A Facebook photo of a female hockey player breastfeeding her 8-week-old daughter has gone viral in recent days. While most of the comments on social media praised the woman in the photo for wanting to make breastfeeding look normal, reports suggest that she has also received her share of negative remarks, as specialists believe that a “stigma” still exists with regard to the age-old practice.
The viral photo was shared earlier this week by Alberta, Canada, teacher Serah Small, a hockey player since childhood who had signed up for a local tournament while still pregnant, expecting to be in good physical condition by the time the games started. According to People, this wasn’t the case after all, as Small “felt slower” and was a bit rusty when she played four games this past weekend. In addition to these challenges, she also left her breast pump at home, which led to discomfort as her milk started to drip while she was playing.
During intermission, Small did what she had to do to feed her 8-week-old baby, taking off her jersey and breastfeeding her daughter Ellie while in the locker room, as her mother took a photo of the two. Although Small was hesitant at first to post the photo on social media, her lactation consultant convinced her that it would be a good idea to do so. As of this writing, the image, which was posted Monday on the Milky Way Lactation Services Facebook page, has gotten more than 3,000 reactions and has been shared almost 1,200 times.
“She was in the dressing room — she’s played hockey since she was 4-years-old and hockey’s been a part of her life — I just watched her and she was getting ready and she was sitting there and she was breastfeeding her daughter and I never saw anything more beautiful in my life,” said Serah’s mother, Dena Lanktree, as quoted by HuffPost Canada.
In an interview with People, Serah Small said that her goal in posting the photo was to “normalize” breastfeeding and convince women that it can be done “anywhere [and] anytime,” considering how the sexualization of female breasts has made many a woman hesitant to breastfeed their babies in public.
“Being a mom is hard and it’s amazing to see all these moms, women and men taking a stand and making a movement to stand up against mommy shaming.”
Although Small’s photo was received well by most social media users, others were more critical toward the amateur hockey player and her decision to have herself photographed while breastfeeding her daughter. According to HuffPost Canada, one user in particular accused Small and other women who breastfeed their children in public of being “attention seekers.” As seen on the Facebook post, other users made the same or similar accusations in their comments, while a few chimed in with sexually offensive remarks. Still, these commenters were in the minority compared to those who appreciated Small’s decision to post the photo.
Reacting to those who commented negatively on the breastfeeding photo, Dr. Dan Flanders of Toronto-based healthcare center Kindercare Pediatrics told HuffPost Canada that it’s “so incredibly disappointing” that many people still sexualize and shame women who breastfeed. He opined that such a natural practice should be a “complete non-issue” in today’s modern society.
“It should be like shopping at the supermarket. It should be like driving in your car to work, it should have no emotional impact but it obviously unveils a lot of hangups that we have in our society now. I guess breasts are very sexualized in our world and people have hangups about sex and sexuality.”
Likewise, lactation expert Jack Newman admitted to the publication that he has gotten a lot of negative feedback from people, including some women, who frown upon breastfeeding in public. He said that this stigma extends to parents and parents-in-law who insist that mothers breastfeed their children in private.
Despite his disappointment over the negative reactions to Serah Small’s viral photo, Flanders praised the Alberta woman for “[challenging] ideas” about nursing mothers and the situations where they should be breastfeeding their children.
“I would imagine that the vast majority of us have never imagined a hockey player breastfeeding their child during intermission,” he said.