A breastfeeding mother has slammed the ‘creepy’ men who sexualize images of her nursing her child – with some going as far as to ask her if she can ‘feed them too’.
Milliner Michelle Palmer, 40, who lives in New York, knew she wanted to try breastfeeding when she fell pregnant with her daughter, Alexandria, who is now 28 months old.
After Michelle gave birth to Alexandria on April 5, 2018, she struggled for the first few weeks to get her daughter to latch on properly which meant she couldn’t always be sure of how much milk Alexandria was consuming.
Clapback: Breastfeeding mother Michelle Palmer has hit out at ‘creepy’ men who ‘sexualize’ Instagram images of her nursing her daughter Alexandria
Upset: Michelle, 40, from New York, gave birth to her daughter Alexandra in April 2018, and says she knew from the moment she fell pregnant that she wanted to breastfeed
Struggle: The mother-of-one found it difficult getting Alexandria to latch for the first few weeks, but once she got the hang of it, she began gaining confidence
Once Alexandria was able to latch easily and successfully, it took Michelle a month to get comfortable with nursing Alexandria in public and in front of friends and family but she soon adjusted.
Now, she doesn’t hesitate to feed Alexandria whenever she is hungry and hopes that by feeding her child in public, she can encourage other mothers to do the same without feeling shame or embarrassment about the act.
Michelle also began posting images of herself nursing on Instagram using the ‘lactivist’ hashtag, in order to encourage others to feel more comfortable about breastfeeding in public.
While the content she shares online of her breastfeeding Alexandria is largely met with a positive response, Michelle has been subjected to creepy comments from men who seek to sexualize the natural act of breastfeeding by sending her messages which say ‘my turn next’ – which she believes contributes to society’s discomfort with breastfeeding, especially when it comes to feeding an older child.
Some of Michelle’s friends don’t understand why she continues to breastfeed, and she is sometimes asked why she is still breastfeeding when out in public, when in reality weaning a baby at between two and four years is natural and normal.
‘I always wanted to [breastfeed], but it took me a month or so to get comfortable doing it in public or around family who came over to visit a lot when she was new,’ said Michelle.
‘Part of that was coming up with ways to do it that felt a little discreet, or just learning to say f**k it. I’ll ask them to leave the room if I feel uncomfortable.
‘The most important part [of being a breastfeeding advocate] is just doing it. Sharing pictures is fun, but I just want other women to see me and maybe feel like, “If she’s doing it then I can, too.”
‘So that means if I feel like I need to breastfeed my kid, I don’t hold back out of shame, self-consciousness, or fear of what someone else might think or say. I do it and let other people think what they will.
Journey: Michelle says she initially felt embarrassed about breastfeeding in public, but she began to gain confidence – and now wants to share that feeling with other mothers
Empowerment: ‘If I feel like I need to breastfeed my kid, I don’t hold back out of shame, self-consciousness, or fear of what someone else might think or say,’ Michelle said
Inspiration: Michelle began sharing images of herself breastfeeding on social media in the hopes of helping other moms gain the confidence to nurse without shame or embarrassment
‘I was encouraged by friends to share pictures of breastfeeding, but never made the effort to take great pictures of myself breastfeeding until we were at Burning Man last year. I had a free ticket because I was invited to perform on aerial silks.
‘That meant I had to bring Alexandria, since I wasn’t ready to separate from her for more than a day. It’s an intense environment, and breastfeeding helped keep her happy and relaxed.
‘We were all dressed up. I was feeding her while holding her – a feat of strength many moms do every day. The sun was setting and my husband snapped some great shots. I was shocked at the response on social media.
‘It was mostly positive, but there were a couple of men who made a few creepy comments – like, “my turn next”, and that kind of thing. That happens almost every time I post any breastfeeding picture, and I see it all the time on other breastfeeding moms’ picture comments, too.
‘I think that’s a huge reason that our western society is so uncomfortable with breastfeeding – we sexualize the female body to such an extent that we can’t understand that a woman’s nipples are a source of nourishment for the next generation, not just playthings for men.
