Sorry, Elle. This Is Not the 'Normal' Face of Breastfeeding


There is a movement to normalize breastfeeding. You might have seen one or two, or maybe many, many more articles, usually with pictures, on the need to normalize breastfeeding. Personally, I think it is all tempest in a teapot. Every time someone asks a nursing woman to cover up, a post somewhere goes viral. Meanwhile, all over the western world, women nurse in public with little reaction at all. I nursed four children everywhere. I had one negative remark from a 90-something British woman. She lived next door to my friend, who was also nursing on her stoop, and mildly chastised us that in her day, breastfeeding was something you did only in the bedroom.

The general complaint is that women cannot nurse in public because the patriarchy has declared breasts are exclusively sexual. And whose fault is that exactly? Bethany Mandel nails the problem with her commentary on Elle‘s latest cover-photo attempt at normalizing breastfeeding, which ran in Australia but was only available to digital subscribers in the U.S.:

Subscribers are treated to a different cover image, that of Trunfio still holding her naked son with perfect makeup, but this time, with a brown jacket opened over her naked front while nursing Zion.

Trunfio shared the image on Instagram with the caption: “Let us #normalizebreastfeeding. There is nothing worse than a mother that is judged for feeding her hungry child in public. #weareonlyhuman I’m so proud of this cover and for what it’s stands for.”

We are only human, we are only mammals, which is why normalizing breastfeeding is so important. We are forced to do so because breasts have been made into solely sexual parts of a woman’s body. On the cover of Elle, Trunfio advanced the sexual nature of this body part by posing in a manner totally divorced of how normal women breastfeed their babies every day. I have never—not once—put on designer clothes, had my makeup professionally applied and stood half-naked, holding a naked baby to nurse.

Not only is Mandel spot on about never dressing up to nurse — a ridiculous proposition, as breastfeeding is often messy and breast milk has a high sugar content making it a pain to launder out of cotton t-shirts much less designer suede — but also, nursing activates babies’  digestive systems. They pee and poop while feeding, sometimes explosively. You don’t breastfeed a naked baby unless you have a spare hour or so for gross cleanup—or perhaps staff to do it for you. Furthermore, I can check with my husband, but I am quite certain that I never nursed while giving him the plump open lip, bedroom eyes “come hither” look.

That cover isn’t normalizing breastfeeding. It is sexualizing it as a trend for the rich and beautiful.