Gina Marie Brocker is a documentary photographer based in Boston.
With my 10-month-old son strapped onto my front and camera in hand, I squeezed into Monica’s SUV. I began to document her feeding her 16-month-old daughter following the regular afternoon pickup of her older daughter. Marlin was snug in her lap nursing, while three-year-old Simona climbed to the front of the car to see what other entertainment she could find. Kids songs played on the speakers and the cracked windows let just enough breeze in. They were parked outside the Arnold Arboretum, in Boston, hoping to take advantage of the spring weather.
Breastfeeding is a choice and commitment. With its many rewards, comes challenges and sacrifices. Physical pain, being constantly on call and the unbalanced care-giving between you and your partner – to name a few. Battling outside criticism and judgment is often another hurdle families have to face. Often, mothers feel pressured from their own families to stop breastfeeding once their baby gets to a certain age. Partners have suggested that it’s inappropriate to nurse in certain public settings. One mother had laughing teenage boys photograph her while breastfeeding on public transportation.
According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in the United States, 81.1 per cent of babies are breastfed and 51.8 per cent are done so to the age of six months. Of this 51.8 per cent, roughly one-quarter are exclusively breastfed – meaning no formula was used. Throughout the rest of the world, an average of 43 per cent of babies are exclusively breasted until six months of age.
This past spring, the United States opposed a resolution to encourage breastfeeding in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly – a stark contrast to the Obama administration, which supported the World Health Organization’s long-standing policy of encouraging breastfeeding. A 2013 study in The Lancet found that universal breastfeeding would prevent 800,000 child deaths a year globally, save US$300-billion in health-care costs and improve economic outcomes for those raised on breast milk.
After personally navigating uncomfortable and challenging situations, the need to share the realities of breastfeeding led me to begin this project. Usually worn in a wrap – and often nursing – my son, and later, daughter, and I ventured into over 50 Boston families’ homes and lives to document their typical breastfeeding routines. Hearing from the various caregivers reaffirmed how crucial sharing their experiences are. Knowing the realities of breastfeeding empowers families and normalizes this very natural and beneficial part of life.
Michele and Riley
My milk took 5 days to come in. I never read it could take that long. No one told me that waiting 3-5 days was typical. I needed a nipple shield for the first 6 weeks, because my nipples were too flat. I couldn’t figure out how to hold the shield in place, hold down Riley’s arms from swatting at me and somewhow shove his head and widen his mouth onto my nipple when I was alone. Our breastfeeding journey is now 7 months strong and I have no intention of weaning. Even though he now gets distracted, pinches and scratches, breastfeeding has been the most bonding and empowering part of motherhood for me.
Danielle and Thea
Nursing has, impossibly, gifted us more time ... I wish her little body would fit, soft and heavy, in my arms for always. Still, in the shade of her deepest sleeps, I can see her rosy mouth, eyes closed and head bobbing, as she anxiously searches for my breast. And time feels, for just a moment, a little more manageable.
Emily and Eleanor
The first few weeks of breastfeeding were emotional chaos. The magic of feeding Eleanor with my own body was instantaneous, but it was immediately accompanied by self-doubt, fear, pain, and loneliness. By the third day I was certain I couldn’t continue. By the sixth day I was certain I could. By the tenth I wasn’t certain of anything. Now I can’t stand to think of the day that I finally stop nursing her. So many memories of her first weeks have faded in the months that have followed, but I can summon the simultaneous joy and dread of her first few feedings with no effort at all.
Taryn and Lavi
Bed sharing just seemed natural to my husband and I. It allows for us to get sleep and my son to nurse as he needs throughout the night. After working in Haiti with breastfeeding mothers and being educated as a lactation consultant, I envisioned my personal breastfeeding journey to be easy. It was quite the opposite! My son had a serious tongue tie causing severe nipple pain that took a couple weeks to diagnose and even longer to treat. With serious determination and perseverance we made it to six months of exclusive breastfeeding and continue as we recently introduced solids.
Melissa and Augustis
My favorite part of breastfeeding our son is the look of complete calm on his face. Watching the stress melt away as he nurses makes me feel like ‘we got this.’
K & J
I shouldn’t need to justify why I breastfeed my 2-year-old. It soothes him, it tells him that mommy loves him. It empowers me that I can quench his thirst with my metabolism ... also because I can quantify this love and feel its flow and multitask while I’m breastfeeding. I breastfeed, because it’s normal to us.
Suzie and Sam
Dear Sam, I never thought we would “do mimi” (nurse) for 3.5 years!!! But it is fading away, and I know it will soon come to an end ... Since you nursed so long, you might later still remember mimi, perhaps a little, and I hope it is a good memory.
Brittney and children
Four years ago, I struggled to nurse my preemie twins and breastfeeding was stressful, painful, and only partially successful. My third baby was born full term and nursing has been blissfully easy this time around. Having such different experiences has given me a lot of perspective. I have so much empathy for moms who have difficulty breastfeeding and I don’t take nursing for granted because I know it’s not always as effortless as it looks. I give thanks every time I feed him and I’m savoring every moment of nursing my last baby!
Molly and children
I have three children, very close in age, that still nurse. I would be the mom that would be wearing a sleeping baby on the front, sitting having a coffee, while the two toddlers were nursing out of each side of the carrier. My husband and I traveled quite a bit before we had children and were lucky to witness breastfeeding in public as a very normal part of everyday life. We spent 60 hours on a bus from Laos to Vietnam with a woman traveling alone with a baby and a toddler. They would go between playing with a couple of toys to checking in with their mom through nursing. They were happy as can be for a 60 hour bus ride. It amazes me that we don’t see this in our culture since full term breastfeeding isn’t the norm.
Talisa, Mackenzie and Max
Before I had children I thought that breastfeeding was gross. I didn’t know anyone who breastfed until I was well into my 30s. I thought that only poor people or people trying to make a statement nursed their babies. I can’t believe how wrong I was. I wish that I could take back all of the harsh words, and ignorant glares.
I pump because I am a working mother and I want to feed my baby with the most organic nutrients ... I am on a strict schedule to pump at certain times to ensure I produce just enough milk to leave for my son while I am away from him. Its a lot of work, and while nobody said motherhood would be a cakewalk, pumping really is tough! Some days I feel like a cow hooked up to my milking machine - my nipples are sore, they bleed and are cracked.
Mike and Eli
It’s really not until you decide to venture outside of your home, that you realize the complexity of bottle feeding your child. You pre-fill a bottle and in addition take a frozen bag of breastmilk that your wife has carefully extracted, bagged and labeled days before, with the date, and volume, just in case you’re gone for longer than expected.
Kelly and Natalie
While pregnant, I had these idyllic visions of working-from-home with my baby: nursing her comfortably in a rocking chair, taking conference calls at my desk while she napped... Then she was born and reality hit! My daughter always seems to wake up and needs to nurse right in the middle of a meeting. My quiet workspace was moved to the middle of the living room, our version of ground control, with toys thrown everywhere and me cradling her in one arm while I check emails. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t perfect – but we make it work.
Sarah, Violet and Clara
Thankfully, every breastfeeding journey is different. My first girl was a disaster, but my second daughter latched beautifully right off the bat and is very low-maintenance – perfect for allowing me to balance a very needy toddler at the same time! Our house can get pretty hectic, as invariably the baby needs to eat when the toddler needs the potty, or when we ALL need a bath, so we all just dive in together and get it done. Hungry babies have to eat! Motherhood comes with six hands right?