I wasn’t going to get involved in this, as I certainly have no intention of getting stuck in the feeding debate. But yesterday I read this post from Fiona over at A Mum Track Mind, and I loved it. However, I was left feeling like I had a little something to add and couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Let me start by saying that I think Fiona is right:
“What I am not ok with is the breast v bottle bandwagon that has since been resurrected and jumped all over. Debates are once again raging left, right and centre on social media about how breastfeeding is amazing (true), how bottle feeding mums are being made to feel bad (also true) and everything in between.”
“So just feed your kids. Love them. Cuddle them. Keep them alive. But please stop harping on about the rights and wrongs of it and move on people”.
It sums it up, right?
Her question is why are we still talking about this and getting involved in the ‘how to feed your baby’ debate?! Why does every little attempt at talking about or showing breastfeeding mothers bring this up?
Can’t we just let everyone get on and be happy with their own thing (whatever that is) parenting-wise and just let them be??
To me, there are 3 more things left to be said about the Tree of Life photos that are going round on the internet.
1. These photos are beautiful
Let’s stop for a second and look at these photos.
You may or may not like them. You may or may not think they’re arty. Or you may or may not care!
But to the mum who has downloaded the app and made one of herself with her baby or babies, these are absolutely beautiful and precious.
To ALL mums who have made them, they are precious.
To the mum who exclusively breastfeeds, to the mum who bottle feeds and to the mum who combine feeds. If you’ve got one, you love it! If you’ve got two, you love them both. And you get the gist, I’m sure.
Each one of those photos is precious to someone, INCLUDING the ones that show the tree rooting into a bottle.
And I’m sure they’re beautiful in the eyes of a lot of other people too, me included. I loved going through lots of them, seeing my friends’, and recognising how different they all are – some of them have even made me quite emotional too!
So for once, can we not just look at them and be happy for those mums who have them and can treasure them for years to come? And then can we just move on?
2. They were never made with the intention to make anyone feel bad – they can actually help!
It is really really sad that so many mums who WANT to breastfeed struggle to or can’t breastfeed at all. We have all heard tons of stories of mums who didn’t get the right support they needed at the beginning of their journey into motherhood and had to stop breastfeeding before they were ready to.
And you know what?
Having a choice – something that you feel so passionate about, something that you really badly want to do, something SO important to you and your family – taken away from you, sucks. It hurts. And it can leave feelings behind for a long long time.
Of course, to the mother who couldn’t breastfeed, seeing these photos plastered everywhere she looks isn’t going to be good. And if she feels the need to justify herself once again for bottle feeding, it means we’ve all failed her. Because she simply shouldn’t.
But the photos weren’t meant to hurt her.
And this mum’s story is EXACTLY why these photos can help.
Because breastfeeding needs to be normalised. For all the mums in that situation.
Because generations and generations ago we lost that big support network that once existed where new mums used to learn how to breastfeed by watching their own mothers, aunts, cousins and sisters do it.
We don’t have that anymore. We don’t all live in the same place or next door to each other. And we don’t live in the same town or city as our ‘tribe of women’, and often we don’t even live in the same country anymore.
Today we have a support model that keeps failing new mums, and it’s not my place to get into this, so I won’t.
But the point is that breastfeeding is no longer ‘the norm’. It’s no longer what you see all around you growing up.
And you know what else we have today?
We have social media.
Social media who don’t welcome ‘breastfeeding scenes’, because those are not for the public eye to see. They are classed as nudity. They are offensive, apparently.
Unless they’re covered up in beautiful art.
These are a bunch of beautiful, artistic photos that allow us to share something we wouldn’t normally be able to share on social media. Something that your 13-year-old niece and her friends wouldn’t see otherwise. And probably the closest they are going to get to seeing a breastfeeding mother ‘in action’.
We DO need to normalise breastfeeding.
Breast IS best.
Fed IS best.
They are both true.
There shouldn’t be an argument here. There shouldn’t be a debate about the right’s and wrong’s of feeding your babies.
The only debate should be around why so many mums who would love to breastfeed are not enabled and supported to.
Normalising breastfeeding doesn’t mean: “Look at me – I’m breastfeeding, and you’re not, so I’m better than you”.
