After becoming inspired by the deep connection she felt breastfeeding her own two daughters, artist Leanne Pearce created and recently featured her first exhibition titled “Breastfeed” at the University of Sunderland’s Design Center in England. Through her series of paintings depicting a diverse group of mothers breastfeeding their children, she hopes to portray their unique stories and increase awareness around the idea that breasts are natural and functional rather than just sexual.
Portraits featuring breastfeeding mothers are certainly not new. A mother of three in New Jersey started a social media following for the account @breastfeedingart, that as of today, has 39.1 K followers. The account features both modern day and historical images of women breastfeeding and includes one simple line in the biography–“breastfeeding has been normal since forever.”
I am left to wonder though, is breastfeeding truly normal for everyone? While research has time and again revealed the health protection from of breastfeeding for both mother and baby, for some, this source of nourishment is not normal and quickly forgotten when a woman’s body is exposed to feed her child.
Why are we so uncomfortable with breastfeeding?
Can a beautiful work of art change that?
I am hopeful that it can.
Leanne states that she was “braced and armed” to defend negative comments in response to her exhibition, however she was pleasantly surprised that her work was mostly met with many women reaching out to let her know how proud they are for breastfeeding. Leanne says that “breastfeeding mothers are strong, powerful, nurturing humans and at some points fragile.” Her portraits capture this essence and I absolutely agree.
My own breastfeeding journey has been nothing less than beautiful, even when things were not smooth sailing (which was quite often at first). Peering down into the deep blue eyes of my nursing son captivated me and I have since been under the spell of this bond between the two of us. Some of my favorite pictures of me and my son share a glimpse into our breastfeeding story. This includes a self-taken photograph, with our reflection in a dirty mirror, complete with my tired, swollen eyes and the disarray of a messy house behind us. Despite all of that, the image is lovely.
To me that is art and I believe the actual act of breastfeeding is an art too.
An art of acceptance. It may not always work out and that is okay. Or we may not choose to breastfeed, or choose to stop breastfeeding before we intended, and that is okay too.
An art of trial and error. From comfortable nursing positions to finding the perfect latch.
An art of dedication. To keep going despite a little or a lot of discomfort. To keep pumping day after day. To follow a nutritious diet.
An art of strength: To breastfeed in public. To breastfeed while holding your child in a busy supermarket. To stand up to someone uncomfortable with your actions.
An art of finding connection. With your child and the loved ones who support you.
An art of self-discovery. How does this bond make you feel? What have you learned along the way?
I can certainly appreciate the art of breastfeeding (in all its various forms) and those who choose to support, celebrate, and advocate for it every day.
Even though her exhibition ended last week, Leanne is not stopping there. The labor of love for her portraits will continue as she is extremely passionate about sharing the “Breastfeeding” message. She has been asked to share more exhibitions, including the “Breastfeeding in the Wider Community Project” where she will work directly with mothers to celebrate breastfeeding in the United Kingdom, and eventually within the United States. Her portraits are now available for purchase as prints, and her hope is that these images will be proudly displayed in maternity units around the world to generate positive discussion about the beauty and importance of supporting a mother’s decision to breastfeed.
To read more about Leanne and her work you can visit her website.
Photo shared with permission from Leanne Pearce.