I have been babysitting for as long as I can remember. I had watched dozens of babies by the time I got to college. But by the time I got pregnant with my first daughter I had only ever seen one person breastfeed, once. And it was not in public.
When you get pregnant everyone and their mother feels the urge to coach you on what to do. I remember being so annoyed with everyone asking if I was going to breastfeed. ‘NO. I AM NOT. I do not want to- the idea grosses me out. I was raised on formula and I am fine- my baby will be too. LEAVE ME ALONE!’
Ultimately I caved to the pressure and guilt and decided I would try to breastfeed my daughter. I did not like it. It made me immensely uncomfortable. We started formula at 6 weeks. I completely stopped nursing when she was just over three months old. And my daughter is now your typical sassy know it all almost 4 year old.
I start off with this because I want to make it abundantly clear that this IS NOT an attack on formula moms. Whether you‘re formula feeding because you couldn’t breastfeed, because breastfeeding simply seemed like more of a hassle than it is worth or anything in-between- who cares. As long as you’re not feeding your baby a bottle of bleach you win in my book. I’ve been in your shoes and I think the guilt that others (and your self!) place on you for how you feed your baby seriously needs to stop.
But what also needs to stop is society treating moms who do breastfeed as if they are... well… gross.
I started meeting other moms when my daughter was about 4 months old- after I had fully switched to formula. The moms I met were all still breastfeeding. All the time. We would get together and the babies were on the boobs. At first it made me really uncomfortable. I would be lying if I said I didn’t judge them. I thought the moms still feeding babies who could crawl around was inappropriate. But in time it became normal. Just another part of life.
When I really forced myself to think “why am I so uncomfortable with this?” my logic was actually quite simple- ‘my breasts are for sex‘. But the reality of breastfeeding isn’t sexual. In the beginning, the first words that come to mind are- pain and exhaustion. Thankfully you find a rhythm and the pain eventually fades. But it isn’t ever sexual. Even when I was breastfeeding my oldest daughter, I was never uncomfortable because I was having a sexual experience; I was uncomfortable because I had been conditioned to believe that breasts are for sex and sex alone. Although breastfeeding her didn‘t FEEL wrong - it just‘was’ wrong.
Two years later we became pregnant with our second daughter, and I actually wanted to breastfeed her.
When my second baby was a month old I had a birthday party for my oldest daughter at the beach. Halfway through the party my 4 week old decided she was hungry, as 4 week olds tend to do. I sat down, pulled out my breast and fed my baby. My mom, looking very uncomfortable, started to interrogate me. “You’re really going to just do that here? In front of everyone? Shouldn‘t you at least turn around?”
We were at the beach. There were women less then 100 feet away wearing thongs. Women showing far more of their breasts from their bikini tops then I was exposing while feeding my baby. I could count over 50 uncovered nipples from my chair, all men of course (because we all know female nipples are the only ones that contain any sensation or sexual association- and thus need to be hidden to stop God only knows what). Yet somehow I needed to hide while I fed my baby.
I decided in that moment that this whole “breastfeeding is gross” thing was completely ridiculous. And anyone who has seen me this past year can testify that I unapologetically nurse without a cover - always.
Seeing moms casually feeding their babies was far more influential than all the pamphlets and lectures thrown in my face about why I needed to breastfeed. The more I was exposed to it the more I realized that THIS IS NORMAL, this is what breasts are for. Breastfeeding is how we survived as a species for countless years before bottles. Thanks to the moms who fed their babies with complete transparency, I was able to develop an amazing nursing relationship with my daughter for the past 12 months (and shes had plenty of formula bottles within that time).
My hopes in joining the public breastfeeding awareness project, for these images, is simply for people to be exposed to breastfeeding; to realize there is nothing to hide. That hiding implies you are doing something wrong and that you should be ashamed - but you’re not and you shouldn’t.
It isn’t uncommon to hear nursing moms say something to the tune of ‘I’m covering because I don’t want to make this or that person uncomfortable’. But the reality is- the people who are uncomfortable with it- the people like me - are the ones who need to see it the most. Shine on momma!
And a HUGE thank you to the moms who allowed me to photograph them. Putting yourself out there in such a vulnerable way is not easy and I am so incredibly thankful that you all joined me this past week.
I have also been very fortunate to connect with a group of moms online who all had babies this past August. Moms from all around the world. All different ages- all walks of life. All different parenting styles. This group of women have been so very helpful in supporting me and opened my eyes to so many things. Because they are far I couldn't photograph them- but I wanted to include them. So in typical 2014 internet form #letmetakeaselfie..
To see more from the #PBAP2014 I send you to Sophia- an amazing photographer based in Miami. Three Plus Photography's blog on the project can be found
This Blog and these images are part of Leilani Rogers Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project #PBAP2014 you can find more work from participating photographers