Naturalizing Breastfeeding Through Filters
Every day since 2010, I spend a couple of hours reading and responding to posts in a Facebook group of physician women who are breastfeeding/pumping/advocating called Dr. MILK (www.drmilk.org). And in the last 72 hours our group’s feed of 5200+ international physician mothers has exploded with dozens of deliciously gorgeous #brelfie pics of themselves nursing or pumping for their kids using the concept of the #treeOfLife breastfeeding selfie.
I completely derailed my entire Sunday evening of finishing newborn nursery charts and billing to create my own “Tree of Life” photo with dazzling filters, and I wanted to give credit to the person who came up with the idea. So I did some serious journalistic Googling and found Cassie @keeponboobin (Instagram, Twitter) and tagged her in a series of posts of my own kids from 2012. She wrote back in admiration of my edits (feigned blushing) and reposted my pics to her own account (as is customary in social media etiquette). I asked her to be interviewed for this blog to explain how this viral campaign came to be and how it has changed the landscape of women fearlessly posting bare-breasted nursing photos.
The following are excerpts from our dialogue of her inadvertent campaign to #naturalizeBreastfeeding and give women confidence to share with the world their pride in making milk for their children.
How did this Tree of Life concept unfold?
“After celebrating my 12 month anniversary of nursing my daughter, I wanted to commemorate with a nursing photo that I could hang on the wall. I had recently learned about how breast milk was considered a living organism and that having fascinated me, I chose to try and incorporate that into our photo. We had a rough beginning when we started nursing, so this was something that was truly special to me. I came up with the idea to use Photoshop and create a flower, with the vines going from my breast to her brain. A metaphor for her ‘blossoming’ into this beautiful child. While nursing her one day, I took a photo of her on my cell phone and decided to play around with it, kinda work out the idea I had come up. “
“I was able to add a flower to the photo but didn’t really like the way it looked. That is when I decided to try a tree instead. I gave it a kind of artsy look through the app’s many filters they offer and just fell in love with it. I had originally intended to take a professional photo with my camera and do this all on the computer but I really loved what I had created.”
What is your breastfeeding story and journey?
“I have a 13 month old and we are still currently nursing. My first goal was a year. Next goal is two years. Unlike most nursing moms, I did not intend on breastfeeding. I saw breastfeeding as sexual. I was one of ‘those’ people who judged moms nursing in public. After my daughter was born, she was given formula for the first two days of life. On the third day, I was holding her and something in me just clicked. Like a maternal instinct had turned on. Next thing I know, I am asking for the lactation consultant and am trying to learn everything there is to know about breastfeeding during that hour consultation. However, we still had a rough beginning. My daughter has latching issues due to a posterior tongue tie and upper lip tie. We also dealt with colic pretty badly.
I was such an anti-breastfeeding person. Now, I am not only a huge breastfeeding supporter, but a lactation consultant student. I am about to start my clinicals and will be sitting for the exam next year!”
How did your one photo become a viral sensation trending on Facebook and Instagram?
“I had never shared a photo of my nursing my daughter before but I really wanted to share this beautiful photo with someone who I knew would appreciate it. I decided to share it in a breastfeeding support group that I have been a part of since my daughter was born. This amazing group of women have helped me through many tears and trials with my nursing relationship so I knew they would truly understand how special this photo was to me. When I shared the photo, I asked if anyone else wanted me to make one for them as well. I stayed up all night and edited one for every single person who wanted one and still am. To date, I have now edited over 700.”
Why does the filtered pic give women confidence and freedom to share widely?
“This was actually the first nursing photo I had ever publicly shared. I have taken a photo every month of nursing from since 3 days post birth but never had the courage to share it. However, I felt that an arty version would be less alarming to people. I think that people feel that sharing a piece of art isn’t as alarming as sharing a regular nursing photo. I also think that women have a connection with these photos. They are showing the emotion of the feeding relationship and the connection that so many of us feel everyday. I have received 100’s of messages from moms thanking me for giving them the courage to not only share their first nursing photo, but comfortable nurse in public today without feeling they are being judged”
You are tracking hashtags – what trends have you noticed?
There are women who have posted pumping tree of life, bottle tree of life, and gastrostomy tube tree of life pics. All beautiful ways of showing how we nourish our children. “The midnight overlay is the most popular of all the color options.”
Why use the term naturalize versus normalize for breastfeeding?
“Because breastfeeding is natural. It is what our breasts and body were designed to do. When you use the term normalize, that is implying that it wasn’t normal to begin with. It is normal, is it natural, and it is beautiful.”
I now follow @keeponboobin on Instagram and Twitter myself, and you can keep up with all the latest #brelfie #treeOfLife pics to see tens of thousands of mothers celebrating the ephemeral and mystical filter of providing your body’s milk for your child. Women from all walks of life and all methods of delivering that milk to their children are finding a connection to this viral selfie movement.
Dr. MILK mothers and others have found courage through filters and edits to shout to the universe that we are proud of how we feed our children (this ain’t an exclusive club – every drop of your milk is precious)! Ban the breast covers and download a photo editing app to reclaim your breasts as a source of love and provision – – not of objectification.
So go make your own (PicsArt free app -> sticker tree of life -> magic filters) and share away. Scan in an old pic (gasp… a printed pic!) – – take a new pic – – just share and watch your friends and family be in awe of your “super powers” and beautiful art.
Laurie B. Jones, MD, IBCLC, is a pediatrician in Arizona and founder of Dr. Milk. You can follow her on Twitter @
Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.