breastfeeding is hard. I also know now that any judgement I felt as I bottle fed came from within.
I am saddened that some women feel condemned by another woman’s joy at her own success. I am a wheelchair user and every time I go on Facebook I see yet another photo of an able bodied person standing, walking or even dancing! I mean, could they flaunt it any more? My very good friend has made a couple of incredibly dedicated attempts at Movember, yet try as he might, by the end of the month it would be generous to say that he looked like he forgot to shave that morning! I’m pretty sure that despite his failure to grow facial hair, he does not feel that my very beardy husband is bragging when he posts a picture of himself. Basically, what I am saying is that I believe that this guilt and pressure is not coming from breastfeeding mothers or their photos, but that any implied condemnation is a media creation in order to make ‘news’. I don’t think women should have to hide away the fact that they breastfeed for fear of offending or upsetting someone who does not.
These are my own thoughts on brelfies and bressure. As the title promised lactivism too, I will touch on it briefly. I am a lactivist. I am proud to be a lactivist. I am passionate about breastfeeding. I get excited about the amazing things that breastfeeding can give a baby, from reactive antibodies to age appropriate nutrients. But I do not PUSH breastfeeding. I have no agenda to badger every mother into breastfeeding. What I am passionate for is that every mother makes a feeding choice based on real information and facts, not lies and advertising. I am passionate to give support to women who are struggling to breastfeed. I am passionate to normalise breastfeeding so that it is no longer a topic of debate, a contentious issue or a blog title! I would love for it to be so normal that it wasn’t even really noticed. Yes, I love to see a breastfed baby. It makes me smile. But I know that it is pointless to preach ‘breast is best’. We have all heard it but until women are truly informed, empowered and supported by our society, then things will not change.
Thanks George for the great blog post. What does everyone else think on the subject? I am pro-breastfeeding myself, completely agree with George that there is not enough support for new mothers out there. I utterly struggled with feeding both my children for very different reasons. My thoughts on breastfeeding are probably enough for a whole new blog post in itself. But I do also believe parents have to do what is right for them and their families too.