‘Even my liberal female friends have a hard time understanding that breastfeeding isn’t enslavement. I’m not sacrificing my freedom until some date when I can be released from the shackles of breastfeeding – it’s a beautiful way of giving my child the most perfect food she can get anywhere, with a huge amount of emotional benefits too.
‘We’re mammals. For the vast majority of human history, babies breastfed until they were at least two-and-a-half years old.
‘So far the reaction when I’m out has either been neutral or inquisitive. They ask me how long I think I’ll breastfeed; they’ll ask if it’s uncomfortable; or they will try to ignore it.
‘What’s interesting is that if my husband is there, they leave me alone. If I’m on my own with Alexandria, they will ask me questions or look at us.’
Unwelcome: The self-described ‘lactivist’ wants men to realize that women’s breasts are not just ‘playthings’ for guys
Message: ‘We sexualize the female body to such an extent that we can’t understand that a woman’s nipples are a source of nourishment for the next generation,’ she said
Looking ahead: Michelle’s daughter Alexandria is now 28 months old, and she plans to continue to breastfeed Alexandria until she is two-and-a-half to three-years-old
Questions: Because of Alexandria’s age, Michelle says she faces a lot of queries, and even criticism, about why she is still nursing her
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life and state that it is safe for children to still be breastfed past the age of two years – despite some societal misconceptions.
Michelle plans to continue to breastfeed Alexandria until she is two-and-a-half to three-years-old, but there’s no set end date.
‘There’s an idea that once a baby has teeth or is ‘old enough to ask for it,’ that you shouldn’t be breastfeeding anymore, or it no longer benefits the child,’ said Michelle.
‘This is completely untrue. How long a woman breastfeeds is up to her – but there are tons of benefits for the baby, and mum, who keep breastfeeding until two or even longer. Plus, I love that she can ask for it clearly now. Her developing communication makes my life easier.
‘It’s great for the baby’s immune system, brain, independence, emotional development, and it’s also good for the mom’s health. Any Google search will tell you more.
‘I was surprised to learn that breastfeeding in public only became legal in all 50 states as of 2018. So, it’s not something we can take for granted.
‘We really need to support moms and babies so much more than we do. We put emphasis on getting moms back to work, back to the factory, and the desk. What would be so much better for our society, would be to support a mum in giving the most loving, nourishing start to her baby that she can.
‘Mothers should be educated, empowered and supported. The more love and good nutrition babies can get in their first few years of life, the better off they’ll be in the long run and the happier we’ll be as a society.
‘So much of the harm that people inflict on others stems from not getting the love and support they needed when they were kids. It starts at birth.
Support: The proud mom says she has the support of her husband – but knows that other women are not as lucky to have family members who are as supportive
Changes: ‘I hope skeptics will at least do some open-minded research before criticizing breastfeeding mothers or choosing not to breastfeed their babies,’ she said
‘I want other moms to see the pictures and think, ‘hey, I can do that too.’
Michelle hopes that by sharing her story she can empower other women.
‘Breastfeeding and birth have been so twisted by modern industrial societies,’ she said.
‘Every woman, when she has a baby, deserves free access to a lactation consultant who can help make the process of breastfeeding more comfortable and easy.
‘Breasts are a source of nourishment for the next generation, not just sexual toys or objects to be gazed at by men. The only way onto this planet is through a woman’s body. Let’s start acting like that’s something worth respecting, honoring and cherishing.
‘I hope skeptics will at least do some open-minded research before criticizing breastfeeding mothers or choosing not to breastfeed their babies.
‘Please at least look things up – learn about what a miraculous food breastmilk is. Learn about the long list of benefits of breastfeeding your children.
‘Allow your employees the time and space they need to nurture their families as best as they can. Support women and let them love their children with respect and dignity.
‘Follow your heart and your intuition when it comes to making choices as a mum, but be aware when fear is guiding your choices.
‘Be a courageous and big-hearted mama and you will help heal the planet.’