This piece originally appeared on TakePart and has been reprinted with permission.
Less than a week after Instagram loosened restrictions on breastfeeding photos, one particular image has sparked a heated debate over where it’s appropriate to nurse a hungry baby.
“People think it’s disgusting, but motherhood has blurred the lines of [what is] disgusting for me,” says Los Angeles–based arts educator Elisha Wilson Beach of the picture she uploaded to the photo-sharing platform on Saturday.
In the picture, the mother of two and stepmom of four is shown seated on a toilet nursing her 11-month-old daughter, who is standing in front of her. Wilson Beach says that moments before the photo was taken, her baby had worked her way across the bathroom, opened the cabinets under the sink, and pulled items out onto the floor. “And then she was ready to have her morning feed,” she says. So she asked her husband, actor Michael Beach, who has starred on shows such as Sons of Anarchy, to capture the moment.
“It was just one of those ‘Babe, you gotta come see this — take a picture for me’ kinds of moments,” she says.
When Wilson Beach uploaded the image, she didn’t think it would go beyond her Facebook friends or the few hundred followers she has on Instagram. She says she knows several moms who feel like they’re not good enough. “They feel that what they’re doing has to be a perfect picture of motherhood,” she says. “So here, this is my mom truth, and go ahead and show me yours. It’s not pretty, but I’m not judging.”
Then a friend messaged her that the snap was on the front page of Reddit. “I had never been on Reddit before — I knew about it, but I had never been on it,” she says.
The relatable image was also posted Sunday on the popular Life of Dad Facebook page with the caption “Every parent knows this joy.” It’s since been liked more than 214,000 times, been shared more than 26,000 times, and received hundreds of comments.
But not all parents find the image quite so joyful.
“That’s gross. I think a walking baby can wait to breastfeed until one is off the toilet. I mean would you eat your meal on the toilet?” commented Facebook user Laura Keith.
Other people are dismissing the hygiene concerns.
“To the people calling this unsanitary or gross, most people brush their teeth in the bathroom and leave their toothbrushes in the bathroom. How is this gross and not that? Breasts are way more sanitary in the bathroom than your toothbrushes,” commented Alicia Ringsaker.
There are also folks pointing out that a bathroom is where women who are shamed for nursing in public end up when a crying infant demands to eat.
“I find it so interesting that people have an issue with her breastfeeding in the bathroom of her own home, yet way too many people have the expectation that a woman should breastfeed in a bathroom in a public place,” commented Facebook user Amy Bloss-Rodgers.
Indeed, the public restroom as baby-feeding space was the cornerstone of a campaign launched last year by a group of students at the University of North Texas. The students hoped to raise awareness of how tough it is for moms to find a private place to nurse their babies in public. To that end, the campaign featured women nursing in public bathroom stalls with captions such as “private dining.” A similar photo of a mom nursing in one stall and a dad chowing down on a plate of pasta in the adjacent stall won a photography competition in February.
But Wilson Beach doesn’t equate what she did to nursing in a public restroom.
“I am shocked that people compare the idea of breastfeeding your child in a public bathroom to breastfeeding your child in your private bathroom that just you and your very, very close family members use,” she says. “No, I don’t feed my child in a public restroom.”
Wilson Beach, who has had small roles in films such as Soul Plane, also says she didn’t share the picture because she’s looking for attention or trying to reignite her acting career.
“I was a terrible actor. I tried it, and it is not a fun career,” she says with a laugh. “I shared this picture because it was true.”
She says that shaming mothers over where they choose to breastfeed their children shouldn’t be the goal. “I want all moms to feel good. There are enough mom battles going on — working moms versus stay-at-home moms,” she says. “Frankly, we’re all trying our best. If we can create support for each other, then that’s what I’d rather accomplish.”