Photos Show Breastfeeding Realities Faced by Many Women Today

 A photographer created a project that challenges the concept of 'natural' when it comes to nursing.Breastfeeding: it’s the most ‘natural’ thing on Earth. Or is it? A New York photographer created a project that challenges the concept of ‘natural’ when it comes to nursing.

Photographer Leah DeVun was living in Austin, Texas when she was pregnant. She was surrounded by friends and acquaintances who all recommended and experienced ‘natural births’ — from home births in the bathtub to delivering babies on the beach.

Related: Medications and Breastfeeding

Her own experience with pregnancy and subsequent childbirth was sadly quite the opposite.

DeVun said she could have been depressed about her body’s ‘failure’ and the necessity of medical interventions to give birth, but instead her curiosity about pregnant and nursing bodies, and what society thinks about them in relation to medical and technological interventions, was piqued.

Related: Candid Shots of Everyday Moms Breastfeeding in Public are Helping to Normalize Nursing

DeVun found that cultural conversations surrounding childbirth tend to emphasize how the process is such a natural one, which leads some to believe or feel that medical intervention or technological assistance is a ‘failure’ on a woman’s part to do something so ‘natural.’

This explains her quest for photographing the various paraphernalia that accompany mothers in breastfeeding — instruments she believes are hidden to emphasize the ‘natural-ness’ of nursing.

She feels that we sometimes shy away from the reality of how much technological aid is used even in such ‘natural’ processes as nursing one’s baby. Even more than breastfeeding itself, she believes instruments that aid in breastfeeding are often sort of secrets.Photographer shows technological necessities of breastfeedingTo open the door to those secrets, and help other mothers like herself realize their bodies do not ‘fail’ them if/when they need technological assistance, DeVun put a call out for her photography project, “In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

She asked mothers to sit for photographs while they demonstrated the various materials they used to help them with the process. The photographs showed women covered with different shields, tubes and pumps they used in their breastfeeding journey, and showed a vast difference in pictures often shared of nursing mamas.A photographer shows the technological necessities of a 'natural' process like nursingDeVun said she was struck by the contrast in the common articles that seemed so foreign to her before her pregnancy and their ordinary-ness once she was part of the club of women who used them. She believes that once you use a breast pump or nursing system, the pieces of equipment immediately go from unknown to something very close and intimate, entangled with your body.

DeVun says that nursing accessories just become part of who you are and what you do once they’re needed in your life, and she hopes her pictures challenge the myth that nursing is a natural, innate process that one’s body needs no help with.

She hopes the photos show some of the discomfort she’s experienced as a mother, and how complex our bodies are in what they do and what they need, even in the most natural processes.

Hopefully, mothers will be encouraged to see realities of nursing and not feel like failures if their own path isn’t quite as easy as they’d imagined.

A photographer shows nursing is not as easy and 'natural' as is often thoughtHer photographs are part of the “Chimeras” exhibit on display at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, NE, until April 29.

Photo Credit: Leah DeVun

11 thoughts on “Photos Show Breastfeeding Realities Faced by Many Women Today”

  1. The faces on these woman make them look as though they’ve been handed a death sentence. Why is there such a prevalent attitude of motherhood being a terrible thing to endure these days? It’s not easy, but get over yourselves ladies, parenting is about sacrifice! (So is heroism!)

    1. I love motherhood, but I haaaaaate pumping. God do I hate it. Love breastfeeding, haaaaaate pumping. My face would look like that too if you took my picture mid pump, and it wouldn’t at all represent how I feel towards motherhood.

  2. Breastfeeding your child is as natural as having the child they should be a package deal. It is of issue for a very tiny percentage of the world’s population. I’m not sure why mothering magazine is going out on a limb with this article. There’s nothing more natural than breastfeeding it is the first and the best way to feed your child the 2nd is pumped the 3rd is pumped from someone else and the fourth is artificial milk. (Artificial as in NOT natural). Formulas a great alternative for those who cannot breastfeed. And should be available by prescription.

      1. You were very likely able to breastfeed just fine. Society has made it so that more women “can’t”. Breastfeeding isn’t natural when you don’t do it naturally. It’s not as simple as putting baby to boob when he’s hungry, and especially not when it’s scheduled. Natural feeding is when you feed the baby on cue, and without pumping. But it also means skin to skin contact, carrying your baby most of the time, sleeping with baby, and disconnecting yourself from societies idea of what a woman should be and do. Mothers who are required to work, and/or take on housekeeping responsibilities, will obviously have difficulty responding to the demands of an infant, especially one who is being fed from the breast. Unlike bottles, breasts give baby smaller amounts of milk more frequently, which is the natural way a baby is adapted to eating. That means more frequent nursing. And on top of that, babies need to nurse for comfort as well. Many of the mothers who feel that they “can’t” breastfeed are misled. When they feed baby and he still acts hungry, they assume they don’t have enough milk. That’s almost never the case if mother and baby are given the opportunity to feed on cue and not be rushed to put it on a schedule. The idea that so many mothers are unable to breastfeed is absurd. If that were the case, the human race would have died out long ago. In a natural environment, mothers and newborns are left to do the only thing they’re meant to do. Be together. In a natural community, the mother’s chores and responsibilities are taken over by other women, so that the baby can be cared for promptly, and stress free. In those communities, there is very rarely a case of postpartum depression, babies almost never cry, and mothers don’t worry about milk supply. So stop trying to normalize the idea that some women can’t Breastfeed. There’s nothing normal about it. A woman who is truly unable to breastfeed is a rarity. I’ve been blessed with this child. My husband agrees with me and has encouraged me to stay home, and let the baby be my only priority. It’s no coincidence that suddenly, after 4 failed attempts at Breastfeeding with not enough milk, here I am, with a happy breastfed baby who is gaining weight and rarely cries. I only pump when my husband wants to feed him. So basically, society is the reason why so many women are having to use formula. It has nothing to do with their bodies. Maybe if we stop normalizing it and blaming biology, more women will stand up for their rights as mothers and stop being bullied into putting outside responsibilities ahead of their children. We need to demand paid time off for mothers, and 6 weeks isn’t going to cut it. We need 6 months minimum. And we need to do better at supporting new mothers by offering to do their housework and caring for older children while they devote the first few months to caring for the newborn. It takes a community to raise a well rounded child. Feeding is only a part of the equation, but taking away Breastfeeding takes away so much more than nutrition