I’ve met many breastfeeding mums ‘in real life’, and NO ONE I know has ever gone up to someone else and tried to shame them for doing anything different. No one.
This is not what these photos were meant to do.
3. We can’t blame these photos for our feelings
I breastfed all my children for an average of 2 years each and a total of just under 6 years.
Do you know what I thought when I saw these photos: “These are BEAUTIFUL! But I’m just sad I can’t get one of these for each of my babies”.
I didn’t take brelfies (I’m pretty sure 8 years ago this word didn’t even exist) – it’s just not in my nature, and I never felt comfortable having those photos on my phone. Had they looked like this, I probably would have. But now I can’t recreate them. And I feel it’d be really lovely to have one for each one of my babies to treasure and to keep. If not for them, maybe just for me.
The one in this post is an old photo from 4 years ago, with my second child and is probably the only breastfeeding photo I have. Me. The person who breastfed for nearly 6 years of her life. For two thirds of her married life and life for the majority of her life as a mother. I don’t have photos.
I’ve seen some amazing images and felt a little sadness and a little envy over them.
But those are my feelings. My reactions to it. I don’t blame the breastfeeding mothers for it. Or the internet. No one woke up one day with the purpose to make me feel bad. And certainly not thousands of women I’ve never met.
I can choose to dwell on these feelings and let them ruin my day (or rather not, because honestly, there ARE much bigger problems in this world that we and our children live in at the moment).
Or I can choose to make someone else feel sad about them because I do, so others must too. Or rather not, because that just doesn’t achieve anything, and it’s not what I’m about at all.
I can choose to just move on.
Acknowledge that I have my own feelings about them, and perhaps try and focus on the reasons why. Because I might just find that it has nothing to do with the photos.
For me it’s the sadness of knowing all those years are gone.
Knowing that when I last fed my son I hadn’t planned for that feed to be the last, and so I couldn’t ‘celebrate it’ or ‘mark it’ in any way. And now I just wish I had something to ‘show for’ for all those years spent breastfeeding.
When actually, if I think about it, I do – I have my babies! And I have no reason to feel any envy or sadness really, so I’m choosing to move on, just be in awe of these beautiful photos and be happy for the mums who could make them.
These are my feelings. They are part of my story.
Are they triggered by these photos? Yes, they were, but they are not the photos.
The photos aren’t representatives of those feelings. The photos are not meant to trigger those feelings.
They are just beautiful.
And they are precious, amazing memories for the mums who have them.
They are important, because they show more women breastfeeding than you’d normally see, and because they show that breastfeeding can be beautiful.
And that’s important to a lot of women or young girls.
And it’s equally quite hurtful to a lot of women or young girls who had the choice taken away from them.
So let’s focus on the bigger issue, shall we? A lot of women who hope to and want to breastfeed don’t get to breastfeed. And we need to support them. Hug them and help them. This is the bit that needs to change. This is the bit we need to waste our breaths debating about.
So can we just let these women with the Tree of Life photos treasure and share their own beautiful memories for a week or so? Then the craze will be over, and you won’t hear anything about it again.
Until the next thing that’s going to spark the feeding debate up again.
This is a really good post on the trend. I haven’t participated in the tree of life craze (the photos are a bit stylised for my taste) but you make a really good point that this is a way of getting round the Facebook censors so that people can actually see breastfeeding social media. And seeing it is a great thing, it needs to be normal again. The more breastfeeding is hidden away in our society, the more ingrained the problem of low breastfeeding rates will become, and the more women will have to live with the negative emotions associated with not breastfeeding as long as they hoped to.
Yes, yes, yes, yes Bec! That’s it! I couldn’t have worded it better myself! Thank you!
I agree with your post (and Fiona’s) completely. In fact you perfectly summed up a lot of my own thoughts and feelings towards the tree of life pictures.
I struggled for six weeks to exclusively breast feed my son before switching to bottle. I too felt envy towards these beautiful pictures. But also disappointment.
Until he was born I could never have imagined the pressure I would feel to breast feed. It was a pressure which I created which I believe was ultimately my downfall.
Seeing these pictures made me feel disappointed that I had given up so easily, guilty that I had not done what was best for my son.
