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Normalizing Breastfeeding

Renee Mackey
Alamosa, CO, USA
From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 5-6, 2009, pp. 48-49

Exposure to imagery has a profound impact on the way we view the world.

Breastfeeding has been shown time and time again to be the most beneficial option for feeding for both mother and child. Through my work with breastfeeding mothers, I have often wondered how to move mom's choice to breastfeed out of the "ultimate, perfect, super-mom" realm into the "normal, typical, everyday" realm. I find myself saying, "This is just how we feed our babies. We humans have been doing it since the beginning."

How can we normalize the act of breastfeeding? It is my belief that exposure to imagery has a profound impact on the way we view the world. We make our decisions based on so many factors, but we are not always aware of the great power that lies in what we see and how often we see it.

A man works for a hospital and walks down the same hallway to his office every day. There is a painting of a nursing mother on the wall and he's seen it a thousand times. When his daughter gives birth to her first child, he doesn't think twice when they are out to dinner and she needs to breastfeed her baby -- he's seen it a thousand times. A little girl stops to look at a beautiful painting every time she comes to her pediatrician's office. The lovely image and the warm, cozy feeling she experiences when she sees it mesmerize her. As she grows and thinks about becoming a mother, she's not quite sure why, but she feels like she's always known she would make the choice to breastfeed. She is soon rewarded by the warm, cozy feeling that she remembers from her childhood as her new baby begins to nurse.

What if beautiful breastfeeding art were on the walls of hospitals, doctors' offices, and government buildings everywhere? More people would see breastfeeding as the simple and ordinary act of feeding babies. To accomplish this, LLL of San Luis Valley joined with two other organizations to put on a traveling art show. To help fund the project, I applied for and was awarded a World Breastfeeding Week Celebration grant. Seven artists participated. "The Art of Breastfeeding" began with a reception at a hospital in the atrium. Over a period of three months, the exhibit will travel to five other facilities, including a WIC office, medical centers, and hospitals.

One painting elicited some complaints at the reception. After the artist, the hospital, and I discussed it, we agreed to take it down and replace it with a statement of why it was removed and a list of discussion questions. The good news is that the other five facilities agreed to display all the paintings.

I hope that these images will be conversation starters. They will seep into the consciousness of those who see them and raise their comfort levels. They will bring a sense of ease to mothers who have felt awkward feeding their babies in public. They will present the beauty that is inherent in breastfeeding. They will change our community, one glance at a time.

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