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Breastfed Baby, Stick Around For the Show ~ An Interview With Lactivist Mae Burke

on July 20 | in Breastfeeding | by | with 51 Comments

Do you know why these lions look so satisfied? ↓

I do. Let’s just say there was a lot of blushing going on as parents ushered their children toward other exhibits. But oh,  the reaction was nothing compared to the outrage over by the monkey exhibit. “Oh my goodness, that monkey is nursing! Somebody put a shirt on that monkey. Gross!” squawked a woman with two tiny children in tow.

Put a shirt on that . . . monkey? Seriously, has it really come to this?

Our culture is great at supporting breastfeeding via slogans like breast is best and I make Milk – What’s Your Superpower? But when it comes to a mama feeding her child in a restaurant, or downtown, or {insert your favorite place here}, people often seem weirded out by the whole thing. In order for breastfeeding to be seen as normal, it has to be seen.

That’s where my friend Mae over at Mae Burke Photography comes in.  She recently began offering In Mama’s Arms sessions that feature, ahem, breastfeeding photos. Her portraits are drawing attention from all over the world, but today we’ve got her all to ourselves for a nice, cozy interview.

Mommypotamus: Hey Mae! I’ve got a question for ya. In the Age of Hooter Hiders, how did you get the idea to take BREASTFEEDING photos? I mean, what did moms say when you told them “That very intimate thing you are doing there? I’d like to point my camera right at you and shoot”?

Mae: Well, in the age of bootie shorts and shirts more revealing than any lingerie I own, I’ve become increasingly more and more irritated with the general public’s image of breastfeeding. I’ve heard everything from it’s only for “trailer trash women who are too poor for formula” to “women who don’t respect their husbands.”

I could go on to why I think this is, but I had an idea as to how to change their mind. I originally came up with this vision of two very good friends of mine, sitting back to back, nursing their new babies. They were gorgeous, their babies were gorgeous, and their pictures were gorgeous.

They were anything but trashy or inappropriate.

I thought about what this could mean for other moms who are on the fence about nursing in public. What kind of impact, if any, could be had if women were to see pictures of other women nursing comfortably, beautifully in public.

I think other women got this, and they wanted to be a part of it too . . .

I also found that while I personally was at peace that I ended my nursing relationship with my oldest, Lily, I missed it. While one or two [or three] years of nursing seems like a long time while you’re in it, it really is such a short amount of time that I and many women want to remember.

Mommypotamus: Wow, I feel kind of shallow now because you have this grand purpose and all I wanted was to capture the way Micah locks eyes with me when he’s nursing. I asked Daniel to take pics of me nursing Katie for the same reason, but they are ANYTHING but discreet or artistic (sorry babe). How do you make this an intimate moment worth sharing . . . without oversharing?

Mae: Oh, I’ve told my husband where to stand, set up the camera and fixed all the settings to my liking only to receive my camera back and say “…thaaaaaanks babe….No, really, it’s fine.” So I completely understand where you’re coming from!

The first question I ask my clients when they come to me wanting these pictures is “Where are you most comfortable nursing?” and we go from there.

When we decide on and arrive at a location, I first make sure that mom and baby are comfortable before I start in with “Pull your shirt down/up/over here,” “Tuck her tag in on her dress,” and [my personal favorite] “Peaceful, not pissed.

Personally, the one thing I learned from being in front of the camera is that my “I don’t have a care in the world” expression leaves me with a face that says less of “Look how peacefully my baby is chugging along” and more of a “if that’s poop in her diaper I’m smelling…

So with mom and baby comfortable, I click away. There is a lot of conversation before the shoot so I have an idea of what the client wants beforehand.

I’m not so much looking to capture the anatomy of breastfeeding, but the emotion. So while yes there are boobs, and some stunning women, I want the picture to be about the moment. Le Leche League can cover all of the specifics. :)

Mommypotamus: “Stop making that constipated expression!” is the thing I hear most often when Daddypotamus is holding the camera, so I need some pointers on looking natural. For me, one thing that gets in the way of feeling comfortable is clothing. I always feel like I wore the wrong thing and that 20 years from now I am going to look at this pic and laugh at myself. Any tips for creating a look that feels natural and beautiful?

Mae: I would not say that I am the most fashionable person in the world…or even my apartment complex, but I think I have a good eye!

