The time has come once again. We're in the throes of World Breastfeeding Week, a week dedicated to raising breastfeeding awareness, and if you're wondering who has two nipples, er, thumbs, and is super stoked to celebrate, look no further than this column. Every year, I have the honor of simultaneously acknowledging the many benefits of breastfeeding, as well as the organizational efforts behind World Breastfeeding Week, while also taking a minute out to ask some major "WTF" questions pertaining to the ways moms post about breastfeeding on social media. It's a strange conundrum, because I don't mean to negate the purpose of posting about breastfeeding on social media. I understand that part of the reason I think World Breastfeeding Week is sort of a joke is that moms treat Facebook like World Breastfeeding Week every single week of the year, and that ultimately, that kind of "grassroots activism" does make breastfeeding more normalized. It's a catch-22. For every woman who sees her friend's breastfeeding photo on Facebook and thinks, "Hey, I can do that, and if I have a baby, I will do that!", there are a few, or perhaps several, other people who are somewhat bewildered and/or offended.
It's not that those people haven't seen a baby on the breast before, it's that the context of breastfeeding updates can run the gamut from "beautiful image of a mother feeding her baby" to "information I didn't need to know about my friend's breastfeeding experiences" to "this woman is a sanctimommy who talks shit about formula and will not shut up about the benefits of breastfeeding." And it's this distinction that has incited some people to flag breastfeeding photos, which then causes mothers to revolt by posting even MORE breastfeeding photos, which then not only get posted, but get posted with some weirdly hostile threats:
This type of "warning" has become pretty common, despite the fact that it's not really breastfeeding photos or extended breastfeeding that people are annoyed by, but rather the culture surrounding them. If you're scolding your friends before they've hinted at being "offended," then the inevitable offense taken by some people will be rooted more in the wording of the caption than in the behavior itself. Do I care if my friends breastfeed? Hell no! Everyone should do whatever they want to do. As long as the baby is nourished and healthy, I'm all for whatever method a parent chooses (or needs) to feed her child. That said, I don't check Facebook to see "belfies," which naturally proliferate every year during #WorldBreastfeedingWeek, and I know I'm not alone in that thinking, because I have an engorged folder of "belfies" that all look nearly identical to one another, like this:
My irritation is not with notion of breastfeeding. It's with this woman's attitude. The caption. The hashtag. The "activism" that comes with sharing an image on social media that a person could have just as easily kept to herself. Sure, breastfeeding should be empowering, but it's one thing to feel empowered, and another thing to proselytize and campaign for every mom on the planet to breastfeed. Being a "lactivist" should mean "a person who is pro-breastfeeding," and not "a person who potentially makes other moms feel badly if they choose to use formula, for whatever reason, instead."
This all-encompassing "breast is best -- SEE FOR YOURSELF!!!" trend has even gotten to the point that people are creating memes that mock it. My favorite example genuinely sounds like it was written by an angry mom like the one pictured above. I kind of want to stick this on my refrigerator so I get a laugh every time I go to my kitchen for a personal "feeding" of chips and salsa:
I know that for the women who share, and overshare, and overshare some more about breastfeeding, posting photos and detailed descriptions is a subtle act of protest. And it DOES raise breastfeeding awareness, often in ways that I wholeheartedly condone. It's hard for me to convey my comprehensive feelings about belfies, for instance, because I know that posting a visual can be so much more effective than writing, "I'm a mom who breastfeeds her baby, and I support women who breastfeed!" In essence, that message is conveyed with a single photo, and I've seen some very sweet photos over the years, especially during World Breastfeeding Week. But sometimes a point doesn't need to be hammered into people's brains, and I've noticed that a lot of women who post belfies are prone to posting more than one. Women who give detailed descriptions about breastfeeding don't simply post one anecdote, one funny, random thing that happened while breastfeeding. They give a play-by-play, and their friends are only moderately interested, if that, in hearing such things.
