Chapter

Making breastfeeding social: the role of brelfies in breastfeeding’s burgeoning publics

Authors:
To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the author.

Abstract

This chapter looks at the online circulation of breastfeeding selfies — or brelfies — and asks what their benefits might be in terms of making breastfeeding easier. It looks at brelfies as social media activism, drawing attention to embodied mothering, and upending assumptions about the solitary nature of maternity. It argues that brelfies provide a means through which breastfeeding can emerge from its existing practical, conceptual, and imaginary confines, by communicating images of breastfeeding to an almost limitless audience. Not only have brelfies attracted extensive media coverage, raising awareness about breastfeeding in the community, the images also provide a unique form of communication between breastfeeding mothers and their friends, families, and children, as mothers see themselves in the act of taking their own photos. By considering the implications of increased images of women breastfeeding in public — as well as the increased circulation of images of women breastfeeding generally — this chapter argues that brelfies invite us to reconceptualise breastfeeding in public as breastfeeding in social contexts more broadly: in short, to reimagine breastfeeding in relation to its many publics.

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the author.

... If the boundaries between public and private are being eroded, then there will be a nostalgia for this divide among some people, once again it is important to ask whose position might be threatened by the blurring of such distinctions? Breastfeeding is positioned as a private, intimate, individual act and its circulation and currency in public, social fields (be they online or not) gives rise to a backlash, an urge to put breastfeeding 'back where it belongs' , out of sight [14]. The increased presence of breastfeeding selfies on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram have largely been in response to an ongoing censorship war between the platforms and the women who post breastfeeding selfies online. ...
... However, the spaces are not immune from their own regulatory and disciplinary effects, usually around the notion of 'good mothering' , and this can contribute to a continuation of a fragmented sense of self, whereby mothers are conflicted in what they believe or feel and what they understand as a common expectation of the group. Nonetheless, when we consider that the notion of what is socially acceptable i.e. what is permitted to take place in public, changes over time [18], the impact of the relinquishment of a need for discretion and encouragement of the sociality or collectivity of breastfeeding, which online spaces facilitate, gives some hope to the possibility of a breakthrough or a spilling over of these attitudes into the wider social and cultural arena offline [14]. ...
... In fact, the contrived nature of selfie sharing insists, or at the very least, invites a gaze into a scenario which has been culturally positioned as private and solitary [8]. Fiona Giles astutely observes how the contentiousness around breastfeeding in public, is in part due to breastfeeding being culturally positioned as an individual, solitary act [14]. In other words, it is an act the mother conducts with her child(ren) alone. ...
Article
Full-text available
Background: In 2015, the popular online parenting forum, Netmums, named breastfeeding selfies as the number one parenting trend in the UK for that year. Public reaction to the rise in popularity of this practice is polarised, much like breastfeeding in public. The unspoken rule that breastfeeding should be discreet is challenged by the ostentatious presence of breastfeeding selfies. The case study: This paper focuses on a detailed case study with a white, working class, single mother of two children who has taken and shared breastfeeding selfies online. The analysis employs psychoanalytic and phenomenological methods in order to consider the interrelation of both the internal processes and external forces at work in the practice of taking and sharing breastfeeding selfies. The focus is on how her practice might function in relation to the development of a maternal subject position and the ways in which any cultural capital associated with breastfeeding is perceived and mobilised. The analysis reveals how the relational dimension of selfie taking and participation in online breastfeeding and mothers' groups helps develop an embodied sense of cultural capital which has ramifications in the everyday, although not without its own contradictions. Whilst breastfeeding may take up a particular place in contemporary discourses around parenting and 'good mothering', the capital it affords women is inherently wrapped up in their subject position and material conditions. Online spaces allow for manoeuvre and the mobilisation of this capital in a way which is precluded in the outside world. The practice of sharing and consuming breastfeeding selfies critically contributes to the actualisation of this capital in an embodied sense. Conclusions: The key theme which emerges is the crucial need for recognition at both the micro and macro level and how this need for recognition is informed by both psychic and social pressures. The visibility, or self-exposure, associated with selfie sharing contributes to the surety of taking up a maternal subject position, from which the participant was better placed to work through some of the cultural ambivalences she too had internalised toward breastfeeding.
