A picture is worth a thousand words…sometimes more ~ Breastfeeding Photography

I photograph women breastfeeding their babies and children and until now I have let my photographs of these moments speak for themselves and the message I hoped to convey was one of beauty.  Despite the attention paid to my breastfeeding photographs I have said very little on the subject, mainly out of (others) concern that as a small business owner I shouldn’t have opinions, especially those that might be construed as controversial.

I’ve had a lot to reflect on during my first year of business and I’ve done a lot of thinking recently about the path that led me towards breastfeeding photography.  I breastfed both my children for a combined total of 26 months.  During those months there were countless times that I felt embarassed and ashamed; not because of something I had done but because of others discomfort with breastfeeding.  I was encouraged to feed my children in another part of someone’s house; I was handed blankets to cover up; I was asked “isn’t it time he’s weaned?” (my son was 6 months old); I was directed to the nearest washroom where I could nurse ‘in private’; and  I had people glare and shake their heads at me in public.

Photographing breastfeeding women has been a way for me to regain some of that lost confidence; it’s been a way for me to give confidence and support other breastfeeding women.

In January I published a blog post looking for women in Ottawa who would be interested in taking part in a breastfeeding photography session.  I invited several women to come to my home so that I could photograph them with their breastfeeding babies and children.  It was winter and I was enjoying a quiet period before the ‘busy’ of spring sessions; I thought it was a great opportunity to improve my skills and pursue a photography project with a lot of personal meaning.  But more than anything I wanted to capture beautiful moments between mothers and their children; something the artist in me finds irresistable.  Nothing more, nothing less.

When I published the photographs the response was overwhelming.  Annie, blogger and advocate from PhD in Parenting, shared the link, which was subsequently picked up by KellyMom and posted on their Facebook page. By days end there were hundreds of comments, thankfully all positive, and the post had over 4000 page views.  For the most part the dissenters kept their comments private but since that time my photographs have been described as gross, inappropriate, disgusting, perverted, and a host of other derogatory names.

Thanks to Andrea, an Ottawa blogger (and lovely friend) at a peek inside the fishbowl, I connected with Hannah Sung, a reporter with the Globe and Mail, who interviewed me about the photographs and the response from others, both positive and negative.  There are 119 comments on the article that to this day I have not read (my husband has) because I find it hard not to internalize others disgust.     When Hannah asked my opinion about advocacy related to breastfeeding I referred her to PhD in Parenting’s blog post, Covering up is a feminist issue, because until that moment I had not considered myself an advocate.  I had somewhat naively believed that I was taking beautiful photos and that was all.  It’s not often I’m left stumbling over my words but in this instance I felt that what Annie says expresses the same sentiment that I want to by taking breastfeeding photographs.  Annie writes:

“When it comes to breastfeeding, I feel the same way. There is no one definition of how covered a woman should be. Some people think no skin should show at all. Others think anything goes. I don’t think it is the place of anyone other than the breastfeeding mother to decide whether or how much to cover.”

“Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but when it comes to dressing and breastfeeding, appropriateness should be decided by the woman herself. If other people don’t like it, they should discreetly avert their eyes.”

As an entrepreneur, my business is taking photographs.  As an artist, my love is taking photographs that evoke emotion and a response in others.  For me, breastfeeding photography has been a wonderful combination of both. When I published those first photographs in February my intent was nothing more than to share beautiful photographs from a sun-filled morning with a wonderful group of moms and their babies.  The unexpected outcomes have been a mixed blessing; I’ve had the opportunity to connect with and photograph countless moms with their breastfeeding babies and children, experiences that have been fun, meaningful, and have allowed me to express myself artistically.  But at the same time I have felt uncertain about how to use my photographs to advocate for women because I didn’t know how to balance business with ‘politics’.

What I’ve realized is that while I am an entrepreneur and photographer, I am a woman and mother first.  I hope to use my photographs and my words to support mothers, recognizing that people may not choose me as their photographer for that reason.   It’s a risk that I’m willing to take because if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything

My wish for my photographs is that they are loved dearly by the women who are the subjects.  That they instill a sense of confidence and beauty in those same women; something I didn’t experience as a breastfeeding mother.   I hope that the photos are appreciated and recognized for their beauty and for the message their convey.  And that they stimulate dialogue and discussion.