I actually just recently emptied my closet of all of my clothes that were older than a year that I don’t wear and was shocked to find that 90% of them were from high school and that it only left me with about 6 outfits! HA! I scour the online look-books of the interwebs to find clothes that are comfortable to nurse in, affordable so that you can have something new and pretty that you can wear all the time, and that are beautiful.

Tandem Nursing Mama

Every now and then I put together Inspiration Boards on my facebook page to give my moms a fresh perspective on color pallets and fashion that is hip but timeless.

I encourage moms to send me a pic of what they plan on wearing if they are unsure so I can give them my honest opinion ahead of time. This also allows us to use the entire session for nursing instead of “Oh I brought this and this and this outfit” and trying to fit something together on the spot.

Post baby body is a very hard thing for many women to deal with. Many times your body looks nothing like it did prepregnancy, but instead of hiding it and bringing out women’s insecurities, I want to celebrate it’s ability to sustain a beautiful baby!!

Where can we find more of your work?

I’m very excited to announce my new website, Mae Burke Photography. It’s been a labor of love ;] To stay up to date with current shoots, specials, and updates about my family’s latest antics, please fan my Facebook Page

Mommypotamus Here . . .

As ya’ll know, I’ve been a breastfeeding mama for 43 months straight now. Nursing Katie was as simple as breathing, but Micah? He’s a different story. Two minor surgeries and many months later we’re still going strong, and what better way to celebrate than to end this interview than with a session of my very own. Because of the difficulties he faced, Micah never learned to nurse in traditional positions such as the cradle hold. Given the recent controversy surrounding the TIME Magazine controversy I just want to say that this is the only way he would nurse at this age. He has since mastered the cradle hold  :)

Thank you, Mae. For your work, this interview, and most of all . . . that photo. ♥

Did This Inspire You? Pass It On!

“Some breastfeeding moms stop nursing earlier than they might because they feel chained to their homes and are NOT confident nursing their child in public,” says Kathy O’Brien of The NIN Project (Nursing IS Normal).

Simply sharing galleries like In Mama’s Arms and The NIN Project with friends and family can go a long way to help mamas feel comfortable nursing in public. So if you’re looking for a good deed for the day share, share, share away!!

Of course, you could run out the door right now and find somewhere very public to breastfeed, I was just trying to make it easier in case you’re still in your PJ’s. :)

Beautiful or Bawdy? What did YOU think of the photos?

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51 Responses to Breastfed Baby, Stick Around For the Show ~ An Interview With Lactivist Mae Burke

  1. Come see what all the hullabaloo is about!

  2. Come see what all the hullabaloo is about!

  3. I love all of this. My dear friends nursing their babies, my other sweet friend chatting about her passion for mamas and photography, and your freakin’ beautiful purple top.

    Yes, this post is a favorite. Even the lions (because even lions need some action…just sayin)

  4. Mae says:

    Thank you for the opportunity Heather! This was so much fun :]

  5. Brynna says:

    I think this is cool! I have been nursing for 5.5 years straight…I’m still nursing two children, and my eldest just weaned at 4 years 8 months in December (was nursing three until then). I can count on one hand the number of photo’s I have of us breastfeeding. Not because I didn’t want them, just because I’m nearly always the one behind the camera, period, so I they just don’t get taken! I think breastfeeding pictures are beautiful. Breastfeeding is just another part of motherhood, one that, just like playing at the park with our kids, one day we will want to look back and reflect on through a photograph. :)

    • Heather says:

      I want to be you when I grow up, Brynna. Or at least meet you!

    • Sue says:

      5.5 yrs is a good start — I’m at 25 and counting, with a slight break of about 4 or 5 mos when I was pg with my 7th live one. Eldest kiddo is 25 and nursing her own 2-yo, youngest is 3 in Sept and still going strong.
      Enjoy those sweet young’uns! Grandbabies are only a blink away :-)

  6. Michelle McCoy says:

    Beautiful, love them, I am always trying to get pictures of us nusing. Of course most of the shots are just of Dylan and from the vantage point of me strategically placing my cell phone but I will take what I can get because I want to remember this special time. He just turned 3 yesterday and I could not be more happy with our nursing relationship. It has been a long hard road and I am so happy to have made it this far with him. Might have to call Mae to get some real documentation that is worthy of other people seeing LOL

    • Heather says:

      Oh yes, call her up! I have pics that I will always treasure but never share, so it is wonderful to have these, too! Lynsey Stone snapped a photo of my kids tandem nursing right after Micah was born, also. I’m very grateful to have it!