As you mentioned, these pictures have not been posted with the intention of making anyone feel bad. It’s a celebration of life and the beauty of our babies. Society needs to stop creating a divide, applying pressure and causing guilt!
Brilliant read x
Thank you Becky – I’m so so glad this post is being understood and received in the way it’s meant! And that it talks about real feelings that people have. I don’t know your story, but the fact that you say you ‘struggled’ for 6 weeks says it all, really. If there’s a struggle there’s always a reason, and probably more than one.
I can tell you my reasons – with my first, I was ready to give up at 9 weeks. In fact, I was quite lucky I even got started! I took diamorphine in labour (not knowing that it’d make the baby drowsy and unlikely to feed immediately after birth), then I was keen to leave and go home, and actually left before I could learn how to feed him. 48 hours later he still hadn’t fed, and I had no idea what I was doing – I had been to the classes, I had read the books. I just didn’t know how to practically get MY baby to feed. He had tongue-tie (I knew that), but I had no idea it could cause issues with the latch. Had it not been for a midwife / neighbour who took time out to come and help me, he wouldn’t have been breastfed. And 9 weeks later, after finding out he kept dropping off his centiles and after receiving some very unsupportive comments, I was ready to give up. I was lucky again – I phoned my HV to ask what brand of formula to use, and she effectively told me to relax, drink some water, have some chocolate and don’t talk to said unsupportive people. I carried on for 18 months. It was pure luck. Pure luck that I got the right support at the right time, when I didn’t even know what I needed.
First time mums don’t often know what’s ‘wrong’. They don’t know how to fix it, and they don’t know what help they need and when. And all these stories are all so different but at the same time so very similar. It is almost always down to poor latch, caused by poor positioning or the physiology of the mum / baby combination. It is very sad because we shouldn’t feel disappointment or guilt over this…
My only advice is try and be kind to yourself – you breastfed for 6 weeks exclusively despite your struggles, and you should totally celebrate that! x
Such a beautifully written post!!!!! I have breastfeeding envy and I saw these photos as beautiful, just amazing! But I also felt hurt thinking that my babies would have died, starved to death if it wasn’t for the bottle. Yet I hated giving them the bottle! But what you right is so true, my issues are my own and that should not mean people shouldn’t display their images, photos or art.
My story was not one of lack of support, or problem s bonding or latching on. Mine is simple, my breasts never changed during pregnancy and my milk supply was so minimal. I never had the ‘let down’ feeling. My baby was born naturally, she came straight to my arms, I love her instantly and she latched herself on like a little pro. It didn’t hurt or feel awkward it was amazing. My hubby and I were given a private room with a big bed where we stayed for a week with our new baby. But our baby began to scare a lot, she was constantly on the breast, and the midwives were happy with her feeding. But she began to drop too much weight. We pumped and sure enough my breasts were not producing enough milk. I was moved to a mother baby unit in a private hospital and had specialist lactation consultants on hand for support. We tried everything known to man. From herbal teas, meditation, to medication, pumps, and even a line that fed her formula whilst she still sucked on my nipple.
I fed her for 13 months. And I also topped her up with formula. This occurred again with both my other 2 children. Funnily enough for me it felt normal to breastfeed. I happily breast fed in public. I was so confident with breast feeding. But when I had to get a bottle out in public I felt so ashamed. I felt like others would think I was a bad mum. Now this was my thoughts, no one said that. Well except my sister in law who told me that i just needed a good laceration consultant! (which I had), she was very judgemental and was happily feeding my nephew at the time, so yes maybe that affected me.
I think though I was just so disappointed that I had to give her something that didn’t feel natural to me. I don’t judge others. In fact my sister had decided to not even try to breast feed and I was fine with her. But this was my child and I wanted to give her the best that I could. The thing is we worry so much and now she is 12 and amazing, healthy, one of the brightest in her class and we have the best bond! So did it matter? We are so lucky to have formula these days that is such great quality. Yes breast milk is the best for baby, but at least we have other options.