There is a famous Ansel Adams quote “There are always two people in every picture:  the photographer and the viewer”.  When you look at my photographs I hope, if its even for a brief moment, you can see what I see.  There is a piece of me in every picture I take and probably more so in these photographs than any other.

ETA: The spider is “Maman“, located outside the National Gallery of Canada.  She is described as “a nurturing and protective symbol of fertility and motherhood, shelter and the home”

Sara McConnell Photography ~ Ottawa Breastfeeding Photographer, Ottawa Children’s Photographer, Ottawa Baby Photographer

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68 comments to A picture is worth a thousand words…sometimes more ~ Breastfeeding Photography

  • Julie Cole

    beautiful post! Nicely done! I’m proud of you for standing up for what you believe. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to mix your personal beliefs with your business. It’s what makes you stand out, shows your passion and your humanity – the signs of a true artist! Hugs!!

  • get ready for tons of comments on this one,Sarah!!
    all good I hope!

    I am with you 200% and those photos under the spider are stunning.

    Sarah

  • Advocating for oneself or others is a tough thing to do. Through your photos, you are speaking up for all us breastfeeding mothers who have been told to cover up or leave the room. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts! (and thank the beautiful women pictured here :o)

    • Thank you Misty. The photos, on their own, say a lot but I felt it was time to use my voice as well. The moms are beautiful as are the moments they shared with me – I’m eternally grateful to them.

  • Beautiful. I wish I had more photos of me breastfeeding my boys:( I have a few with my second, but none of me and my first.

  • Beautiful photos Sara, and insightful blog post. I am also photographing nursing women in the Hamilton, Ontario area for similar reasons. Some of that work can be found on my Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.192885490785467.47275.137695259637824&l=d61e599c3f&type=1
    Thanks for trail blazing!

  • Susan

    Thank you, Sara, for doing this. Your post is bang on, and the photos are lovely.

    It was an honour to participate, to connect with other mothers through breastfeeding, and to do so in a way that – in addition to affirming a very necessary message – was a tremendous amount of fun.

    • Thank you Susan. I think the best part, along with the message and images, is the fun we had. I love listening to the conversations that moms have while I’m photographing them (and others) and the connections that last beyond the session.

  • Alyssa

    Great post! And to echo others’ sentiment, thank you for voicing your thoughts on a topic that we’re all passionate about. Your photos are beautiful!

  • Mary

    Hi Sarah :-)
    These are incredible, thank you for showcasing such beautiful imagery — and a great thanks to all the photo shoot participants honouring and sharing of yourselves and your little ones! (it was lovely to see one of my clients in there too!)

    Mary,
    Belly Be Doula Services

  • Amanda Hagen

    Thank you for allowing me to be part of this wonderful photoshoot. I truly believe that what you are doing is GREAT. And don’t let anyone take that from you. I hope with this, that more and more women become confident and comfortable to nurse whenever baby is hungry. Not when it is more convenient for other who may be uncomfortable. I couldn’t agree more with what Annie has said.
    “When it comes to breastfeeding, I feel the same way. There is no one definition of how covered a woman should be. Some people think no skin should show at all. Others think anything goes. I don’t think it is the place of anyone other than the breastfeeding mother to decide whether or how much to cover.”

    “Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but when it comes to dressing and breastfeeding, appropriateness should be decided by the woman herself. If other people don’t like it, THEY SHOULD discreetly avert THEIR EYES.”

  • Sara, these newest pictures are amazing. I commend you for standing up for what you believe in and for being an amazing leader. I don’t have a single picture of actually nursing E and it makes me so sad. It would truly be picture of a thousand words that I wish I could look back at. Such a huge part of me as a mother. I have been admiring your work and when I have my second child, I will be calling you!

  • So lovely! Sara you are a constant inspiration of courage, I’m just going to move in next door to you and be your best friend forever.

    I had a picture of my nursing Clarabel at about 2 weeks old and my sister was feeding me a massive hamburger, sadly it was lost in a hard drive malfunction. Obviously that was before I met you. ;)

    • I still lose sleep over hard drive malfunctions!

      As you can see Ottawa is a great community. Lots of wonderful women with strong opinions and tons of support. You should definitely move here :)

  • These are photos are so unique, Sara. I love what your doing and the fact that you stand behind what you believe in is a quality that can’t help but be admired. I personally never found breastfeeding all that enjoyable, but I do think its every woman’s right, and I am almost envious of those who can do it so freely and at ease. Your pictures capturing these moments, and these art forms are truly amazing and such a beautiful addition to the photography world.