  7. Christin says:

    Yowza! You are gorgeious!!!

  8. I Love every part of this! I’ve been eagerly anticipating Mae’s new pictures every day. All of them are gorgeous and so very special. I’m so glad that her pictures are getting the attention they deserve!!

  9. I am honored to be part of today’s blog! Go Mae & Go Mommypotamus!

  10. Heather says:

    Heather, that picture is BEAUTIFUL! They are all beautiful, but this picture looks like it would be right at home in a magazine (wish there were pictures like this in a mainstream magazine). Great job Mae! Really Heather, this is awesome! You make me want another baby to nurse!! :)

  11. Andrea Shorkey via FB says:

    HEATHER!! That photo of you with Micah is completely breathtaking!!! What a gorgeous, peaceful, intimate picture. I love how Micah is also looking at the camera. Just lovely <3

  12. brittany says:

    I love this! A friend and I were just talking about the fact that nursing in public is not socially acceptable. Even covered up! Joshua hates being under that blanket and I hate messing with it too. I just don’t think I could feel comfortable nursing without the cover, not because of how it makes me feel, but because of how it makes others feel.

    • Heather says:

      I totally understand that, Brittany! It took me a long time to understand how to layer my clothes in such a way that I could nurse without a cover discreetly, but there are times I still feel awkward about it!

  13. Thank you for allowing me to share your photos, Margo!

  14. @Andrea – Mae really had her work cut out for her with us. Because of his tongue tie Micah was never able to nurse in the cradle hold so he is all over the place when it comes to positioning. Mae was very patient and we finally got something, yay! So honored to be able to share it with ya’ll :)

  15. Andrea Shorkey via FB says:

    It’s just beautiful!! I’m actually bookmarking this link for reference when I get my bf photos taken! =)

  16. Sarah K. says:

    Gorgeous!

  17. Sarah says:

    First, I want to say how absolutely beautiful these pictures are! I love them, and wish I could have some done! What a wonderful way to capture such a beautiful relationship between mother and child. Thanks for highlighting this!
    Second: While I have no problem nursing in public, I use a “Hooter Hider”. Not because I am ashamed, but because I have gotten some pretty creepy looks from men and some women. I think that it is important to be comfortable and be able to feed your baby anywhere, but you shouldn’t have to show the world your breasts to do that. It’s over a hundred degrees here, but Charlie doesn’t mind the cover. It is pretty cool under there. I don’t think the problem is breastfeeding in public. I have NEVER been asked to stop. I think the problem is the exposure of the breast, which is completely unnecessary. I’m sure I will be persecuted for that, but that how I feel, and I breastfeed in public all the time!

    • Heather says:

      Sarah, I am not against covers at all!! It’s just that It could never use one . . . both my children simply refused to nurse until I uncovered them. With that said, I absolutely try to be as discrete as possible. :)

  18. Pavil, the Uber Noob says:

    I suspect that acceptance of nursing starts with realizing that breasts are not intrinsically sexual. Feminine? Absolutely. Intimate? Ditto. However, neither of which are intrinsically sexual in the same manner that the marital embrace is intrinsically sexual.

    Humans use breasts to channel intimacy (in addition to nourishment). Perhaps, when mom nurses her infant, the baby isn’t the only one being fed.

    Ciao, Pavil

  19. Momof2Groks says:

    The very last photo is gorgeous. Amazing. I love it.

  20. Heather says:

    <3 <3 <3 Thank you. Momof2Groks. Love your name, btw!!!

  21. dianthe says:

    oh Heather – i LOVE that photo of you and Micah!! Mae is so talented!! i don’t think there’s anything sweeter than the look between a mama and her nursing baby!

  22. Sheena Ray says:

    I think breastfeeding is essential in private but I’m still not convinced that public breastfeeding, no matter how natural it is, should be public. I think it goes against modesty. I wouldn’t be comfortable with my husband, father, or baby brother looking at that in public especially if a nipple were to accidentally pop out. Just my personal thoughts :)

    • Heather says:

      Hi Sheena! Thanks for your honest opinion! I, too, think that breastfeeding is essential for many reasons, but as the mother of a toddler and a baby I couldn’t keep nursing a private affair even if I wanted to! It comes down to practicalities, really, like not keeping my preschooler home all day because the baby will get hungry while we’re at the park or library. Since both kids needs naps there is very little time to be out and about where that will not happen.