Sorry for blabbing on, an issue close to my heart xx
Wow, what a beautiful story – I’m glad that you received so much support. If only everyone could get all of that – at least you can really say that you have tried EVERYTHING! And you did feed her for 13 months – do you know how amazing that is?! You should be so very proud! People being close to you and being judgemental don’t help. In fact, these are the things that are most hurtful and leave you with feelings of inadequacy – it happened to me anyway. It sounds like you did amazingly well, and you should be proud of yourself! You did the best thing for your babies, even despite the hard work it took to make something that you enjoyed, wanted and love, work! Well done you and thank you for your beautiful words! xx
It simply shouldn’t matter how a child is fed, so long as they are fed! Thanks so much for joining up with #TuesdayTreasures.
Of course – people should just stop using every opportunity to start the argument! 😉
Gosh, that made me feel quite emotional! I totally agree with what you’re saying. Often I feel that I can’t admit that I’m still breastfeeding without in some way trying to play it down. It’s been hard work for us to get to this point and then I feel like people dismiss it as something I’ve had easily fall into my lap. Breastfeeding is NOT the easy option, it’s all on the mum, it requires you to get over all the narrow minded people who make you feel uneasy in public, it changes your body and it’s a huge demand on you hour after hour. That doesn’t mean that bottle feeding doesn’t have it’s own challenges but why should it be a competition. Why should I have to justify how I feed my child?! ARGH! Wonderful post. Let’s get breastfeeding normalised, it shouldn’t BE a discussion point!
You are SO right! I totally totally agree! It should never be a competition – we should all be in it together and support each other for whatever we’re going through! No one should really justify themselves for their choices, whether they were easily made or made out of an impossible situation. It’s probably impossible, but it’d be really nice to get to a world where mums stick with each other and have each other’s back, always.
I think this is pretty balanced and I agree on the whole people get angry with the wrong people. The issue is that people feel pressured into breast feeding but the support available to most people is frankly shocking and then lots of people feel guilt about it. We should be angry at the health service for providing pressure without help – not at other mothers.
On the other hand I’m not sure arty photos on social media actually make any difference in terms of normalising feeding?
You’re right Beth – a lot of people don’t get the right support, sadly. And they are left feeling bad and guilty. And no one helps them address that either! That’s an interesting point actually – I can’t say whether these photos can or cannot normalise breastfeeding. I would have thought that anything you see a lot of can make it look more ‘normal’, but having said that, it depends on what it is (this wouldn’t be true for ANY image), so maybe we go back to the fact that it’s just a celebration? Thanks for sharing another perspective! 🙂
I really struggled with breastfeeding my first, with him failing to latch for a whole week (syringe and cup feeding) followed by mastitis and abscesses – it was hard – but we got there eventually and when established also mixed fed, and then exclusively bottle fed. It was easier second time around. I just loved feeding my baby how ever it was done. I loved the convenience of the breast and feeling that my body was doing amazing things, but I also loved the freedom that came with bottles (expressed milk and formula) and curiously used to enjoy the ritual of making them up with formula. I loved it all, and had i not been able to breastfeed i think I would have been quite at peace with that. However I have friends who tried but just couldn’t manage it and it was really really difficult for them and they felt a pressure which ultimately left them feeling like they had failed. For one friend this led to PND which makes me so so sad for her.
I read your blog with interest, but I must say I have no strong feelings about the tree of life photos because they are that individual’s expression of something that they feel is special. And feeding a baby, and that bond, is SO special. I don’t understand why they caused such controversy. When i see them, i feel happy for that person. that they are celebrating what they have achieved (and after my experience I do regard it as an achievement for everyone!). Maybe if anything it would be nice to see more of the bottle photos, just to balance out the perception. But lets just all give ourselves a pat on the back for raising our babies the best we can.
P.s curiously here in France breastfeeding beyond the first few weeks is considered culturally strange and doctors will actively encourage switching to formula – but that is a whole different blog topic!!!!
I’m really glad you had a good, balanced experience that you enjoyed! A lot of women can’t say that, and as you say, that’s very very sad. I agree with you in that the photos should have caused such controversy – they are beautiful to the person in that photo (the mum of that baby), and we should really be able to leave it at that, I think. You’re right – “let’s give ourselves a pat on the back for raising our babies the best we can!” Interesting what you say about France – I would have thought breastfeeding (and extended breastfeeding too) was encouraged in other countries in Europe.
My above comment is a #PostsFromTheHeart!
