A picture has gone viral this week after a mom, Marina, celebrated the 2nd anniversary of nursing her twins with a family photo. It is a family photo of her twin boys nursing, while she leans in to kiss her husband as the whole family embraces.
The photo was shared by Mama Bean to Facebook and then HuffPo with the headline “The Breastfeeding Photo Every Dad Needs to See.”
Well, then. As a dad who had a wife try to breastfeed two boys, I didn’t think there was any photo I ‘needed’ to see. I’d seen it all, frankly, as any dad has. But the headline.
There’s a couple of things wrong with that demanding text: 1) we dont need breastfeeding photos 2) “every dad” doesn’t need to see you breastfeeding.
The author argues that it’s an image of support and “every dad needs to see” this so they are encouraged to support their breastfeeding spouse. So the headline, instead of celebrating breastfeeding as a completely natural part of life, swings wildly to shaming dads as if we are somehow unsupportive from the start.
“Moms don’t always breastfeed and it’s DADS’ fault. So here, look at this picture of a mom breastfeeding twins while simultaneously seducing her husband. Be supportive!!”
Is that what this image is trying to say?
I don’t see a woman breastfeeding here, as a dad who was asked to look at an image I didn’t really need to see, I see a mom feeding her boys AND somewhat seducing her husband at the same time. This specific scene plays right into the argument critics have about breastfeeding. They sexualize the breast, and this mom goes along for the ride.
Critics of breastfeeding imagery have a hard time delineating between erotica and functionality. Many parts of our bodies are both sexy in appearance and very unsexy in their actual use. Breasts would be on that list. Breastfeeding isnt sexy, it’s natural. It’s healthy. It’s normal.
But not in this image that we are told “every dad needs to see.” This image has a husband snuggling his wife, a wife sensually leaning in to kiss him .. while the boys feed. The incongruent juxtaposition of the image is baffling.
Look at the cropped version that appears when you share the headline on Facebook:
Then look at the whole image.
The top and bottom don’t present the same theme.
If you want to encourage people to breastfeed, you need to stop being so militant about it. You need to increase education. You need to explain how affordable it is. You need to encourage moms who struggle to keep at it. You need to perhaps offer tax deductions for pumping equipment.
You need to make it normal, and boring.
Attitudes change when we normalize something. Listen to this episode of The Age Of Persuasion by Terry O’Reilly called Rethink the Shark. I cite it often when I talk about how we change societal attitudes from stereotypes of doofus dads to embracing involved dads. When something is omnipresent it is normalized and becomes accepted as a part of mainstream culture. When this happens, the fight for equality is almost won.
Remember the breastfeeding mom Time Magazine cover of a few years ago? The one blasting Are You Mom Enough while Jamie-Lynn Grumet nursed her nearly 4 yr old standing on a stool?
That didn’t do anything to advance the movement. It set it back. It pointed out everything people think is ‘weird’ about breastfeeding and put it on newsstands. A 4 yr old standing on a stool?
And now, in this “every dad must see” image, a mom nursing while kissing her husband puts things back again. This isn’t normalizing, this is celebrating the parts of breastfeeding that the critics cling to.
When you take pictures of your ‘working boobs’ and plaster them all over the internet saying “HEY LOOK AT THIS!!!”, you’re not normalizing the behaviour. When you create an image that simultaneously celebrates breastfeeding and sexualizes a couple’s relationship, you’re not silencing the critics. These behaviours give the critics ammunition and stigmatize the moms who can’t breastfeed.
“How about, unless you have breasts you shut up?!,” I was told for criticizing the image. Well, I do have breasts, and I have kids, and I have watched my wife pump for 6 months each with two boys after struggling to breastfeed and not have her ‘working boobs’ work. So I’m not going to shut up.
To say that seductively embracing your wife while she breastfeeds is the only way a dad can support his spouse is to miss the struggle so many parents face when trying to do something “as simple” as breastfeeding their infants.
“My wife struggled desperately to breastfeed all three of our children. We saw lactation consultants, we went to La Leche League, she worked so hard and cried many tears and, despite it all still pumped like a champ,” Michael Bryant chimed in, agreeing with my situation. “So when you have seen the pain in your wife’s eyes that come from other women shaming her and people on Facebook insisting that breastfeeding is always peaceful and beautiful you get the right to take up for her and call bullcrap on pictures like this.”
That’s some spousal support right there. THAT is the comment every dad needs to see about breastfeeding, and it’s the emotion every mom needs to feel from her spouse when she struggles.
Ignore the photo and the headline for a moment, and read Marina’s words that accompanied her submission to the site.
“After struggling with low supply, tongue ties and several nursing strikes, I would not have been able to make it that long without the amazingly loving support of my husband.”
We don’t need to see the photo, we need to hear the words of encouragement. We need to read that support is vital in succeeding. Parenting is a team sport, and Marina and her husband and her family absolutely prove it.
Even something as natural as breastfeeding needs support to make happen, not more photos.
Breastfeeding pics are played out, frankly. Yay, your boobs work! Is that really social media important and something “every dad needs to see?” No. Nobody “needs” to see you breastfeed and nobody certainly “needs” to see you breastfeed while kissing your husband. Ever.