Brelfies – Are They Shaming, Claiming or No-Braining?

Brelfies – Are They Shaming, Claiming or No-Braining?

Most breastfeeding women feel proud when they meet their breastfeeding goals, often overcoming a number of challenges to establish and maintain breastfeeding.

We know that most mothers set out to breastfeed after the birth  — research tells us that in Australia, 96% of women initiate breastfeeding. However that rate quickly declines as the months pass. By three months of age, only 39% of babies are exclusively breastfed.

Mothers turn to bottle-feeding after being unable to overcome challenges involved with establishing and maintaining breastfeeding.

Images of breastfeeding mothers, babies and boobs can be controversial, as social media sites, news and bloggers vocally support or oppose them in their place in the world. Those who support the rights of mothers to breastfeed in public use photos of breastfeeding to normalise the sight of a baby at the breast in society. The newly coined brelfies, celebrity breastfeeding moments and promotional memes all do their bit to put breastfeeding out there.

But, for those mothers whose experience of breastfeeding was short-lived, mentally or physically traumatic, and ended in disappointment, such images can seem intended to hurt and shame them. It tends to trigger strong emotional responses.

The media, looking to fuel the so-called mummy-wars, know how to pitch one ‘side’ against the other, feeding frustrations and inciting emotional responses. All for the sake of eyeballs on screens.

Meanwhile, real issues shared by all mothers call for better support, education and resources to enable every woman to set out and reach her own personal feeding goals, which are ignored and overlooked by all involved. Every news story about the latest ‘benefit’ of breastfeeding, every article about a mother asked to cover up in a public place, every angry blog by a mother let down by society simply increases the pressure felt by all mothers. Yet it fails to support any mothers.

Right now, we have an assault in the media over the brelfie. Here’s the thing: brelfies are not about mummy shaming.

Brelfies and Their True Purpose

Self-portraits that are taken while breastfeeding and then posted on social media are doing so out of breastfeeding pride. Some are posted in protest of censorship by social media sites, who continue to delete photos which do not breach their guidelines — yet are reported anyway. By flooding news feeds with breastfeeding images, a statement is being made: leave our photos alone. Not: let’s upset those formula feeding mothers and post our latest breastfeeding snap!

Non-breastfeeding mothers feeling judged by such images is largely a misunderstanding of the hurt women feel to be told that their photo has been reported for nudity. It’s nothing to do with hate, and it is not directed to anyone other than the site and the media, who love churning out negative stories about breasts with babies attached. Breasts in any other form are quite safe from attack — they tend to enjoy a flood of admiration instead.

Nothing stops mothers posting cute photos of them bottlefeeding their baby. Nobody will ever complain, report them or report about them in the news. The only response to such a photo will be from family and friend, commenting on how big he or she has grown. Nobody is demanding that those photos should be removed. Nobody hates on them.

I could go on. There are tonnes of these if you Google them. If you bottlefeed, no-one asks you to change your behaviour, and no-one will find your body disgusting for using it in a way that nature intended.

Celebrity Breastfeeding

When a gorgeous model breastfeeds her baby mid-photo shoot and the moment is captured and used as the cover, people sit up and take notice. When Pink or Miranda Kerr share private breastfeeding moments on Instagram, the pictures go viral. Those photos might inspire a fan to give it another day before quitting, or to try one more time to find an IBCLC who understands whats gone wrong.

These celebrity mothers are just like the rest of us, but tend to be around cameras a lot more. This means they have professional hair and makeup artists, great followings online and those images end up in the media around the world. They tend to stay around for a long time. These photos are not taken to humiliate bottle-feeding mothers. They are simply to celebrate the beauty of breastfeeding.

While a singer, actress or model who is breastfeeding will take a break to feed her child, a bottle-feeding celebrity will probably have her baby in the care of a nanny or family member, who will feed the baby off camera with a bottle. This isn’t judgement.

Out and Proud

Breastfeeding in public is not at all about flaunting breasts to make others feel uncomfortable or guilty. Honestly, why would a busy mother spend her day doing so? She has plenty of other things and thoughts to deal with. A breastfeeding mother is thinking of only one thing: that her baby is hungry, and she needs to sit down quickly, so she can calm her baby with her breasts.

I can assure you, you are not on her radar unless you come over and tell her to cover up, leave or stop feeding. If you do, she is likely going to feel mighty angry about it. She may even go home and pour out her story online, which the media may pick up and run with. The only mummy feeling shamed is the one being asked to leave a crowded restaurant with a screaming baby. It’s not about making a statement. The last thing she wanted was everyone’s attention and scrutiny — all she wanted was to sit down and enjoy a meal with her friends and family, just like everyone else.

We need to stop the judgement and assumptions of the intent of others. We also need to deal with our strong feelings that are roused when we see mothers happily breastfeeding, because the trigger is feelings which come from our own experience.

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Yvette O'Dowd has been a breastfeeding counsellor and educator since 1992. She has three adult children and a two year old granddaughter - the best sort of bonus baby! Yvette runs a popular natural parenting network, is a babywearing educator, and runs antenatal breastfeeding classes for parents expecting twins and more! She is a keen photographer and scrap-booker and a keeper of a fairy garden.


  1. I don’t think there is any difference between a selfie or what you call a ‘brelfie’. It is a moment in time that you want to capture and the only way to do it is to take it yourself. Simple as.
    I have taken a fair few ‘brelfies’ the main reason being….. Feeling in absolute awe of the moment and wanting to capture and share it. I have also been reported on one occasion, which left me feeling hurt and confused? The main reason being?…. nothing, absolutely nothing was on show. It merely looked as though I was holding my baby?!
    I see many a photo that shows more and are these reported? No. Therefore the main reason must have been…. To hurt me. Maybe the feeling if guilt as that person didn’t breastfeed? I don’t know? Facebook itself couldn’t even see the reason for the report?
    I, however still stand by my pride in breastfeeding my babies and any ‘brelfie’ that I have taken 🙂 when you are proud and/or happy – share it! 😀

  2. I breastfed both my children, I totally agree you should be able too breast feed in public anywhere, anytime, BUT I do not agree with the whole breast being on show, I feel it is a feeding and bonding time between mum and baby, not a time too expose your Breasts to the possible pervert across the room. Ladies please remember there is some weirdos in this world who find u feeding er ‘arousing’ and yourself and your baby should be protected from this. There is nothing wrong with using a cover,muslin or special modesty feeding t-shirt.

    1. And some people are aroused by feet, or toes, or knees or necks. Would you tell a woman wearing a low cut dress to cover up? No, because it’s her own choice to dress that way and it’s also non of anyone else’s business. Why then would you think it is ok to try to censor (under the guise to protect) a breastfeeding mothers choice as to how much of their breast is exposed. Do what you want with your own breasts leave others to make their own choices and do what they are comfortable with.

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