      So, while I try to be as discreet as possible, it’s really the only choice I have if I want to continue nursing my son. Even going to the bathroom and other things suggested by people that don’t care for public breastfeeding are impossible . . . imagine what it would be like to try to drag a preschooler into a bathroom stall and entertain them while you’re standing up and nursing. Blech!

      Personally I hope other mothers WILL breastfeed in front of my son so that he will grow up thinking it is totally normal (and that as a byproduct he will support his wife in her breastfeeding journey someday!)

  23. Rachel says:

    Love that you included a tandem nursing photo! My sister took one of me and my kiddos after my son was born but there is quite a bit of nipple nipple showing. I love having the memory, but it’s not so classy of a shot!

  24. Elisabeth says:

    Love the photos. And the quote: I make Milk – What’s Your Superpower? That’s gotta be my FB status for the day.

  25. Ann says:

    These pictures brought tears to my eyes. Absolutely breathtaking!

  26. Leah says:

    These pictures are magnificent!! Heather, you are simply stunning as are the rest of the photo shots. I, too, want my sons, husband, and brothers to see women nursing. While I hear the arguments about modesty, the reality is that our society is filled with very sexual images of breasts – everything from billboards to the Victoria Secret catalog, to the tabloids at the market. Breasts are used to market everything from perfume to jeans. Mixed within the deluge of images bombarding the men in my life, I want there to be healthy, positive images of women using their breasts to nourish and nurture.
    Great job Mae!! I wish you lived a little further North. :>)

  27. Those are lovely photos. I am so impressed with all of you ladies and the time you have nursed your babies. My sister thought I was weird cuz I nursed one till 18 months (then pregnant with #2) and the second one until he was 2 years old. Our society is pretty messed up in what is important in life. I’m so glad I stumbled upon the mommypotamus blog. I can see there are lots of other ladies who have their priorities in check. Love your pic, Heather; reminds me of nursing my little man. :)

  28. Des says:

    I echo what everyone else has said and I LOVE that last pic of you and Micah. I am a proud BF momma, but I definitely use a cover in public. It’s easy in Belgium but SHEESH! While I’ve been here in Texas for a visit I couldn’t do it outside! It is so freaking hot I was basically suffocating my poor kid and causing me to sweat so much he could barely latch lol :-) Those are the times that if anyone would have approached me about not having a cover on I would have screamed at them in my red-face, sweat streaming down with a crying baby and say “GIVE ME A BREAK!” :-)

  29. Kim says:

    Mae, you’re gorgeous. I’m sad I missed out on the opportunity to have some pix like this. Wonderful wonderful wonderful. Changing the world through beauty. Nothing gets better than that. Congratulations to you and thank you so much Mommypotamus for sharing.

  30. Jaime Adams via FB says:

    I think Americans are just taught to be ashamed of their bodies and this shame and horror, unfortunately, extends to anything and everything.

    I remember being in Europe when I was much younger and I saw women breastfeeding on the metro, in cafes, in a cathedral and no one was horrified or even noticed, but it was strange to me because at the time it wasn’t something I saw very much here.

    Now that I’m older and have seen more of the world and had time to develop my own opinion on things I think Americans have it backwards. A lot of other countries are casual about bodies and shocked by violence. We are casual about violence and shocked by bodies.

    I hope women in this country can feel more comfortable breastfeeding anytime their babies get hungry. I think these photos are beautiful and I’m glad they’re gaining widespread attention.

  31. Martha says:

    Stunning photographs. I grew up knowing that breast feeding was the right thing to do because I had seen so many women in other countires breastfeeding in public. I often nursed my four in public here in the states but usually felt uncomfortable doing it, even very discretely because it is uncommon here. I so hope it can become the norm as it is so right.

