Leilani Rogers has breastfed four children. The Texas mom nursed her youngest child for 18 months. And for 18 months, she managed to schedule every outing, every doctor's appointment so she never had to nurse in public. In fact, it wasn't until Rogers, a birth photographer, began to take photos of breastfeeding mothers that she felt her own inhibitions about feeding your child out in the public's eye fall away.
It's why Rogers created the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project (PBAP), an annual drive that draws hundreds of moms across America to allow themselves to be photographed ... while breastfeeding. This year's event kicked off in concert with World Breastfeeding Week, and the hashtag #PBAP2014 has already taken social media by storm, spreading photos of nursing moms across the globe.
"On a global level, the purpose of this project is to help normalize public breastfeeding, something the world unfortunately sexualizes," Rogers told The Stir. "The majority of people support breastfeeding, though the minority that trolls pro-breastfeeding articles/pictures online is very vocal."
Ironically, it's online where the breastfeeding project really got its start. Rogers ran a poll during World Breastfeeding Week in 2013, asking moms where they felt most uncomfortable nursing in public. The answers were fast and furious -- churches, grocery stores, the park, the pool, work, libararies ...
"It dawned on me that I could target specific situations where mothers felt uncomfortable nursing in public by photographing them in those situations," Rogers explained.
"I love preserving this beautiful and natural bond for mothers, and I've seen that through exposure, society becomes more accepting of it and it becomes more 'normal' in their eyes. Not only that, but other mothers see the images and feel a stronger sense of community and support. They walk away from conversations about these images with more confidence, and they are empowered enough to not place so much importance on their society's misguided views about breasts."
More From The Stir: Incredible Images of Babies Being Born Give Us a Look at the Miracle of Birth
So she put out a call for models and got to work taking photos. As she posted the nursing in public, or NIP, images to Facebook, word spread. She began to see other photographers starting their own, similar projects in their own cities, and the idea to step outside of her hometown of Austin was born.
"It occurred to me to join forces and make this a worldwide effort. I've got at least 50 photographers signed up to participate in the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project this year, in locations all over the US as well as Ireland and Canada," Rogers tells The Stir.
And it isn't just the person behind the lens who has changed. "Model" moms have come out in droves, and from all walks of life.
"This year I have expanded to include working mothers who pump on the job, as well as mothers who bottle-feed or even tube-feed breast milk," Rogers says. "You may notice a mom in a wheelchair in [some] pictures. She was in a terrible car accident after she'd already signed up to both participate in my session and be a photographer herself. Her breasfteeding relationship was cut short due to complications front he accident and told me she didn't think she was a good fit for the project anymore. I told her to come anyway, if anything to honor the dedication she had to breastfeeding her 21- month-old."
Work your way through the images on Facebook from the project, and the response is overwhelming. The word most often repeated? A simple, "love."
"One thing I realized after last year’s project is that these images were encouraging a sense of community among breastfeeding moms," Rogers says. "I received emails and messages from moms who, like me, had avoided breastfeeding in public for fear of scrutiny not only from the public but from other mothers.
"There are organizations like LLL (La Leche League) that offer tremendous support to breastfeeding mothers. But images like these are encouraging and inspiring mothers to breastfeed outside of those walls with more confidence.
"This is one way I hope for this project to make an impact," Rogers continues. "Breastfeeding mothers do face some barriers, but the more the public sees it, the more normal or accepted it will become."
Want to get involved? Check Rogers's list of participating photographers on her Facebook page to find out if someone near you is involved in the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project. Post a photo of yourself breastfeeding in public on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, using hashtags #PBAP2014 #worldbreastfeedingweek #supportpublicbreastfeeding #breastfeedinginreallife #thisisnormal. Or share the photos below with one of those hashtags!
Where are YOU most uncomfortable breastfeeding? Does #6 help you feel more comfortable?
Image via Leilani Rogers, Photographer