Gisele Bundchen and the Rebranding of Breastfeeding

With one image blasted into the social media universe, Gisele Bundchen may have just forwarded the cause of breastfeeding more than years of stern advocacy from groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization. On Tuesday, the super model posted a picture of herself swathed in a white bathrobe nursing her one-year-old daughter Vivian while being fussed over by a manicurist, make up artist, and hairstylist along with the note, "What would I do without this beauty squad after the 15 hours flying and only 3 hours of sleep #multitasking #gettingready."

Despite a huge amount of research touting the benefits of breastfeeding and recommending that babies be nursed for at least a year, in the United States only 49% of babies are breastfeeding at all by the age of six months. In some states such as Mississippi (19%), Arkansas (24%), and Alabama (29%), the numbers are even lower. The reasons for giving up nursing one's child are complicated, including the challenges for working mothers, lactation difficulties, a lack of information and support, and the ease and availability of formula. But breastfeeding also faces an image problem-women have been booted off of planes and out of restaurants for nursing their babies. Only a few days ago, a Connecticut courtroom (where the right to breast feed is protected by law) had to apologize to a young mother after a marshal escorted her out of family court where she was scheduled to testify for discretely nursing her three-month-old son.

While some have called the Victoria's Secret model's picture "smug" and "obnoxious," impassioned advocacy by its very nature is going to raise some hackles as well as shift public opinion. And Budchen's canny use of her own idolized image appears to be doing the later, and fast-in 24 hours, the photo has received about 100,000 likes on both Instagram and Facebook.