Breastfeeding—however natural it may be—has become a source of major controversy, particularly in recent years.
With the rise in social media sharing and our pressure to be politically and socially correct, where does breastfeeding your child fit into the equation? Some think it's natural and normal to do in a public space, while others find it inappropriate, citing young boys as being particularly harmed by this 'sexualized' act.
And because we're so divided (uneducated, even) on the issue, breastfeeding moms have been at the head of some serious controversies. From being kicked out of public places to being shamed for both breastfeeding or not breastfeeding, moms have taken heat for whatever decision they deem is best for their child.
As mommy shamers come out in full force, check out some of the biggest controversies surrounding breastfeeding and a woman's right to choose what is best for her child's needs.
YouTube star Tasha Maile a.k.a. 'Spiritual Tasha Mama' has been lighting up the internet with controversy over her bold thoughts on breastfeeding.
In her most popular post, “Do I Have Sex While Breastfeeding?”, the mom shared a memory of having sex with her now ex-husband while feeding her son.
“We are pleasure beings, we are meant to enjoy sex and pleasure and all things can be orgasmic,” Maile shared in the video. “I’ve had a lot people ask me if it’s okay to breastfeed and have sex. From what I remember, I remember sleeping with my ex-husband and my son was on me breastfeeding and we would have sex from behind or something.”
The mom of three boys added: “There’s nothing bad about making love at all, ever.”
Though the video was posted in 2015, Maile clarified her comments in other videos and on the UK show This Morning in July. “I think many other parents have had sex in the same room that their children are sleeping in,” she said.
When asked if she would have sex while the baby is awake, Maile replied, “Even if the baby is awake and off to the side . . . If the baby is OK, they’re not judging you.”
Followers have labeled the mom's story inappropriate and have even accused her of committing incest.
When she tried to clear the air in an op-ed for Romper, Maile made another shocking admission. She wrote that she is engaged in filming and selling lactation fetish videos of herself producing or pumping milk on camera. Though she says her children are never involved in the act, critics harped on her even harder as she's bringing even more sexualization to the act of breastfeeding.
Kayla Martinez took her two daughters to an indoor trampoline park in Texas and sat to nurse her 8-month-old on a bench. An employee told her that the staff had received four separate complaints about her breastfeeding. He offered her a separate room to feed, but assured her she could do whatever she wanted.
Martinez wrote in a viral Facebook post that she declined the room but moved to a less crowded area of the park. Still, she says it wasn't enough for one of the women who complained earlier.
“The woman went out of her way to verbally attack me,” Martinez told Yahoo Beauty. “She was enraged and began to degrade me, calling me ‘indecent,’ and saying that I was sexually exposing myself to her nephew.”
“I felt such shame for doing what should be considered normal and a beautiful moment between a mother and a child,” she says. “Breasts are for feeding your sons and daughters.”
Martinez tried to calmly accept what the woman was saying, but says she "broke down" after she left.
“I had to be strong, not just for me but for the many other mothers that have gone through this,” she told Yahoo Beauty. “There is nothing wrong with your body, and there shouldn’t be a stigma in our society that breasts are meant to be sexual body parts for enjoyment. The reality is that they are solely for mommies feeding their babies.”
Denise Sumpter of London says she will continue to breastfeed her 6-year-old daughter Belle until the girl decides it's time to stop.
“I'll feed Belle as long as she asks,” the 44-year-old mother told Daily Mail.
The girl nurses anywhere from twice a day to once a week, depending on how often she requests to be fed. If Sumpter is already feeding her 18-month-old son Beau, Belle may join him in a feeding.
“I don’t think there's anything weird about it. I feed both children on demand, whenever they want it,” the mom says. “My children have hardly been ill. Beau came down with something the other day and because I nursed him through it, he was better in 24 hours.”
The mother also shoos claims that her daughter is developing a harmful dependency: “People think by feeding Belle this long I will stunt her confidence. But she is extremely independent.”
Just as Belle does, Sumpter says son Beau will continue to breastfeed as long as he wishes. “The other day at playgroup Beau picked up a toy bottle and didn’t have a clue what it was. I was proud of that,” she said.
In 2014, Mexico City launched a health campaign to encourage new mothers to breastfeed, but the suggestive images of topless celebrities didn't quite get the message across.
The posters showed famous women with a banner covering their breasts that read, "No les des la espalda, dale pecho," or "Don't turn you back on them, give them your breast." Critics of the campaign—including health experts—said the campaign sexualized women rather than empowered them, plus it shamed those who choose not to or are unable to breastfeed.
