Supermodel Gisele Bundchen shared an Instagram photo Tuesday of herself, while on the job, breastfeeding her 1-year-old daughter. Flanked by a hair and makeup team, the model appears to be serenely feeding her baby without a care in the world. A photo like this can be positive — these kinds of images help ease all-too-common stigmas that surround public breastfeeding. However, this scene also highlights how difficult it is for most moms to breastfeed in public, at work or otherwise.
There are countless examples of how public breastfeeding is stigmatized. Facebook’s policies allow depictions of violence against women and beheadings, while photos of breastfeeding were banned until recently. Last year, Time magazine kicked up controversy when a cover photo of a mother breastfeeding a toddler caused reactions of outrage, disgust and concern for the child’s well-being. Then there was the heated debate sparked by a college professor breastfeeding her sick baby in the classroom. Mothers are routinely kicked out of public places for breastfeeding.
I will never forget the conversations I had with family members about the importance of being “discreet” when breastfeeding my daughter in public. Or the fear of being scolded for exposing my breasts to feed my screaming, hungry infant in the mall. Heaven forbid we offend someone with the exposure of a body part designed to feed babies.
While Bundchen makes breastfeeding while working look effortless, the reality is just the opposite for most working moms in the United States, which has the worst parental leave policies in the developed world. And while the Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk,” the law is written in such a vague way that it leaves it totally up to the employer whether that place is a supply closet or a private office.
So sure, while Bundchen’s glamor breastfeeding shot can help ease some of the stigmas of public breastfeeding, let’s be honest: We have a long way to go before all moms have the luxury of breastfeeding their babies with as much ease as Bundchen.
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Susan Rohwer is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @susanrohwer.