STFU Parents: Breastfeeding Tips For Facebook Moms In Honor Of World Breastfeeding Week
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.