A new photo on actress Thandie Newton’s Instagram account shows her doing what 79% of new moms do, according to the latest statistics for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — breastfeeding her baby. “Perfect happiness @latitudefest This is what my body is made for. And the rest is my choice. #Freedom,” Newton captioned the photo.
But now the 43-year-old mother of three has reignited the ongoing debate over whether nursing is a natural act that should be normalized, or just TMI. Users, of course, were torn on the matter.
The majority spoke out in favor of Newton’s freedom to share a photo of something that comes naturally, like @lizziezjones, who wrote, “People like to see cleavage and topless women but not breastfeeding? Isn’t that what breast are for? Ignorant hypocrites.” “Amen to all us smart breastfeeding mommies who see this as pure and beautiful. Sad that we live in a sick world where they see breast as sex symbols and not for feeding babies!” added @vivstercon24.
But there were also the naysayers, like @135w40, who wrote, “there was a time when breast feed was btw God our Father/ Creator, mother & baby and not the whole world to prove a point,” and @bruklynbullie, who said, “I don’t want to see this uploaded to social media.” Another user wrote, “Blocked & Reported!” and some were simply offended because they felt the child is too old to be breastfeeding (The World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond, and Newton’s son is a little older than 2).
“The breast or bottle debate confuses the real obstacle to women’s freedom, which is a lack of public support for maternity,” said Dana Ben-Ari, director of the documentary Breastmilk, In an article for the New York Times. She argues that most women she’s met in her research want to breastfeed, but many are “stifled” and “challenged” by mainstream society. “It would be helpful if society at large supported mothers and women completely,” she said.
Other famous mamas have taken a similar attitude toward nursing. Like Newton, Alyssa Milano posted a breastfeeding selfie to Instagram and took a lot of heat over it. Also 43, Milano called breastfeeding “something that is supposed to be so incredibly natural” during an appearance on the Wendy Williams Show in January, according to the Daily Mail. Williams, who is a mother to a teenage son, played devil’s advocate. “I don’t need to see that,” she said during the interview. The two went back and forth on the issue until Milano asked why it’s ok to show a sexualized picture of Miley Cyrus wearing only suspenders to cover her nipples, but not okay to show natural images of breastfeeding women.
Model and actress Jaime King also had to defend an image taken of her while nursing her son James. The photo was published on Instagram, and King said, “Everything you could possibly feel, I was feeling during that sacred, challenging, beautiful, scary time,” according to the Daily Mail.
Actress Olivia Wilde went a step further by allowing a photo of herself breastfeeding son Otis to be published in Glamour magazine last year. In an interview on Huff Post Live, Wilde explained that feeding her son is part of her day, “so if you’re taking a portrait of me, this is part of me. I certainly didn’t expect people to be upset at the ‘public obscenity’ of breastfeeding,” she said. “I was shocked that there a still people who find it inappropriate because they think it’s a sexual thing.”
While the debate goes on, there are organizations that fight daily for a mother’s right to breastfeed whenever — and wherever — her baby gets hungry. These Include the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy, La the Leche League, and Breastfeeding USA. According to the Office on Women’s Health, breastfeeding lowers the risk of many illnesses and disorders, such as asthma, childhood leukemia, eczema, lower respiratory infections and Type 2 diabetes.