Is a breastfeeding selfie really more offensive than Rihanna's nipple?

The mothers posting these pictures aren’t being smug, they’re just trying to break a ridiculous taboo


My sister got her wedding photographs back the other day, and shared the album link with friends on social media. They were lovely - you know, the usual, bride and groom looking radiantly happy, relatives welling up, friends raising their glasses in a toast, the bridesmaid breastfeeding

That one was lovely too, and the bridesmaid in question, my other sister, was delighted with it. Now, my sister is of the Instagram generation, and rarely a meal passes without her recording it for posterity (or until the next social media fad comes along). So photos of her son having a meal seem perfectly natural to her, and she joined thousands in posting meal-time selfies in honour of World Breastfeeding Week this week. She is in good company: singer Gwen Stefani has uploaded a shot of herself breastfeeding, and actress Olivia Wilde has been photographed breastfeeding in full evening-wear for Glamour magazine.

The reaction has been yawningly predictable. “I don’t mind people breastfeeding, but don’t rub our noses in it.” “This should be a private moment.” “This is just judgemental towards women who can’t breastfeed.”

Yes, there are many many women who would love to be able to breastfeed but can’t, for a variety of reasons. My sister nearly wasn’t able to, as her baby was tongue and lip-tied, and struggled to latch properly until after a minor procedure. Her nurse had told her to remember the bottom line: your baby needs nourishment from somewhere, and a bottle is much better than nothing. Other mothers may have illnesses that require them to take strong medication, or undergo radiation therapy, so they cannot breastfeed. Some simply can’t cope with it in their daily lives, either emotionally or practically, so for them, formula is the best option.

Breastfeeding selfies, admittedly, do smack a bit of smugness, with mums gazing serenely at their child with that ‘yes, I am a bit of an earth mother’ smile. Most selfies are pretty smug, I suppose, from thigh gaps to the overexposed ‘no make up’ variety. But is the trend about ramming the message down people’s throats - and specifically those of the women who don’t breastfeed?

The mothers who have posted pictures say it isn’t, it is about trying to break a ridiculous taboo. This week, a mother said staff at her local swimming pool asked her to stop breastfeeding at the side of the pool. Because she was breaking the ‘no food or drink’ rule, apparently. Well, rules are rules… The manager has since stated that the staff’s concern was for the children she was supervising, and that breastfeeding is welcomed. But this is not an isolated tale. In June, a mother claimed she was sent to a storeroom to feed her child. In a hospital. And plenty of mothers can attest to the fact that they were asked to feed their child in the toilets - hardly the most pleasant or hygienic environment. At the milder end of the spectrum, most will have experienced a tut or disapproving look from a member of the public.

So what is the big deal? In the age of silly Free the Nipple campaigns where women are exercising the right to walk around topless, and where most people over the age of 12 are quite familiar with Rihanna’s nipples, is feeding your child really offensive? Most mothers don’t care if it is - if your baby is screaming and hungry, causing outrage with a momentary, discreet flash of boob is the last thing on your mind. And, if it’s so normal and natural, a breastfeeding selfie should be as mundane as a picture of someone eating a sandwich. Speaking of which, there’s one of those in the wedding album too. It’s me pre-wedding, curlers in hair, make-up free, stuffing my face. Not quite as lovely...

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