If you’ve not met me yet, my name is Ariana and I’m the Creator and Director of Well Fed Photography.
I’m also a breastfeeding mother of two who decided four years ago that I was done with accepting the status quo and the minimal value I saw the world placing on motherhood.
Now, I spend time each day determining how I can creatively use my voice, my business, and my skills and knowledge to uplift and enhance those and the world around me – particularly when it comes to breastfeeding.
And if you’re reading this right now, I can tell you probably care a great deal about that, too.
So welcome, I’m so happy you’re here.
Due to my extensive breastfeeding advocacy work (including the creation of our breastfeeding book series and hosting the Living a Life Well Fed podcast), I’ve frequently been asked to appear on radio shows like RTÉ 2fm’s Jen Zamparelli Show and Newtalk’s Lunchtime Live with Andrea Gilligan.
So I wasn’t overly surprised when I was recently contacted by one of Lunchtime Live’s producers asking me to come on the show, but when he told me that the topic of debate was about whether or not the ban on formula advertising online should be removed, I seriously considered passing the opportunity.
Why I Decided to Speak
There was a very big part of me that said, “Don’t go on the show. Don’t let it disrupt your life and the plans that you have for today. Don’t let it disrupt your peace. Stay safe in the comfort of not going on the show.”
The bigger part of me said, “Walk your walk. Go.”
But the real reason I decided to go on the show is because I knew I had something unique to contribute.
I am a breastfeeding mother, yes, but I’m also a breastfeeding mother who has interviewed – at length – many women and families (including multiple generations of those families) across Ireland about their experiences with human milk feeding in all forms (at the breast, at the chest, via tubes, via bottles, via donation).
And while all of the stories that I sat with, collected, and witnessed were powerful and informative, I perhaps learned the most from ones in which I was able to interview multiple generations of the same family (grandparents and parents).
This is where I learned what doctors were actually saying to expectant and new mothers only a few decades ago. This is where I learned just how prevalent the idea became that formula was superior to breastmilk, when what was actually happening during that time was increased infant and maternal deaths corresponding to the decrease of breastfeeding and increase in formula use.
And while I am not here to be “against formula” (in fact, we share stories in our upcoming book about instances where formula was the best and most available option, given the circumstances and lack of knowledge about access to human milk donation), I am here as a historian and documentarian of breastfeeding in this country, who has witnessed, through firsthand accounts, just how we arrived at our rank of “worst breastfeeding rates in Europe“.
This is why I decided to speak with Andrea and Lunchtime Live’s listeners, even though it would have been far more comfortable to do just about anything else.
Emotions Always Win… Or, At Least, Get the Most Air Time
The thing about emotions is, they always win… or, at least, get the most air time.
Having an emotional caller come on the show is like winning airtime bingo for radio stations! They get the text lines flooding with responses, they serve as a trigger for reopening other’s people’s wounds, and they get listeners talking about the show.
Linda is a mother of two who tried and yet struggled to breastfeed both of her children (one of whom she’d birthed during the pandemic). Anyone, anyone, who listened to her story would have felt for her.
And, because of her experiences and severe lack of supports, she felt there shouldn’t be “punishment” in the form of a ban when it comes to online advertising for formula.
Paired with Fine Gael Senator Tom Lombard’s (in favour of the moratorium) earlier statements of how women should not be shamed for using formula by “having the product lumped into the same category as tobacco, alcohol, and junk food”, I’m not sure any other side was ever going to be adequately heard.
But if you can hear me now through these written words, hear this: The very thing that Tom and Linda were fighting to have allowed is the very thing that severely contributed to not only Linda’s struggle but the struggles of millions of others in Ireland and worldwide when it comes to breastfeeding.
Why Profit Isn’t the (Only) Issue
Anytime the breastfeeding/formula debate is brought up, undoubtedly profit will be brought up, too.
That happened during this particular radio segment and it will continue to happen, but profit isn’t the (only) issue that should garner our attention.