"It's not only a very terrible campaign in terms of how it looks, but it's also the message that if you don't breast-feed, you are a bad mother and you are the one to blame," Regina Tames of the reproductive-rights group GIRE told NPR.
The advertisements "condemn mothers, rather than informing them about breast feeding, and they reduce a social problem with multiple players—fathers as well as mothers, workplaces, health authorities and public spaces and the community at large—to one person: the mother," a group of activists wrote in a complaint to the city's human-rights commission, the Associated Press reports.
To make matters worse, all the celebrities/new moms in the campaign show off toned, slim tummies, an unrealistic view of women who have just given birth.
Emily Gillette said she was discreetly breastfeeding her 22-month-old daughter as her family's flight prepared to leave Burlington International Airport on October 13, 2006. She was seated in the next-to-last row by the window with her husband beside her, and no part of her breast was visible.
Gillette says a flight attendant offered her a blanket to cover up, but she declined, telling the Delta attendant she was allowed to feed her baby without one. Soon after, a ticket agent approached and said they needed to be removed from the flight. So as not to make a scene, they complied.
“It embarrassed me. That was my first reaction, which is a weird reaction for doing something so good for a child,” Gillette told NBC News.
Freedom Airlines later offered a message of support for Gillette and breastfeeding mothers. “We have no company policies whatsoever that hinder breast-feeding in any way,” said Jonathan Ornstein, chairman and chief executive officer, to Portland Press Herald.
Delta also said it supports a mother’s right to breastfeed on board its aircrafts. “And we continue to work with our other connection partners to ensure that we’re coordinated with them in delivering a similar level of service for all of our customers,” said Delta spokesman Anthony Black.
Gillette filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission against Delta Airlines and two of its affiliates, and a settlement was reached among the affiliate airlines.
Jillian Johnson chose to share the dangers of breastfeeding in a viral blog post on what would have been her son's fifth birthday. Instead, her boy died just 12 hours after taking him home from the hopsital from cardiac arrest set off by dehydration.
Johnson gave birth to healthy baby Landon in a "baby-friendly" hospital, meaning the hospital is meant to encourage new moms to breastfeed. Despite lactation experts telling her that the baby "had a great latch and was doing fine," the newborn cried constantly when he was on Johnson's breast.
"Being a first time mom, I trusted my doctors and nurses to help me through this – even more so since I was pretty heavily medicated from my emergency c-section and this was my first baby," she said. "But I was wrong. I’ve learned I have to be my child’s number one advocate."
Landon was losing weight every day, even though his wet and soiled diapers showed signs that he was eating enough. One specialist noted that Johnson might be having trouble producing milk due to PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), but they decided she should continue breastfeeding exclusively.
After the parents found Landon unresponsive, pulseless and blue after falling asleep during a feeding, they called 911. Landon was rushed to the hospital and was placed on life support, where he spent 15 days before passing away. He was 19 days old on the day of his death.
Five years later, Johnson is still dealing with guilt and questions what her life would look like now if she had given Landon a bottle.
"I still have many, many days of guilt and questions – what if I would’ve just given him a bottle? And anger because how would I have known. [...] But I didn’t know. I should’ve known. I still struggle daily feeling as though I failed him."
"The best advice I was given by one of his NICU doctors while he was on life support is sure breast is best, but follow with the bottle," Johnson said.
TIME stirred up a breastfeeding controversy when its May 2012 cover tackled the issue of attachment parenting and featured Jamie Grumet breastfeeding her 3-year-old son as the premier photo.
Not only did critics question the magazine's choice to publish the cover photo with the story title 'Are You Mom Enough?', but many slammed the idea of attachment parenting at all (a practice which includes extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby-wearing for constant closeness), as well as Grumet's decision to breastfeed a child of that age.
The photo showed the mom standing and her child nursing by standing on a step stool, a striking image that photographer Martin Schoeller strategically staged. “When you think of breast-feeding, you think of mothers holding their children, which was impossible with some of these older kids,” he says. “I liked the idea of having the kids standing up to underline the point that this was an uncommon situation.”
After receiving harsh backlash and even death threats, Grumet spoke out again about her stance on the issue. "The statement that I wanted to make was this is a normal option for your child and it should not be stigmatized," Grumet said. "I'm never saying this is for everybody, but it should be something that's accepted."