The Problem with the Way We Talk About Breastfeeding

September 10th 2015

Breasts are a life source for babies, but they're also heavily sexualized in ads and pop culture, so it can be extremely difficult for mothers to feel comfortable with breastfeeding in public.

One recent meme nails the hypocrisy of the way society views breasts. People love to see them in commercials and media, yet often become squeamish when moms try to feed their infants in public.

Breastfeeding memeDavid Wolfe Facebook - facebook.com

This particular meme appears to directly reference burger chain Carl's Jr., which often uses attractive, scantily-clad women in ads:

Workplace complications surrounding breastfeeding

A lot of people are uneasy with the idea of breastfeeding and this makes it difficult for mothers to take care of their children in public places. Earlier this year, a North Carolina waitress named Brennan Atwell stopped receiving shifts at work after she requested proper breastfeeding accommodations. She was given an office with no door to pump milk for her kid, but because of the lack of privacy, her male colleagues were able to see her doing it. When Atwell saw that she wasn't scheduled to work for several weeks, she confronted her boss about it.

"And that's when [my manager] said to me, 'It's not so much a matter of inconvenience as it is indecency. We have too many male employees here for you to be pumping at work,'" Atwell told NBC Charlotte at the time.

Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect five years ago, employers with at least 50 employees must provide breastfeeding mothers with a private space to pump as well as an unpaid break for pumping. This does not applied to salaried women, and those at smaller companies are at the mercy of their managers.

Societal treatment of breastfeeding

A few weeks ago, birth photographer Melissa Jean Wilbraham was temporarily banned from Instagram for posting photos of breastfeeding women and women giving birth on the social media platform. Wilbraham, who has more than 40 thousand followers on Instagram, had her account disabled on the first day of World Breastfeeding Week, which began on August 1. When Wilbraham tried to log in she saw the following message, "Your account has been deleted for not following our terms. We’re unable to restore accounts that are deleted for these types of violations."


"How ironic that the very day 'World Breastfeeding Week' began, my business was removed from Instagram," she wrote, garnering more than 1,000 "likes" on her Facebook post. "There will always be sad humans who report my images but I will NEVER let this stop me celebrating & normalizing the miracle of life heart emoticon ‪#‎bringbackmelissajeanbabies‬ ‪#‎bringbackmelissajean‬"

Instagram later reactivated her account, and the company told the Daily Mail Australia in a statement that deleting it was a mistake.

"We allow photos of breastfeeding on Instagram," said a statement from Instagram. "We looked into what happened here, and this was a pure mistake that we've now rectified. For context, our teams review content when it's reported to us for violating our Community Guidelines. They review millions of pieces of content daily—and as much as we'd like to be free of mistakes, we do make them. We are sorry that this happened, but we use cases like this to learn and improve. We have reached out to @melissajeanbabies and apologised [sic] for our mistake."

Five years ago, reality star Kim Kardashian came under fire after criticizing a woman for breastfeeding in public:

This launched a slew of angry tweets from mothers, prompting the celebrity to state that she was more grossed out by the fact that the mom was changing her baby in front of everyone.

"Misunderstood tweet," she wrote on Twitter. "The woman had her boobs out at restaurant yest. feeding, then laid her on table and changed her w the food there. Unsanitary ... And you DON'T change a dirty at the dinner table...u use the restroom. Everyone was complaining! Just unsanitary."

All these years later, Kardashian is a mother of one, expecting another baby soon, and a proponent of breastfeeding

Earlier this week, actress Alyssa Milano faced backlash on social media after posting an old photo on Instagram of her breastfeeding her daughter. 

Milano went on to say that the negative responses didn't bother her but that she found it odd that singer Miley Cyrus doesn't seem to get as much flak for frequently revealing her breasts in photos and outfits.

"I don't care," Milano told Entertainment Tonight. "Everyone's fine with [Miley Cyrus'] nipples being out. I think people are more comfortable sexualizing breasts than relating them to what they were made for, which is feeding another human."

Cyrus, however, has spoken many times before about being criticized for showing her breasts in public. In fact, she told Marie Claire earlier this year that she couldn't see why Taylor Swift was praised for her ultra violent music video for "Bad Blood" while she personally remained the subject of criticism for posting a topless Instagram photo (which the platform went on to delete).

"I don't get the violence revenge thing," Cyrus said. "That's supposed to be a good example? And I'm a bad role model because I'm running around with my titties out? I'm not sure how titties are worse than guns."

How #FreetheNipple comes into play

Cyrus is a well-known supporter of the #FreetheNipple movement, which highlights Instagram's double standards towards female nipples. While the platform does not allow female nipples to be shown in photos, it allows men to post photos of their own chests and nipples. In response to this hypocritical policy, many women are Photoshopping male nipples onto female ones.

Over the summer, Los Angeles-based startup advisor James Shamsi decided to challenge Instagram's nipple policy through an interesting experiment of his own. Shamsi posted a zoomed in Instagram photo of a male chest that closely resembled female breasts and asked his Facebook friends to report the image as inappropriate. Instagram removed the photo, but when he told the company that it was actually a snapshot of a male chest, the picture went back up. Shamsi's project succeeded in further exposing the double standard behind Instagram's nipple regulations:


Shamsi, who created the app #KardBlock to block Kardashian content from your newsfeed, told ATTN: at the time that he conducted the nipple experiment to elevate #FreetheNipple and fight gender inequality.

"I believe in fighting for equality wherever and whenever possible... from creating #KardBlock to make the internet fairer in getting real news out there instead of Kardashian news all the time to help fighting nipple inequality," he said.


Share your opinion

Do you think breastfeeding photos should be allowed on social media platforms?

No 4%Yes 96%