Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project
I have 4 children, ages 8 to 15. I breastfed them all, but it was a process! Breastfeeding was very important to me, but it did not come easy. My first 2 babies were premature, and that presented some unique challenges which resulted in my throwing in the towel by about 6 months. I went on to breastfeed my third child for 12 months and fourth for 18 months, but I wasn’t comfortable breastfeeding in public, ever. I was nervous about what other people would think of me, and if they would stare at me, or worse – if they would say something to me. So I just avoided the confrontation wherever possible.
Austin, TX (where I live) is considered a mother friendly city, and TX law protects the public breastfeeding mother. Billboards are popping up all over, commercials can be seen on TV and heard on the radio supporting breastfeeding mothers. But 40% of mothers listed breastfeeding in public as their top worry about breastfeeding in the Lansinoh 2012 breastfeeding study. So I know now that those fears I had are not uncommon.
About 75% of mothers initiate breastfeeding, which is recommended by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) for 6 months then with foods for a year. The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends breastfeeding until 2 years, because of decreased risk for obesity, diabetes, and more. But how can mothers meet these recommendations if they don’t feel supported enough to breastfeed their babies outside of their homes or on demand?
As a birth photographer, I am capturing mamas breastfeeding journeys from the very tender beginning. And I’m remembering what an accomplishment it really is! Because of that coupled my own (previous) inhibitions, I’ve developed a passion for breastfeeding photography. I love preserving this beautiful and natural bond for mothers, and I’ve seen that through exposure, society becomes more accepting of it and it becomes more “normal” in their eyes. Not only that, but other mothers see the images and feel a stronger sense of community and support.
I started a public breastfeeding project on a whim last year, when it dawned on me that I could target specific situations where mothers felt uncomfortable nursing in public by photographing them in those situations. It was World Breastfeeding Week when I thought of it, and because I wanted to share the images during that week, I had to work fast to pull it all together. I ran a poll on my Facebook page asking “What is the one place you feel the most uncomfortable NIP (nursing in public)?” and the answers I received were church, grocery stores, the park, the pool, work, libraries and restaurants. I put out a model call and got to work right away.
The response was mostly positive. The majority of people seemed to support and even applaud the project, but the minority (who tend to troll these types of conversations anyway) were vocal as well. Their opinions ranged from – “use some discretion” to “stay out of sight”.
Moms, dads, grandmothers and photographers all chimed in. The moms seemed to find courage in the photos. A few of them even emailed me, thanking me for sharing the project. They walked away from the conversations about these images with more confidence, and feeling empowered enough to not place so much importance on their society’s misguided views about breasts. Photographers clearly loved the idea behind the project too, as they were commenting on the photos, asking questions and even sharing the images on their pages. Then I began noticing similar sessions pop up in my Facebook feed from photographers that I followed and it finally occurred to me to join forces and make this a worldwide effort.
This year I’ve managed to recruit at least 50 photographers to participate in the now called “Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project”. It will include locations all over the US as well as Ireland and Canada. And these photographers are doin’ work! They are getting attention from local news stations and newspapers. Here in Austin, I have already had a televised interview with Time Warner. I’ve also interviewed online with Cafemom and Light Inspired. I never imagined this would grow as quickly as it has or in such a short period of time. Many of my photographers are or have been breastfeeding mothers themselves. So it’s not just about the pictures, but also about an issue that resonates with us all personally.
I felt inspired to make a few personal changes to my project this year. I chose some different venues of course (see below – Genuine Joe’s Coffeehouse, Terra Toys to name a few). But I also wanted the sessions to feel more inclusive. I’ve tried to showcase a variety of cultures, backgrounds and ages of babies/children who breastfeed. I’ve contacted working mothers who pump on the job, stay at home moms who pump and donate their extra milk to milk banks, as well as mothers who’s only choices are to bottle feed, cup feed or tube-feed their breastmilk to their babies. All of these mamas are essentially breastfeeding, and yet they don’t always feel like they have a place IN the breastfeeding community.
Because breastfeeding can be a challenge and because breastfeeding mamas do have so many hurdles to overcome, it’s a relationship worth celebrating. You may notice a mom in a wheelchair in the cityscape pictures. She was in a terrible car accident after she’d already signed up to both participate in my session and be a photographer herself. Her breasfteeding relationship was cut short due to complications from the accident and she told me she didn’t think she was a good fit for the project anymore. I told her to come anyway, if anything to honor the dedication she had to breastfeeding her 21 month old.
It’s been amazing to watch this project grow. To hear the words “campaign” and “movement” be associated with it. To hear and read my name in newspapers from across the US and in other countries. And to see so many mamas come together and break down these barriers TOGETHER! I hope this project continues to encourage a greater sense of community among women. Because you know what, sometimes we just stand in our own way!
Be sure to visit my Facebook business page during World Breastfeeding Week August 1-7, when all participating photographers will be sharing links to their pages and blogs showcasing their images. I encourage you to visit as many of them as possible and then SHARE the images you love on your Facebook pages and walls, twitter feeds and on Pinterest. We’ve come up with a few hashtags we’d like associated with our pictures, and they are: #PBAP2014 (this is the acronym for Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project), #worldbreastfeedingweek, #supportpublicbreastfeeding, #breastfeedinginreallife, #breastfeedingisbeautiful, and #thisisnormal.
THANK YOU for your support and enjoy a few sneak peeks of what’s to come Aug. 1-7!!!