    • Thank you Sara. I really appreciate your comments especially since breastfeeding wasn’t a positive experience for you.

      I had a peek at your blog…your boys are adorable :)

  • [...] this is your first visit, I encourage you to first read this post, which I wrote yesterday, explaining why breastfeeding photography is important to [...]

  • Carine

    Thank you Sarah for taking those great pictures! I am so proud that I was part of that first shoot. These pictures are very precious to me.
    More people need to see them! The breastfeeding is seen in public, the more it will be accepted!
    Yes, you are a lactvist, be proud of it!
    And, I am always up for another photo shoot!!! ; )

    • Hi Carine!! Your name came up at our session downtown :) It’s great to hear from you & I’m glad your photos mean so much. That first session will always be especially meaningful to me

  • Wendy J

    Thank-you, Sarah. These are wonderful photos, as usual, and a wonderful stance. I love this story of your journey to lactivism. Know that I stand behind you and support your business even more for your stance. Thanks!

  • Thank you for doing this important work and for standing up for breastfeeding, mothers and children. I (and Josias, my 17 month old nursling) support you!

  • Thank you, Sarah, for your art, your words, and the stand you have taken.

    What I love most about your photographs are the looks of peace and serenity all the mothers faces as they gaze upon their nourishing infants. Beautiful!

  • Jinnie

    Your photos are beautiful. They provide a source of confidence for other mothers who do breastfeed or who want to breastfeed.

  • Carolyn

    Gorgeous photos. Wonderful advocacy, promotion and “normalisation” of breastfeeding!

    Perhaps you’ll be the inspiration to start the next step in milestone photography (engagement, wedding, pregnancy & now breastfeeding),

  • [...] I hope, if its even for a brief moment, you can see what I see. There is … More here: A picture is worth a thousand words…sometimes more … Posted in Uncategorized Tags: a picture is worth « Worth a thousand words… | [...]

  • Kirsten

    Sara, thank you. You are brave and these photos are incredible. I am a huge bf advocate and have 30 months of bf’ing experiences locked in my noodle. It was one of the biggest commitments I made and one of the most rewarding relationships I’ve ever had. I nursed in private, in the food court, anywhere. I never felt truly comfortable though and even now it always surprises me to see a mom nursing in public. Thanks for pushing me and others to become m

  • Kirsten

    more comfortable with the beauty of moms feeding babies wherever is convenient. You and all of the stunning moms you feature should be proud. :)

  • Jamie

    Thank you for helping breastfeeding to become a normal part of life for moms. I’m nursing my 6 month old and 2 1/2 year old in public and in private. It’s always good to see/meet other moms who are doing the same! :)

  • Andrea H

    Sara, these are so beautiful. When I first had my daughter I felt similarly, that I wasn’t a “lactvist” per se, but was experiencing the beauty of nursing my newborn and so thankful I was able to breastfeed. I had a few nursing pictures taken by a local photographer when my daughter was about 4 months old, as a freebie for the photographer to practice taking shots of breastfeeding moms. I am so glad that I did that and really treasure those pictures.
    Now that my daughter is 22 months old (!) she is still nursing here and there (mostly in the morning). I have endured criticism since she was 11 months old. LLL meetings helped me, but until people are no longer shocked at seeing mothers nursing babies in public, I worry that new parents might be afraid of nursing and turn to bottles. Protect – encourage – support breastfeeding. See, I’m a lactivist too now :) Great work. Keep it coming!

  • Desiree

    Sara, thank you for posting these. I didn’t get a chance to read everything you wrote (courtesy of a certain 4 month old) but I have bookmarked this for later reading.

    I have desperately wanted nursing pictures of me and the little one. Sadly our budget currently dictates that I don’t pursue that desire.

    When I first started nursing my little one, I didn’t consider myself a lactivist. Now, I most definitely do. lol I have come across so much negativity towards breastfeeding (especially in public) and it breaks my heart. It is difficult for me to stand my ground and I am a stubborn woman who stands up to criticism. So, I can imagine what it is like for women who are not stubborn like me and get bullied into doing things that they don’t want or know is not in their best interest (like covering up, going to another room, nursing in a bathroom, bottle feeding, etc.)