Love this post. I had no photos of me feeding my first son and I really regretted it so this time I’ve taken loads! I really like the tree of life photos..it is a shame that some people have taken them the wrong way. I think you’re right that more support is needed for new mums who are struggling to feed but want to xx #postsfromtheheart
Thank you Wendy 🙂 I’m glad you have now taken loads. Sometimes in the moment we don’t think things will be important or that we’ll actually want to have a specific photo of something, and we only realise it later x
I love this post so much. I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said in your entirety. I have no photos of me breastfeeding my daughter at all – despite the fact that I fed her for almost two years. It never even entered my head to take one. In hindsight I wish I had. Now nine years later I have several of me feeding the little man, but none that actually shows my breast. Yet looking at these photos, which are stunningly beautiful I wonder if I need to be braver and take one. I wonder if I’ll regret it if I don’t. You are right, it’s ok to feel, that is what we as humans were designed to do. We have to work through those feelings. Thank you so much for linking up with #PostsFromTheHeart and for making me think about making my own picture.
Ah thank you 🙂 You should do it for yourself and see how you feel afterwards. You don’t need to share it with anyone – it’ll just be your little thing to keep and treasure, if you like it 🙂 Thank you for having me on your linky – it has a real great vibe to it 🙂
Very succinctly put. Well done. I love these photos I think they’re beautiful too and I think perhaps a point that was overlooked in this new phase of the ‘debate’ is that breastmilk has live enzymes in it and that’s maybe where the tree idea originated? I’m guessing. But yes you’re right the issue is about support and feelings and normalising breastfeeding. #KCACOLS
I don’t see why that couldn’t be true! It’s the antibodies that it gives… the part of mum that it gives and passes on… There are so many meanings. The more you look into it and think about it the more you can find even more profound ones! Thanks for your beautiful thoughts and words 🙂
I was a combi mummy with both babies and never quite felt right in either group of mums. I wanted to breast feed and could but for selfish reasons i wanted be to able to pass my babies to their dad so he could feed them . I did do one of the tree of life pictures and i had 2 trees on my picture, i am pro choice in all aspects of life and as long as mummy & baby are happy then it hasd nothing to do with anyone else how you feed your baby but i did see other people bullied for their choices. A good friend of mine was asked to ‘ don’t do that here’ ( Breastfeed ) and i saw a new mummy who attended a baby group nearly lynched because she produced a bottle of formula. I dont think the Breast V bottle debate will ever quiet done and worst of all it’s us women who have set war on each other #Postsfromtheheart
Sadly, I think you’re right! There will always be someone like that, right? Someone that instead of supporting other fellow mums, other fellow women, will refuse to see their point of view, their walk, their path, their reasons and just judge and preach. I’m glad that the majority of us though understands that everyone should make their own choices, the ones that are right for their families! 🙂
Really, really love this post. I couldn’t agree more with all of it. I had also seen the negative comments about the photos and had feelings which I couldn’t quite pin down. I had wanted to do one of those pictures but after seeing those comments I was also concerned that some people find it a negative to those who don’t/ couldn’t breastfeed. I think you’ve put it really well though. I don’t see these photos as having anything to do with judging others or putting them down, it’s just about celebrating. And like you say the only debate should be about how to support those who want to breastfeed. #KACOLS
Thank you 🙂 I’m glad it’s being well received! The last thing I wanted was to cause more controversy!
I can’t imagine my wife letting me do this even if I wanted too! Good post. The whole breast vs bottle debate really erks me. Whatever happened to freedom of choice. #kcacols
That’s right – a lot of people don’t want to. My husband would have thought I was totally weird for doing it, had I done it 😉
I read and loved Fiona’s post and this is just beautifully written you made your point really well. As a mum who bottle fed the whole breast vs bottle debate really makes me feel bad. I’m definitely on the fed is best camp. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday
Thank you Tracey 🙂 It makes me so sad that mums who bottle fed, especially if they bottle fed because they couldn’t breastfeed, for whatever reason, feel bad. We should all really learn to support each other and stick out for each other, instead of judging, preaching or making anyone feel bad for their choices or circumstances! Thank you for your lovely words! 🙂
Such a good post! Absolutely spot on x #KCACOLS
Ah thank you 🙂 Glad you liked it!