... It is the relational economy that this signifies of the motherwith other children, family, friends or strangersthat reminds us of the relational economy at the heart of the breastfeeding act: the mother and her breastfeeding child. By shifting the problematic from one that positions breastfeeding in private as opposed to breastfeeding in public, I suggest we dismantle the private/public binary and begin to think of breastfeeding in terms of a continuum from solitude to sociality, encompassing the variety of relational economies that this offers [27,28]. It is here that images of women breastfeeding while engaging socially with non-breastfeeding otherswhether inside or outside the homemight have the most value; and where proxemic distance may begin to be traversed. ...
... This gestural invitation to be seen is in and of itself an important advance on previous ideals of seclusion and invisibility. Brelfies have therefore made an important contribution to socializing breastfeeding through the digital sharing of their images [27,28]. ...
... The proliferation of celebrities breastfeeding not only attracted mainstream media to the brelfie phenomenon, but also led the way for women to seek out professional breastfeeding portrait photographers. It is curious to see how this pro-social celebrity trend might have encouraged women to record these moments as worthy of belonging to their personal archives, and to sharing their images with friends on social media, particularly following the more lenient policy toward breastfeeding images adopted by Facebook in 2015 after lactivist protests [27]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Contemporary images of women breastfeeding — from breastfeeding selfies to fine art — celebrate breastfeeding outside the home by displaying visual records of these occasions to a wider audience. From brelfies posted by celebrities and ordinary parents on social media, to the photography of Tara Ruby and Ivette Ivens, media coverage of lactivist nurse-ins, or fine-art works by Ashlee Jenkins and Sky Boucher, the repertoire of breastfeeding images in developed Western nations has grown and diversified exponentially in the past ten years. A subject that was once the province of religious painting, ethnography, public health advocacy or obscure corners of pornography, is increasingly made visible within the everyday, not only through self-portraiture on social media but also through the work of celebrated photographers and visual artists. Despite this, there is still an absence of images of women breastfeeding in social circumstances, suggesting a reluctance to make the leap from understanding breastfeeding as a solitary activity, regardless of the space the mother inhabits at the time, to a companionable behaviour integral to our social landscape. Images predominate of women breastfeeding alone, or at best with other breastfeeding women, revealing a further binary dividing the acceptable from the unacceptable, where the private vs. public has been conflated with the solitary vs. social. This article provides a textual analysis of contemporary photographic portraiture to interpret the meanings of key works, and their patterns of signification. It asks to what extent these images advance efforts to normalize breastfeeding and make it publicly commonplace, or reinforce unhelpful binaries, using an iconography based on the religious origins of portraiture itself: the virtuous, devoted mother, unaccompanied but for her child. I conclude that the lack of images where breastfeeding women are integrated into social occasions is partly due to the lack of opportunities for women to breastfeed socially, and few motives for these instances to be recorded, and that there is an unspoken proxemics of viewing space yet to be traversed.
... Breastfeeding in public is described by some as disgusting, embarrassing, offensive, and indecent (Boyer, 2018;Morris et al., 2020). Public shaming has created a hurdle for many women trying to balance the demands of infant care, household responsibilities, and returning to work as they try to continue to breastfeed (Giles, 2018). Lack of support for public breastfeeding can result in early termination of breastfeeding, compromising infant health and immunity (Centers for Disease Control, 2020; Couto et al., 2020). ...
... Brelfies offer a message about motherhood between the mother and the viewer, opening a discursive space about breastfeeding in public (Zappavigna & Zhao, 2017). Proponents argue that brelfies may play a role in normalizing breastfeeding in public and reducing stigma (Giles, 2018). Posting a brelfie is described as a way to celebrate motherhood (Beach, 2017). ...