        1. As an exclusively pumping mom, I take issue with this comment. I was able to breastfeed my older child, and did so until she was 2.75 years old. As a working mom, I pumped 10-12 ounces of breast milk a day for about nine months of those, so she had milk while she was at child care.
          My second child was born with a cleft palate, and despite months of working with a lactation consultant, doing hours upon hours of research, and trying every day, he was never able to nurse. I have been pumping milk for him for fourteen months now. Breast pump equipment is a large part of my daily routine, and that will continue for at least a few more months. Breastfeeding is NOT possible for everyone, and for me and for the other moms in my online pumping groups, it feels good to see photos of women who could be in our situation. No, we are certainly not the majority, and I wish that all moms and babies could breastfeed, because that would be a thousand times easier than hooking up to a breast pump 3-8 times per day and having to wash bottles and pump parts multiple times a day while taking care of my children. I, for one, appreciate that this piece acknowledges moms like me, and I don’t appreciate you belittling our hard work. Yes, you’re right that we should get more time after childbirth to spend with our babies, but for some of us, even that wouldn’t solve every problem.

  3. I agree Kim and Sweet Pea. I’m surprised at the premise of this article too. It gives no background nor circumstances of these women. Of course these are realistic images, but not in the same context of breastfeeding being natural. How about doing a photo story on preparing artificial milk during the midnight hour. Those pics won’t look all that glamorous either.

    1. To help you understand reasons pumping can be part of “natural breastfeeding”, you might want to read, . My story included unwanted breast surgery that reduced my milk production. For me “natural” breastfeeding mandated a Supplemental Nursing System (“SNS” by Medela) like the woman w/ the bottle hanging between her breasts, & later the Lact-Aid System ( which I preferred). It wasn’t about glamor! All my babies were nursed naturally at the breast as a benefit of technology! Even at 2 yrs old, they never questioned the tiny tube (which provided additional milk) that went into their wide open mouth along with my nipple. All they knew was natural suckling. Washing the tubing was no more difficult than washing their cotton diapers. “Natural” doesn’t always =”Easy”. Without these Technologies I would have had no choice but to give my child an artificial nipple/bottle. We may not smile while pumping or taping on an SNS, but we all smile when our babies get breast milk as we hold them close to our hearts!

  4. You women complaining about these pictures and how all women can breastfeed if they just try hard enough are truly misguided and misinformed. For you to state that I was unable to breastfeed my daughter because I didn’t try hard enough is incredibly insulting. I had a preemie at 30 weeks, and pumped from the first hour after my c-section, 8x per day for 4 months, then 7x/day for 2 months, then 5-6 times per day for another 3 months. I had many many appointments with IBCLCs, feeding therapists, and my daughter had numerous swallow studies which eventually led to a diagnosis of dysphagia and aspiration, and we had to thicken her breastmilk. Except, breastmilk couldn’t be thickened enough to prevent her from aspirating, so we had to switch to formula (Even though I have over 2000 oz of frozen breastmilk for her). It was an incredibly stressful journey, and I felt like a failure every day that I couldn’t do something that was supposedly so “natural”.

    Your comments are very hurtful to a large segment of mothers who desperately wanted to be able to nurse their babies but for numerous reasons, were unable to do so.

  5. I, too, am insulted by some of these comments. I tried, and tried, and tried to breastfeed. I hired lactation consultants, home-visit post-birth midwives, and went to breastfeeding groups. I never made enough milk, no matter what I tried. My babies suffered because they had dry diapers with dark urine in them. My husband suffered because I was beating myself up about not being able to do “the best” for them. Then a midwife put a bottle of formula in my hand and told me to let go of the guilt. “The best” is different for each family. As long as a baby is fed and happy, the method of feeding is irrelevant, even for mothers who can breastfeed but choose a bottle.

    You do your best, and I’ll do mine, and I’ll thank you to keep your opinions on feeding to yourself.

  6. I had quite a different response. I am quite lucky in that I have been able to have a body that makes enough milk. I have 3 kids, the second batch being twins. I pump at work still and they are almost 2 years old. What I found comforting was the look on those women’s faces. I have worn that look frequently. And I love my kids and I love BF! But I am dog tired. I have that look at 10pm, 12, 1am, 2am, 3-4:30am, as I am up BF twins. Anyway, this is off topic, but I wanted to say I can relate. Thank you for sharing these photos. It isn’t easy being a mom in this culture. But it helps to know we’re not alone 🙂

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