  32. Mandy B. says:

    Mae:
    Just loved the photos! I nursed for almost 10 years over the course of 4 children. The first two I tandem nursed for a few months and all through my pregnancies. I am 51, and my youngest is 5 1/2. She stopped nursing when she was 3. Thank you for these pictures. As a lay nursing counselor for many years, I was taken aback when a new mom would tell me that she thought nursing was “gross”! The Lord provides everything we need, we just need to trust Him, including nursing. I hope that the legacy I leave for my three girls (and my son) is that they know that nursing is normal, and beautiful, and a lot more than just nourishment. May my daughters all nurse their little ones and my son encourage and support his wife to do likewise! May the Lord bless your vision!

  33. Tana says:

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post AND the photos Mae is taking, as well as the reason behind it.

    I have nursed my seven children for a grand total of 201 months so far, (I just figured that out on the calculator, because I had no idea – I just knew it was a lot, lol). I haven’t weaned the 19 month old yet, so the months are still adding up. But I do not have a picture of me nursing that is even remotely close to beautiful or that captures the emotion, artistry, and relationship that I have had with my children while nursing them. How sad that is! What a treasure it would have been to have breastfeeding celebrated the way it is beginning to be, now.

    My older sons (aged 23, 17, 11) have seen lots of nursing amongst me and my friends, and I am sure that it has done nothing but help them see that breasts are not just some secret sexual thrill but are in fact part of a woman’s body for function and food – part of the continuum process that gives life and creates life and sustains life. I find it humorous that people never flinch at seeing a rubber or sylicon nipple on a bottle out in public. It is made to substitute for a human nipple, after all, with the same shape and everything, but no one thinks twice about that.

  34. Elizabeth says:

    Such fantastic photos! The one of you is gorgeous.

    I have a snapshot of myself that my husband took. I was wearing a night gown with the V-neck pulled down to nurse. I had my son (wrapped in an ultraviolet blanket) nursing in one arm, and with the other arm I was supporting a Siamese cat who was determined to get his share of attention. I went from screaming “Get this cat off me,” to “Put that camera down!” But I”m glad now I have the photo, because it is actually the only one of me nursing that I can share. The cat was hiding all the skin.

  35. Rebecca says:

    I think the pictures are absolutely gorgeous and very classy! I wasn’t going to jump in with this, but everybody seems to be very nice about sharing their opinions, so I’ll share mine (they often get very ugly on other websites, but you must have terrific, kind followers here!!!). I nursed both of my babies in public, most of the times with a cover or blanket, and sometimes without one, depending on the circumstance. I’m extremely modest, and my husband is modest for me as well. He doesn’t want the world seeing me, which I actually think is sweet and respectful. The cover was more for my stomach than my breast…funny, I could actually hide my breast pretty well, but couldn’t hide all that belly and back fat as I raised my shirt up for the baby!!! Now THAT was embarrassing!!!

    Really, my opinion is that you should never be ashamed to breastfeed in public, but I wish some people would show more discretion. I know that I’ve briefly popped a nipple out, and quickly covered it up because of my modesty. What I do get uncomfortable with is when a woman raising up her shirt exposing her breasts for a long period of time not even trying to be modest. I guess that’s a personal choice for me, I’m not saying everyone has to conform to my point of view. But even though I’m a proud nursing momma, it still makes be uncomfortable.

    Also, that’s a very intimate thing to do, and while I do it in public because it is necessary nourishment, I don’t think it’s necessary to flop my breast out proudly for all to see. It’s a balance in my opinion. I understand our culture has a hang up about bodies…but then again we don’t. We (as a culture) don’t care about barely there tops and daisy duke shorts, but we get offended by breast feeding…that’s kind of ironic. Breasts are intimate and sexual, and to the other people around me who see me breastfeeding, I don’t want to give them a show when that’s how THEY feel about breasts…I don’t know if I’m conveying this…I can’t seem to find the right words. Basically, out of respect for my own modesty and respect for those around me who may be uncomfortable, I breastfeed very discretely. I think there are certain people who have become sort of “activists” about breastfeeding who want to draw attention to themselves, and I really don’t like that, but then again we’re in a free country, so it doesn’t matter what I like.

    Well, that’s just my opinion. As far as the pictures go, I think they are spectacular!!! I wish we could get rid of the stigma of breastfeeding in public, as if we are to be banished to our homes for 1-2 years (or more for some people) as we nurse a baby. With all the modern conveniences of today’s age, people seem to think that formula and jarred baby food is the “normal” and “right” thing to do……ugh.

  36. beautiful, graceful, and honest. i love these photos~

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