In fact, I’m going to stick my head under the proverbial axe and say that I think formula companies should profit. Why?
Because in wanting to see breastfeeding rates increase, I also want families to have access to the safest alternatives possible when breastfeeding is not chosen, is not an option, or when breastfeeding ceases (for whatever reason) at a time when milk feeds are still important for a child’s growth and development.
Without profit and, therefore, money for research, formula will not be improved.
So the main issue is not profit, alone – nor will it ever be.
The main issue is what can be bought with that profit – advertising, influence, and “mother and baby market share”.
Again, the very thing that Tom and Linda want to have allowed, is the very thing that has led to millions of mothers struggling and to Linda struggling.
Due to decades of formula company influence on healthcare providers and the general public, this new wave of mothers looking to breastfeed do not have adequate supports in place to assist them in establishing breastfeeding and navigating issues that may arise throughout the breastfeeding journey – not through generational/familial support, not through support in our maternity hospitals, not through general practitioner care, and not through community supports.
Because, if for years formula rates increased and breastfeeding rates decreased, people who are attempting to establish breastfeeding now are very likely doing so without parents, grandparents, or even aunts or other relatives who had any experience in doing the same.
Because, if for years formula rates increased and breastfeeding rates decreased, maternity hospitals could put funds to use elsewhere.
Because, if for years formula rates increased and breastfeeding rates decreased, medical professionals who held knowledge of breastfeeding would eventually die out or retire, their knowledge dying or retiring with them.
Plus, when you pair formula company influence with societies and cultures who have sexualised human milk feeding or deemed it undignified or strange, then it’s no wonder that formula took off like wildfire and became the most commonly used method for feeding, leaving breastfeeding and breastfeeding supports to severely dwindle in numbers.
Who Picks Up The Slack?
With the breastfeeding supports nearly non-existent (or at least severely inadequate for the demand) in maternity hospitals, individuals wishing to human milk feed must turn to private lactation consultants, peer-to-peer support groups (like La Leche League of Ireland, Cuidiú, and Friends of Breastfeeding), voluntary breastfeeding counselors, or acquaintances who have human milk fed before them.
One of the things that Linda was most outraged and upset about during her call was that she’d had to pay a private lactation consultant when she experienced challenges with breastfeeding.
When Ireland’s government and many of its people do not value breastfeeding and therefore do not adequately fund support for it, let’s be thankful for the individuals who have dedicated years of their lives to education and continued study so that they can provide evidence-based up-to-date breastfeeding advice and support in the absence of support deemed necessary or worthy of funding by our government.
And let’s lobby to our government to show them the demand is there, these services are needed, and that they have gravely missed the mark in providing them.
Rather than being critical of private lactation consultants seeking payment for their services or lobbying for formula companies to be even more free to spread their influence that has proven to be damaging and deadly, let’s appreciate that lactation consultants are there to fill the gap and pick up the slack that Ireland has otherwise failed to provide.
And let’s work together to bring about positive change so that everyone – regardless of financial means – has access to up-to-date, evidence-based breastfeeding supports.
How I Plan to Change This
Over the past two years I’ve poured time, energy, effort, and many, many financial resources into creating a breastfeeding book series which features breastfeeding stories from families across Ireland.
Stories of struggle, stories of hardship, stories of ease, stories of loss, stories of unexpected medial diagnoses, stories of trauma and abuse, stories of joy, stories of triumph, stories of fear, and so much more.
The stories, alone, are powerful and important, but I also knew that having human milk feeding normalised visually was incredibly important, too. This is exactly how breastfeeding became normalised for me. Which is why each story has been paired with photographs – so that the reader, or anyone who picks up the book, can see what human milk feeding looks like and who human milk feeders look like (hint: not everyone is a “tree hugging hippie”).
Along with normalisation of breastfeeding, one of my greatest hopes as a documentarian is that these books will serve to capture and highlight Ireland’s views, experiences, services, and supports as they are now so that awareness of them can serve as a spark to create meaningful change for our future.
