By Rebecca Telling
It all started whilst reading a Peruvian Magazine with a woman breastfeeding on the cover, sparking inspiration for an idea which would eventually grow into something beyond what I could imagine. I wanted a way to show the beauty of breastfeeding and hopefully add to normalising breastfeeding, especially in public. Fortunately, I was part of the De Montfort University Midwifery Society who not only supported but encouraged my crazy ideas. We decided to host a breastfeeding art exhibit.
Turning ideas into action
As student midwives we had little idea of where to start so turned to social media, using it to put out calls for artwork and to get others involved. We asked for anyone who wanted to be part of the exhibit from artists to administrators to midwives to mums. The support for the exhibit was overwhelming.
There were responses to our call for ‘brelfies’ i.e. breastfeeding selfies, from all corners of the globe. These brelfies went on to make up a wall featuring hundreds of women breastfeeding in all different ways, of different ages, with different aged babies and children and all with unique, beautiful stories. The exhibit also included a range of artwork using different mediums which generated and sparked conversations with all who visited the exhibit.
We were humbled by the generosity shown from artists paying for shipping to one individual who paid out of her own pocket for our magazines to be printed. The magazine was a way to not only introduce the exhibit but also included factual information of the society wide benefits of breastfeeding. This included an interview with mother and model Mara Martin and with one of our artists Elora, information about the physiology of breastfeeding and finally, details of local breastfeeding support.
The magazine proved popular and very quickly all the copies were gone! We were also surprised and excited about the coverage of the exhibit with local and national news outlets such as the BBC reporting on the exhibit.
After the success of the original exhibit, we started to dream again! The exhibit developed beyond one event, becoming the breastfeeding project. The overall aim of the project is empowering women to breastfeed through its normalisation by bringing together the arts & maternity. We believe that every woman, however she chooses to feed should get the support she needs. We know in order to do this, there not only needs to be an improvement in support provided by maternity and voluntary services, but that a cultural shift must occur.
That breastfeeding should be seen as not just about mothers and their babies, but as best for all. The societal benefits of breastfeeding include the improved health of mothers and babies, as well as improved health outcomes for breastfed individuals in later life (Victoria et al. 2016). Another important benefit is to the environment, with breastfeeding reducing plastic use, water waste and pollution (Burbidge et al. 2016). We as a team at the breastfeeding project have also felt prompted to make out project more sustainable both economically and environmentally (Burbridge et al. 2016) this aligns with the United Nations (2015) Sustainable Development Goals.
One way in which we aim to do this is through the development of an online “brelfie” wall, which will also make the wall more accessible. The wall will feature women breastfeeding and their stories, including the up, downs, messiness, challenges and triumphs. It is through these stories we hope others can find encouragement as well as being directed to further support in their local area. We have already had the privilege of taking the art exhibit in ‘pop up’ to the Royal College of Midwives conference 2018, in Manchester, as can be seen by the enclosed photograph. Many thanks to our programme lead Moira McLean and our Head of School Chris Whitney-Cooper, for their support.
We hope to continue to hold ‘pop up’ exhibits throughout the country. We also, hope the project is just one piece in the movement to normalising breastfeeding and that it will in some way inspire others to support breastfeeding in their own way.
For further information about the breastfeeding project visit our website and social media.
Facebook: the BF Project
VICTORIA, C.G. et al. (2016) Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. The Lancet, 387 (10017), pp. 475-490
BURBIDGE, A. et al. (2016) Breastmilk and the Environment. Available online: https://www.laleche.org.uk/breastmilk-and-the-environment/. [Accessed: 25.01.19]
United Nations Development Programme (2015) Sustainable Development Goals. United Nations. Available at: https://www.un.org. Accessed 19.02.19
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