When asked to picture a mother breastfeeding, the mind’s eye of many would conjure an image of a mama in a rocking chair in a nursery, or maybe even a pajama-clad new mom nursing on her couch.
Few would picture an athlete feeding her baby in a locker room, but that’s exactly why hockey-loving mom Serah Small shared a photo where she was doing just that. The picture unexpectedly went viral, and while most reactions were positive, the fact that there were negative ones is proof of why this representation is so necessary.
This is what self-care and breastfeeding looks like.
Serah sent me this beautiful photo. Here she is, between periods...Posted by Milky Way Lactation Services on Monday, March 26, 2018
According to a post on Small’s Facebook page, the picture of her and 8-week-old Ellie was snapped by her own mom, a typical proud grandma. Her mom brought Ellie into the locker room for a nursing session during a tournament after Small realized she’d forgotten the charging cord for her breast pump, Global News reports.
When Small saw the photo her mom took, she wanted to share it with someone who would appreciate it, so she forwarded it to Tara-Jean Thiessen, her lactation consultant. “She asked for permission to post it on her lactation page [Milky Way Lactation Services],” Small writes. “Then, boom, my inbox is filled with reporters, supports and of course the haters.”
Some “haters” have accused Small of seeking attention or suggested breastfeeding should be done in private.
“I stay clear of all the comments and articles for my own mental health, but I know through friends and family that I have amazing people in my corner,” Small says of the response the photo received. “It blows my mind how something so natural has caused such an uproar.”
Tara-Jean Thiessen, the lactation consultant who posted the images to Facebook, tells Motherly she loves how the positive comments on the photo and the resulting news articles outnumber the negative or trolling ones.
She says she shared the picture to encourage mothers to keep doing the things that nourish their spirits, even when they are using their body to nourish a baby.
“We can only care for others if we are cared for as well. I teach my clients that they need to take time for themselves to recharge,” Thiessen tells Motherly. “This looks different for everyone. Sometimes it's a few quiet moments, or reading a book, or going for a walk. But for Serah, it's hockey. It's about doing what you love and what makes you feel good.”
Dr. Dan Flanders of Kindercare Pediatrics in Toronto told the Canadian Press negative comments on the photo “are disappointing,” and that the photo is accomplishing exactly what Thiessen intended when she posted it to her Milky Way Lactation Services Facebook page: It’s normalizing breastfeeding.
“I would imagine that the vast majority of us have never imagined a hockey player breastfeeding their child during intermission,” says Flanders, who notes that shaming nursing moms for posting nursing pics or asking them to isolate themselves while breastfeeding is counterproductive in a society that wants to raise breastfeeding rates.
“If we lived in an environment that wasn’t quite so—dare I say—misogynistic and uninterested in supporting new moms, I think they might find it a little bit less challenging to succeed at breastfeeding.” ?
It’s important that society’s image of a breastfeeding mama expand beyond that mental picture of the rocking chair in the nursery, because as Thiessen pointed out in her caption of now viral photo, “This is what self-care and breastfeeding looks like.”
The photo isn’t just a mama breastfeeding in public. It’s a mama at eight weeks postpartum who is being supported as she does something that’s important to her, that makes her feel good, and that was a part of her identity before she became a mom.
When we become parents we don’t stop being people. We may be nursing mamas, but we are still so many other things: friends, students, employees, artists, entrepreneurs, and, yes, sometimes hockey players. It’s time for the world to start picturing breastfeeding outside of the nursery, because we actually don’t spend all our time in that rocking chair.