But that’s not where my hopes or intentions end.
I would also love to see birthed, whether through Well Fed Photography in partnership with another business or charity, a foundation that has the ability and funds to link people in need with lactation consultant care, to truly bridge the gap left in the wake of formula’s influence.
If you’d love to partner with me to make this possible, get in touch. I would love to hear from you!
Abolishing the “Versus”
And, while we’re speaking about bridges, let’s also bridge the formula versus breastfeeding gap – in fact, let’s completely smash and abolish “versus”.
Judgment for how someone chooses to feed their baby does nothing to positively serve or impact us. So let’s stop judging someone for choosing formula (whether you think they failed their child or “didn’t try hard enough”) and let’s stop judging people who choose to human milk feed [whether you think they’re trying to make a scene by whipping a breast(s) out to feed their baby(ies) or whether you think they must have had it easier than you].
Let’s find it within ourselves to observe those judgments with curiosity, see if we can locate the root of them, and then let them go.
Where Do We Go From Here?
There have already been many suggestions above for how you can create positive change when it comes to normalising and supporting human milk feeding, but here are some additional things you can do to partner with us to accomplish the same:
Learn more about our breastfeeding book series and and help us spread the word by telling your friends/family members/colleagues, your WhatsApp groups, your peer-to-peer support groups, and others. You can also make a contribution of financial support to help us bring this project to fruition. Simply click here.
If you are human milk feeding, consider becoming a Member of Well Fed Photography (download our full Membership Brochure here) or attending one of our Breastfeeding Mini Session Events (join the waitlist here). The photographs from your Photo Session will go on to help normalise breastfeeding for your children, loved ones, and future generations of your family. As stated earlier, this is exactly how breastfeeding became normalised for me (read more in the Irish Examiner article here).
Get in touch if you’d love to help us put together a round table discussion of this topic. It is my firm belief that community collaboration can bring about some of the fast, and most meaningful social change. We don’t need to wait for the Irish Government.
You can also get in touch if you’d like to appear as a guest contributor on our blog to speak about human milk feeding – whether as a healthcare provider, service provider, advocate, or as a parent sharing their own story.
Join our community email list to stay up-to-date on the progress of our book, our fundraising efforts, and so much more.
You can also join us as a member of our fundraising team if you’d love to help with getting our breastfeeding book series out into the world. Just click here, submit the form, and we will be in touch.
We’d Love to Hear From You
I’ve shared my thoughts and now I’d love to hear from you!
What comes to mind for you when you hear people debate breastfeeding and formula.
Have you been negatively impacted by formula advertising (for example, believing you needed to wean at 6 months and transition your child onto follow-on milk before you were emotionally ready to cease breastfeeding)?
What familial, cultural, or societal influences have you experienced when it’s come to your feeding choices?
What have your experiences with breastfeeding supports been like here in Ireland?
What would you like to see change for the better?
Let us know in the comments below or by sending us an email here.
More About Our Breastfeeding Photography Services
Breastfeeding Mini-Session Events
If you’d love to join the waitlist for our next Breastfeeding Mini-Session Event, click the link below.
Well Fed Photography Memberships
At Well Fed Photography, we understand that capturing your family’s precious moments and memories is important to you! This is why we recently launched our Membership Tiers – making it easier than ever to ensure that your family’s history is captured year after year.
Download our full Membership Brochure today to get started.
Interested in hearing about the experiences of other past clients and Members? Read their testimonials here.
Book of Breastfeeding Stories
Would you like to support us in getting this beautiful book out into the world?
Learn more about our book and make a donation here: https://wellfedphotography.com/support-our-breastfeeding-publications/.
You an also get in touch if you would love to join our fundraising team. Apply here!
Join Our Online Breast/Chestfeeding Community
Why not also join our breast/chestfeeding community on Facebook?
Request to join by clicking the photo below.
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