When people talk about how a woman shouldn’t breastfeed in public, they often use the argument that there are plenty of other places a woman can go to nurse. You know, private places like cars and bathroom stalls where their boobs won’t be all up in everyone else’s business.
Instead of offering you a long and detailed list of why exactly that is so offensive, not to mention downright harmful, may I just present this image from our new hero, photographer Leilani Rogers:
Rogers, 42, is a birth and breastfeeding photographer and mother of four children from Austin, Texas. She is also the founder of the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project, an advocacy organization that encourages breastfeeding by empowering women with images of nursing mothers. What started as a “passion project” for Rogers has blossomed into an organization of more than 60 photographers across the USA, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Canada, Australia, and Venezuela. Rogers is thrilled with its success, because she believes that the more the public sees something, the more “normal” it becomes.
“My youngest weaned almost a decade ago and I can still remember the handful of times I got up the guts to nurse in public, and the sweat that accumulated on my forehead while doing so,” Rogers remembers. “I was no wallflower, typically speaking. But the fear of shame, judgment, and rude comments subdued me from nursing in public.”
The sad truth is that often it is not strangers that make moms feel ashamed of their breastfeeding, but family and friends. As the first mom in her family to breastfeed, Rogers herself faced criticism from family members who insisted that she excuse herself to another room to nurse.
Too often, people lack knowledge about breastfeeding benefits and the rights of nursing mothers. “This is why it is so important for women to have community support and for us to educate the community,” Rogers explains. “It is not a well known fact that public breastfeeding is legally supported in all but one state in the US.”
As Rogers notes, the real reason that she and everyone on her team advocates for women to feel comfortable nursing in public is because they want to empower women to make the choice for themselves. If a woman would prefer to cover up or go to a quiet room, then more power to her. But she should be making that choice — and it shouldn’t be a choice made out of fear or embarrassment.
“Bottom line, it should be her choice, not anyone else’s,” says Rogers. “A woman can feel just as empowered choosing to go to a quiet or private place to breastfeed just knowing that it is ONE of her options, rather than the ‘rule.'”
Another mission of #PBAP is to ensure that all moms feel supported — no matter how they choose to feed their babies. In the future, Rogers plans to include pumping and bottle nursing moms, supplementing moms, moms who use a supplemental nursing system, and mothers whose babies require a G-tube.
“My hope is that these images will inspire more community and support rather than division, particularly [for] moms whose breastfeeding journeys have been difficult and short-lived.”
In the end, Rogers’ message is simple: Breastfeeding is normal — and no mother should ever feel like she has to feed her baby while hidden away from the rest of the world.
“I am so proud of all the women who’ve agreed to be photographed and share their stories,” she adds. “For some it is not a big deal, for others it has been huge and has completely transformed their mothering experience.”