The word literally haunts me... it follows me around social media, landing in my inbox from some far off place full of rage and simmering indignation.
"You should be ashamed of yourself!" The naysayers tell me, "have you no discretion?"
We've all seen the argument, right?
They tell us to feed our babies privately; to cover our breasts. They tell us that nobody wants to see our cleavages, as they happily walk past 10 foot tall, cleavage-laden billboards on their daily commutes.
Such utter ignorance.
I've said before that there is a big problem with the notion of discreet breastfeeding. (You can read about it here.) And I've made myself very clear in my opinion that in order to see breastfeeding as normal, we need actually see it.
These facts remain true.
Yet nothing in this world is straightforward, especially since we are living in a society that sexualises the breast. We live in a world where breastfeeding is not the social norm, even though it is the biological norm and is recommended by every single health authority across the globe.
So how can we bridge this disconnect? How can we support and empower new moms on their breastfeeding journeys, while simultaneously navigating the social stigma that too often runs alongside nursing?
As a new mom, I was not brave enough to nurse in public. I hate that I even have to use the word brave there. But it's true; I didn't have the confidence to break our misplaced and dangerous social taboo. I was recovering from a traumatic childbirth and I was bone-achingly exhausted. I simply didn't have the strength to challenge the norm.
But little by little, I found my strength. I found my voice. And yes, it got pretty loud.
Now I will happily nurse my 4-year-old in public, without even a second thought.
Yet breastfeeding is not all or nothing (I've made that comment before as well -- you can read it here.) There is no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to mastering this skill set, which can be an extremely difficult task and one that leaves us doubting ourselves -- proven by the fact that a recent survey of healthcare workers, conducted by Lansinoh, identified moms' own self doubt about 'not doing it right' as being the biggest barrier to breastfeeding.
Moms, I'm not going to lie. Breastfeeding can feel like the highest mountain to climb. But the vast majority of us can get through those early bumps...with dedication and crucially, with support.
And the fact that not every breastfeeding journey looks the same can actually be seen as a really positive thing. Because by stepping away from the notions of 'right' and 'wrong', we find ourselves feeling less pressurized and much more flexible in the ways in which we go about navigating our individual breastfeeding journeys.
Some moms, for instance, breastfeed directly from day one, without so much as a cracked nipple... while others navigate mastitis, clogged ducts, tongue ties, supply issues and so much more. Some moms pump at the office, while others pump exclusively. Some moms breastfeed anywhere and everywhere uncovered, while others prefer a shawl.
And while I often hear the argument that 100% direct, uncovered breastfeeding, 100% of the time, is the most effective way to normalize breastfeeding in our society, I have to disagree. Because this line of thinking creates some serious boobie traps.
If we lay out only one pathway, only one route through this epic adventure of breastfeeding...we are inadvertently failing the majority of mothers. Ironically enough, the very notion of a 'gold standard' of breastfeeding sets it aside as something 'special'; as something potentially unattainable and distant.
This is exactly what we don't want to happen, surely?
Surely, we want new moms to see breastfeeding as something normal and accessible. As something that most people are doing -- albeit in different ways -- and as something that is flexible enough to try out.
Surely, the more of us that master this skill -- in whichever way works best for us -- the more voices there will be encouraging one another along on this journey. And the more voices there are, the louder the message...
Breastfeeding is normal.
Breastfeeding is accessible.
Breastfeeding is not a one-sized, elitist model.
Quite simply, breastfeeding is inclusive.
Related article: Do We Really Need To See It?
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A version of this post originally appeared on Mama Bean Parenting.