'This Is How I Breastfeed:' Local Photographer Documents Diverse Stories of Nursing
We’ve come a long way when it comes to “normalizing” breastfeeding (yes, that is a term, and a movement, even though breastfeeding is perfectly normal). As of last year, every state has laws on the books protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed in public. We’ve seen celebrities like Alyssa Milano, Gisele Bundchen and Olivia Wilde share photos of nursing their children. Slowly, the culture around breastfeeding is shifting, and more and more women seem empowered to nurse their baby wherever they need to.
But we still have a way to go, especially when it comes to being open about the realities of breastfeeding. Nursing may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Women can encounter all sorts of challenges on their breastfeeding journey. Some babies have trouble latching, some women have issues with their supply, some use a nipple shield, some women pump.
Carissa Potterton, a Massachusetts mom of two and a Spencer-based family photographer, encountered almost all of these issues when her son was born. Still wanting him to have breast milk, she exclusively pumped for him for 15 months.
“When people asked if I was breastfeeding I would sort of freeze,” she said. “I didn’t really know how to answer, and it always seemed a little taboo to talk about pumping.”
Flash forward to her second baby, and Carissa faced many of the same struggles – and again, found that no one was talking about them.
“I struggled nursing in public in the beginning because I really didn’t see anyone else doing it the way I was, and was frustrated at the lack of photos and discussion about the things I felt represented me. When I would ask in a Facebook group, I would hear that yes, others had the same struggles…but why weren’t we talking about it more? Why weren’t we sharing photos of it?”
And so began her passion project: This Is How I Breastfeed. Through her business, Carissa Lyn Photography, she worked with moms from central Massachusetts to document what breastfeeding looks like for them, putting together a collection of photos depicting all kinds of nursing scenarios.
The photos are featured in a gallery on her website and include a brief breastfeeding story of the women pictured. There are women who supplement with donor milk and formula, a same-sex couple who induced lactation so they could both nurse, women who pump, who use nipple shields, and some who are breastfeeding well past their baby’s second birthday.
Carissa encourages all nursing mothers to take photos of themselves breastfeeding – even if it’s just for them. She often incorporates it into her Mommy & Me, newborn, or family sessions.
“It’s vulnerable to put that out there, so don’t share if you don’t think people will understand. But at the same time, I think it’s important for us to put this out there. It’s powerful to see,” she said. “It’s important to open up the dialogue about it – to talk about when things are hard, or when things look different. I want everyone’s story to feel valid.”
Want to see what breastfeeding looks like for all different mamas? See Carissa’s photos here, or follow the hashtag #ThisIsHowIBF on Instagram.
In celebration of National Breastfeeding Month, which kicks off with World Breastfeeding Week August 1-7, here are five fascinating facts about nursing and breast milk.
- It’s alive! Breast milk is a living substance that contains live cells, including stem cells, which go on to become other body cell types like brain, heart, kidney, or bone tissue.
- The smell and taste of breast milk changes depending on the foods mom eats. Some say exposing babies to more flavors during breastfeeding can lead them to be less picky eaters later on.
- Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, and postpartum depression. And, the longer a woman breastfeeds in her lifetime, the more protection she receives.
- Breast milk is constantly changing to meet the needs of a growing baby. From month-to-month, throughout the week, day-to-day, and even throughout a single feeding.
- Breast milk tastes like cow’s milk, but is nuttier, sweeter and almost vanilla-like. Hind milk (at the end of a nursing session) is creamier, thicker and more like condensed milk.