When does a mother's status update about breastfeeding cross the line from promoting "awareness" to promoting "TMI"? I'm all for raising awareness for worthy causes, but what about the stuff that people wish to be UNaware of knowing? The stuff that isn't so worthy but gets posted anyway, because some people can't stop sharing their intimate parenting moments with everyone they know? Let's check out some examples of TMI breastfeeding updates that shouldn't have made it onto Facebook, no matter how "natural" posting them may have seemed.
1. "Fun" Breastfeeding Facts
Here are some fun facts I wouldn't mind knowing about Jess:
-- She's a Pisces with Aquarius rising
-- She loves classic hip hop
-- She once wrote a book report about "Little Women" that got an A
-- She's into fractals
The fact about having an open wound that drips breast milk? Not as fun OR as funny as she might've liked. But once you have a baby and see what a woman's body is really capable of, you suddenly find yourself making jokes that might be only be funny to you...
You know what, Kat? That's quite enough. You've succeeded at creating the visual... I can fully see in my mind what you're describing... and it's really QUITE. ENOUGH. I think I'll stick to local beers and ciders on tap instead, but thanks for reminding me that "A Clockwork Orange" was indeed very close to reality. Nothing goes better with a pile of lactation cookies than a tall glass of breast milk.
2. Mommy's Nipples
Referring to oneself in the third person as "mommy" is already crossing the line of acceptability in my social media rulebook, but pairing it with "nipples" is damned near blinding. Before Kam's friends knew it, they had ventured into the world of Mommy's Nipples, a non-sexual yet uncomfortable place where toddlers pat, grab, pinch, and caress nipples like they're hand-picking grapes at a vineyard. Also, "daddy is terribly jealous." ::shudder:: Keep it to yourself, Kam. And stop referring to your husband as "daddy," even outside the context of his "nipple jealousy."
3. Vice Grips
I don't know about you guys, but I'm really hearing and feeling that "Oooh." It sounds slightly high-pitched, and it feels incredibly painful. Also, this is such a random collection of informative details, it's like Alicia started off with a standard update letting people know where she'd taken her son for the day, then segued into a cute side note about his current stage of development a la kicking off his shoes... but then her boobs started to hurt again because 15 seconds had passed and she was like, "Fuck it, I'm throwing in the part about him clamping down on my nipples with his new teeth, because that's how a mommy keeps it real!!!"
I sort of wish she hadn't.
4. Fine Young Cannibal
Ouch, Catherine, are you "feeling annoyed" or are you in serious fucking pain?? We all know nipples being chewed off by babies is a thing that happens, but -- call me crazy -- I'm not necessarily interested in knowing which of my Facebook friends has had it happen. This is one of those occasions when a person is inclined to say, "Until YOU'VE had both of YOUR nipples torn off by a cannibal baby with fangs, keep your judgment to yourself!" But no, I can't do that, because that would go against every principle and piece of online etiquette I've ever believed in. I know Catherine just wanted to post a quick one-off about her dangling-by-a-thin-piece-of-skin nipples and vampiric baby son, but she's left an indelible, unsavory mark on her Facebook friends' brains. Good luck with the next few months, Catherine. And perhaps the next few years.
Aww, I'm glad Yendi ended this update on a super sweet note. Except, it IS kind of messed up when you consider that the signifier of a baby's "fav place on earth :)" is when he's utterly destroyed it with his teeth -- or rather, with his aggressive gums. I won't even get into my usual rant about how the word is spelled "y'all" and is a contraction of the words "you" and "all," because Yendi just lost a nipple and deserves a little sympathy. But seriously, this is what a beaver's teeth look like. Do not compare that to your son breastfeeding, even if it's a joke by Jeff Foxworthy. ESPECIALLY if it's a joke by Jeff Foxworthy. Just thinking about it causes my nipples to shrivel up more than they already are. When in doubt, do not free your nipple stories on Facebook. Much like the intimate nature of breastfeeding and personal bonding, some things don't need to be shared with the whole world.