Breastfeeding photographs. This seems to be a source of concern for many people, and coming from a woman who attended a nurse-in at Facebook yesterday and is breastfeeding my toddler to sleep as I type this, it clearly means something to me. I realize the importance of breastfeeding in my own family, in my community – the sharing of our stories with other women and seeing the act done outside of our homes, and what breast milk means for the health of our species. But I didn’t realize the history of breastfeeding photography until I came across a little clip on Jezebel from a book on infant feeding this morning. Sure, I’d seen vintage photos floating around, some strange and others beautiful, from infants to toddlers. But I didn’t realize why these women were taking nursing portraits.
From Sociological Images:
And as Jill Lepore explains in The Mansion of Happiness, it’s just the latest round in the changing discourse about breastfeeding; in the mid-1800s, images of breastfeeding mothers became a fad in the U.S. The use of wet nurses had never been as common in the U.S. as in Europe, and it became even less popular by the early 1800s; breastfeeding your own child became a central measure of your worth as a mother. Cultural constructions of femininity became highly centered on motherhood and the special bond between a mother and her children in the Victorian era.
It really spoke to me about how I feel about my own breastfeeding portraits, like the one on the far right at the top there [taken by Sweetness and Light Photography], that women have felt the same way from centuries. Breastfeeding is not the only measure of a mother’s worth, no, as many are unable to breastfeed, but for those that do, is certainly something we feel proud of. Of course, like all parts of the job and life in general, it comes with it’s ups and downs. There are gentle moments of bonding, a sweet hand playing with the mother’s mouth, that we hope we can cherish for a lifetime, to seconds to months of excruciating pain. But mothers endure. We have since the dawn of time. And for those who choose to capture this priceless moment in motherhood, I stand in solidarity, for I too want to hold dear this precious, fleeting act.
The pride modern mothers feel about their own breast milk seems to be backed up by medical science, which has only just begun to scratch the surface on the miracles of this liquid gold for our species. That and because it is so expensive. The price of breast milk per year could cost a family over 20 times that of formula, running from $20,000 to $35,000 a year, as the charge per ounce in a milk bank is around four dollars. With a such a high value, everyone should appreciate the feelings behind breastfeeding portraits and hug every nursing mother they see! Despite community standards which clearly state that they welcome breastfeeding portraits, Facebook has been taking down perfectly acceptable photos since they opened their site and mothers joined. Facebook’s unrelenting banishment is unacceptable.
Sometimes I hear people chime in on Facebook posts or random news articles after a nursing incident that breastfeeding is a private event and that the mother shouldn’t share her photos or nurse in public. To me, statements like that are terribly judgmental and harmful. It is harmful to not only new mothers but to themselves. Do they not know it is the basic human right of the child to nourishment? That children under 6 months of age should only be consuming breast milk and nothing else? That the WHO recommends nursing until at least the age of 2? That nursing in public is legal and not considered indecent under the law? And I wonder if they’re completely obvious to all earlier forms of artwork featuring nursing mothers. There are countless Madonna nursing child paintings and sculptures in churches, parks, and museums around the world, as well as many earlier mother figures nursing children carved in rock and drawn since man count blow dirt on cave walls.
The love being given and taken freely in mother’s arms when a baby is at her breast is something truly admirable. Breastfeeding portraits are timeless. Priceless.
What do you think when you see breastfeeding portraits? Do you share your own?
Looking for your own nursing portraits? Contact my talented photographer, Nicole of Sweetness and Light Photography!
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