Article
Often, lack of support results in early termination of breastfeeding compromising infant health. Lactivists argue one way to normalize public breastfeeding is by posting brelfies on social network sites. An online experiment tested a 2 × 2 between-subjects factorial design. Participants (N = 296) were randomly assigned to one of the four experimental conditions varying the valence of comments or the control where no user comments were present. Most participants posted supportive comments. Compared to participants who only viewed brelfies, those who read any type of comment posted by other users showed negative attributions and emotions to brelfies. A number of other variables were also measured. Identification with other social media users was associated with approval for posting brelfies and supporting mothers. Emotional arousal and cognitive appraisal may be two sources of stigma about comments for brelfies even though people recognize that breastfeeding is an important health issue.
... This would directly aim to reframe beliefs centred around mothers' sexuality, illuminating the importance of breastfeeding in public for babies' nutrition. Social media campaigns may be of value (Giles, 2018), as well as changes in legislation and enforcing existing rights to breastfeed contained in legislation. We hypothesise that when the social environment is more welcoming, the limitations of the built environment will have less impact on where mothers feel that they can breastfeed. ...
Article
Full-text available
Breastfeeding rates in many Global North countries are low. Qualitative research highlights that breastfeeding in public is a particular challenge, despite mothers often having the legal right to do so. To identify barriers and facilitators, we systematically searched the qualitative research from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries relating to breastfeeding in public spaces from 2007 to 2021. Data were analysed using the Thematic Synthesis technique. The review was registered with PROSPERO (registration number: CRD42017081504). Database searching identified 3570 unique records. In total, 74 papers, theses, or book chapters, relating to 71 studies, were included, accounting for over 17,000 mothers. Overall, data quality was high. Our analysis identified that five core factors influenced mothers' thought processes and their breastfeeding in public behaviour: legal system; structural (in)equality; knowledge; beliefs and the social environment. Macro-level factors relating to legislation and inequality urgently require redress if breastfeeding rates are to be increased. Widespread culture change is also required to enhance knowledge, change hostile beliefs and thus the social environment in which mother/infant dyads exist. In particular, the sexualisation of breasts, disgust narratives and lack of exposure among observers to baby-led infant feeding patterns resulted in beliefs which created a stigmatising environment. In this context, many mothers felt unable to breastfeed in public; those who breastfed outside the home were usually highly self-aware, attempting to reduce their exposure to conflict. Evidence-based theoretically informed interventions to remove barriers to breastfeeding in public are urgently required.
... If the 2000s were the decade of the "brelfie, " that is, of carefully curated breastfeeding selfies shared online [67], the early 2020s could be dubbed the years of "LacZoom" to connote the different ways and degrees to which people expose their lactation on videoconferencing software. Unlike brelfies, which risk censorship on social media such as Facebook or Instagram for violating indecency and nudity policies [68], LacZoom happens in real time, reducing the chance that it will be blocked. ...
Article
Full-text available
Background In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, billions of people were asked by their state and local governments not to go to work and not leave the house unless they had to. The goal of this qualitative study was to collect the lived experiences of a small group of parents and lactation professionals in the United States about what it was like to feed babies human milk under these conditions of quarantine. Methods This project is a social constructionist analysis of lactation narratives of 24 parents feeding their children human milk and 13 lactation professionals. They were interviewed remotely in 2020–21 via videoconferencing about their experiences and perspectives on the pandemic’s effect on lactation. Additionally, photographs of 16 of the parents are provided to visualize their practices and how they chose to represent them. Results Four interrelated themes were identified in participants’ narratives about how they experienced and made sense of human milk feeding during the pandemic: the loneliness of lactation during the pandemic, the construction of human milk as a resource to cope with the crisis, the (in)visibility of lactation amidst heightened multitasking, and the sense of connection created by human milk feeding at a time of unprecedented solitude. Conclusions While the pandemic may have had both positive and negative effects on lactation, it exposed continuing inequities in infant feeding, generating new forms of (in)visibility for lactating labor. Going forward, one lesson for policy and lawmakers may be that to adequately support lactation, they should take cues from the families who had positive experiences during the crisis. This would call for systemically overhauling of US laws and policies by guaranteeing: universal basic income, paid parental leave for at least six months, paid lactation leaves and breaks, affordable housing, universal health care, subsidized childcare programs, and equal access to high-quality, non-discriminatory, and culturally appropriate medical care—including lactation counseling—, among other initiatives.
