The social media movement Free the Nipple wasn’t a thing back when I was breastfeeding my son, Isaac. That was part of the reason I didn’t post a Facebook selfie of my early nursing days, which was nearly nine years ago now. The other reason was that my own “brelfie” was something I was ashamed of: My face and hands were swollen and puffy from the intravenous used during my emergency C-section, I had stringy hair because I hadn’t been given the OK to shower yet and, most of all, my breasts were (to me) frighteningly engorged. An A-cup for most my life, I didn’t know what to make of the blue-veined F-cup jugs that dwarfed my newborn son’s head. In fact, my son didn’t know what to make of them either. In the end, nursing was too painful and frustrating that I actually gave up shortly after coming home from the hospital, opting to pump until Isaac was four months old.
While that “brelfie” never has seen the light of day—and never will—I’m still glad I captured that moment, plus all the other pictures of Isaac bottle-feeding (because if you’ve ever pumped, you know it’s no picnic either).
That hideous photo of Isaac breastfeeding is the reason I hired a professional photographer to take a few pictures of me nursing my now-five-year-old Gillian when she was a toddler. My breastfeeding journey with her was much easier, and I wanted to be able to have a keepsake of that special time together. I have an enlargement of the photo of me breastfeeding Gillian in her bedroom, and it’s one of my daughter’s favourite photos.
Of course, in reality, breastfeeding photos range from poorly lit selfies to gauzy professional photos. Recently, Australian photographer Suzie Blake struck the perfect balance between what breastfeeding looks like in reality and how it’s portrayed in celebrity glamour shots. Her Tumblr account, What Does Breastfeeding Look Like?, documents women who, like Blake, feel there needs to be more than just picture-perfect breastfeeding images on the Internet.
“In the media, most photos are highly stylized and unrealistic,” writes Blake. “Many are sheer fantasy. Whether it be the angelic mother in clinical white perfection or some model on the front of a fashion magazine, I’m tired of images that fail to show the realities of breastfeeding. This is about tired eyes and no makeup. This is about milk leaks and ratty hair. This is about giving in to all the demands of your two-year-old while you try to feed your newborn.”
Wanting to capture breastfeeding in “all its beautiful messiness,” Blake kicked off the initiative with a self-portrait in which she was nursing her six-month-old son, Xavier. Ironically, in the photo, her son stopped nursing and is looking at the camera (and if you’ve ever had a baby pop off your breast, you know it can get messy). The feedback was so positive, and Blake was inundated with requests from other women who wanted to take part in the project. The Tumblr account has since gone viral.
With Blake behind the lens, those half-drunk cups of coffee, untidy living rooms, nursing pillows and, yes, tired eyes are even more beautiful than a perfectly lit supermodel spread. But in my opinion, what makes Blake’s breastfeeding photographs so special is that they normalize breastfeeding and show moms that we’re all in this together—engorged breasts and all.