    I used to cover up, but little one won’t let me and we have found our way in the world and no longer cover up, much to her delight.

    Keep doing what you are doing. It is beautiful, wonderful, and so helpful for those who are just getting started or need some encouragement. You have renewed my passion for public breastfeeding.

    PS, The ‘Maman’ ones are my favorite too. :-)

  • Amanda

    These are beautiful. I didn’t realize how important pictures like this were until I had them taken of my 3rd baby nursing. I treasure them.

  • Krista K

    Beautiful pictures Sara! They brought a smile to my face and brought back so many good memories of breastfeeding my daughter, even though it was not always easy for me and I truly struggled with breastfeeding her in public.Despite the difficulties, I wish I had pictures to capture the good moments, because they far outweighed the more difficult times.

    • Thank you Krista :) When you’re in the middle of it and it’s hard and exhausting it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had a hard time nursing my second and I wish I had photos to remind me that it was wonderful more times than it wasn’t because I just remember the pain and frustration.

  • I love looking at your breastfeeding session photos. And it makes them all the more powerful to read your post and your words. Thank You for all your work, you are an advocate and all women, nursing or not, deserve the opportunity to make choices and follow through with that choice comfortably. It is funny because I often hear of women who are embarrassed to bottle feed their children in public (I was one of those). :) I am still nursing D2, keep me in the loop for your next session. I would love to have a record of his nursing as an older child (my other photos of him are as a 1 month old)

  • Maureen

    Beautiful and inspiring!

  • Jolaina wicks

    This is inspiring! I love nursing, I nursed my first for 15 months and am going on 5 months with my new infant. We hope to keep it up just as long! If you need a new subject to capture, we would be more than happy to volunteer. I think nursing is one of the most natural, inspiring and beautiful things a mother can do for her children, and we are always glad to show it off!

    Cheers!

    • Thank you Jolaina! I post my requests for BF sessions on Facebook, Twitter, or sometimes in a blog post here. I’m hoping to do another one after the holidays this year.

  • [...] thankful to Milkface Nursingwear for displaying my breastfeeding photographs, especially the large collection at their Bank Street location.  The Extraordinary Baby Shoppe [...]

  • [...] A picture is worth a thousand words…sometimes more ~ Breastfeeding Photography (saramcconnell.ca) Breastfeeding Photography, Ottawa Baby Photographer, Ottawa Photographer, Ottawa Photography Studio, Ottawa Portrait Photographer   breastfeeding photography, ottawa, ottawa baby photographer, ottawa photography studio, Photography, Sara McConnell, sara mcconnell photography      Family of 6 ~ Ottawa Family Portrait Photographer » [...]

  • Krista T

    All I can is thank you. As you said above, I am also a photographer… but I am a woman and mother first, and as a mom who nursed my first baby to 17 months and is currently nursing my second (7 months and going strong!), I’ve felt that shame too. This time around, I’ve begun to breastfeed in public not necessarily to make a statement but out of, yes, necessity. Life with a preschooler is busy, and to keep up with her, my littlest one simply must nurse in public if she needs to eat. Those glares and clicks of the tongue STILL bother me, but what I’ve found this time is something else: other moms have actually approached me and thanked me for nursing in public. How awesome is that?

    I’m still working up the nerve to even take a self-portrait while nursing… but doing something like this for clients is something I would love to do someday. Thank you for inspiring me!

    • Thank you for your wonderful comment Krista. I hope you get self portrait of you and your babe nursing. They are still some of my very favourite sessions to photograph :)

  • [...] old my breastfeeding photography sessions have an especially important place in my heart. I wrote a post a year and a half ago about why I take breastfeeding photos and you haven’t read it I would [...]

  • [...] old my breastfeeding photography sessions have an especially important place in my heart. I wrote a post a year and a half ago about why I take breastfeeding photos and you haven’t read it I would [...]

  • [...] old my breastfeeding photography sessions have an especially important place in my heart. I wrote a post a year and a half ago about why I take breastfeeding photos and you haven’t read it I would [...]

  • [...] this was coming.  Despite the fact that I nursed my oldest son into toddlerhood and that I take breastfeeding photos as part of my business, my baby is now 11 months old and the questions come as quickly as he [...]

  • […] section of my portfolio at http://www.saramcconnell.ca as well as read the following blog post about why the photos I take are so […]

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