... There are those that are enthusiastically supportive and defensive-see work on 'lactivism,' nurse-ins, group nursing photo shoots, as well as, foods that include human milk as an ingredient (c.f. Boyer 2011;Brown 2019;Cassidy 2012;Cohen and Otomo 2017;Dillard 2015;Giles 2018)-and also those which shame, oppose, criticize and/or offer alternatives to breastfeeding in public. Notwithstanding these opinions, in the U.S., every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands has a law protecting breastfeeding in public. ...
Article
The breast/chestfeeding body is a site of intense politics and power relations in the United States. Hardly a week passes without an incident in the news of a person being publically shamed, or unlawfully asked to change their behavior while using their body to feed their infant in public. Lactating bodies are deemed out-of-place. Simultaneously, birth-parents are judged on their infant feeding practices, with those who do not nurse cast outside of the biologically deterministic ‘good mother’ role. This framing causes the nursing or not-nursing body to become a site of debate. These takes, which point to governance, surveillance, and sexualization of bodies are limiting and have brought these debates to an impasse. What I suggest here is that a re-reading is needed, which situates the body as a site of care, here I focus on the lactating body in particular considering food production, co-production, and consumption. Re-reading the body in this way illuminates how food production and care work are undervalued as related to infant feeding and re-casts the act of nursing as not about ‘women’s bodies’ but about food + care. Ultimately, such work allows for bodies to be considered multiple and as transformational sites of knowledge production.
Article
Full-text available
This paper takes a feminist approach to rethinking the significance of user- device interaction, attachments and dependency. It suggests that Jean Laplanche’s resignification of ‘seduction’, the function of the ‘enigmatic message’ and reconfigu- ration of sexuality as a ‘charge and tension’ are particularly useful for theorising the relationship that smartphones, as digital objects, have to unconscious sexuality and psychic life. The paper suggests that the draw of user-device interactions is connected to the rhythms of unconscious sexuality and that this opens up a space for thinking beyond subject-object dichotomies and ultimately offers hope for a shift in the cultural imaginary.
Article
One of the main criteria of being a “good mother” is evaluating motherhood as worthwhile and fulfilling. Yet in recent years there has been increased debate regarding women who regret having had children and who question the utilitarian rhetoric of childbirth and parenting. However, there is as yet little research into such counter-discourses of maternity and femininity in online environments. This study addresses this research gap by examining expressions of maternal regret in the Talk fora of Mumsnet, a UK-based parenting website. Focusing on stance-taking, it examines how women attempt to deal with regret and to create a sense of self between the binaries of good/bad mother discourses. The study contributes to an appreciation of the diversity of experiences of motherhood and the emotions and cognition that accompany them – ranging from mourning for one’s previous life through guilt to acceptance – and highlights how digitally mediated communication functions as an arena in which women can break the taboo of maternal regret.
Article
Full-text available
Based on six years of participant observation in lactivist spaces, this article traces one of the pathways from knowledge sharing to activism and mobilisation in breastfeeding support spaces online, and considers the ways in which lactivist spaces employ biomedical information and various images to create a sense of ‘milk pride’. I want to argue that, although problematic, this is an important aspect of reclaiming biomedical evidence for women’s benefit. By looking at images grouped thematically as ‘wondrous milk’, ‘superpower’, and ‘liquid gold’, the article demonstrates how the appropriation of biomedical discourses occurs at the grassroots level of the breastfeeding movement, understood here as the loosely connected networks of support present in online environments. It then moves to consider how these discourses are deployed to empower women to feel entitled to access specific rights and to extend these to the sphere of work within the household, typically invisible to the wage-work oriented economic sphere.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.