Whether it’s your first child (or fourth!) and depending on if you choose to go the breastfeeding route or not, what’s most important is that you prioritize your physical, emotional health and that your little one is well-fed.
For those who choose to go the breastfeeding route, ideas of what it should be like and what it actually is can be a whole other experience altogether. This feature goes behind-the-scenes and what this mama and photographer discovered herself.
Meet Sophie Harris-Taylor.
Sophie is a London-based photographer whose raw and real images have been published across media outlets including Vogue, Elle, Refinery 29 and more.
Before Sophie had her son, Zenon, she had an idealized expectation of what breastfeeding would be like. And soon discovered that this wasn’t the case. In her latest photography series, Milk, Sophie shares an intimate look at the realities of mothers who’ve chosen to breastfeed by showing a range of experiences.
By documenting the experiences of other mamas and giving them a lens to share their story in the comfort of their own homes, Sophie hopes that others who choose to breastfeed can connect with these stories and feel more understood.
We had a chance to ask Sophie some questions about the series, the responses she’s received and her own personal journey of breastfeeding.
Here’s what she had to say.
I tried to capture something truthful in every shoot. I didn’t want the women to be seen as weak or powerless in any way.
It isn’t a guide to breastfeeding in any way, but I hope that women who have breastfed, or in particular are currently breastfeeding, can realise they aren’t alone and it is a minefield that for many, brings up lots of emotions both positive and negative. Women’s breasts have become so sexualised, that actually what they were originally for has almost been forgotten. It’s about showing something that’s so natural in a bit more detail than what we might be used to seeing.
“Motherhood is an emotional roller-coaster, and I wanted to reveal some of that and explore the range of emotions in both mothers and their babies.” — Sophie
As soon as I opened up the conversation and shared with others that I was working on this series, I found mothers to be so willing to share their own experiences. From mothers who questioned their ability to breastfeed, others dealing with the physical limitations of sore nipples and exhaustion, and others who experienced the highs of this hard-to-describe bond between mother and child.
I’ve had a lot of other mothers from all over the world message me with their own unique stories. It’s been very powerful to read them.
I was surprised to hear that so many of the women had had complications, whether it be latching, mastitis, supply, sore nipples. I think there was only one woman I met who didn’t experience any challenges.
Hone in on any group of new mums and it will be one of the most spoken about subjects. From what are the best nipple shields to nipple creams, who’s got mastitis, cluster feeding and so on. It’s all spoken about but rarely ever seen or shown. It’s almost like with this series, the secrets out.
I had a love-hate relationship with it. As soon as I stopped, I missed it. I loved the intimacy and the comfort it gave my son which in turn it gave me. It felt in some ways, kind of magical. The most challenging times were when I was solely breastfeeding. It was exhausting and draining both mentally and physically – it was also really challenging when I developed mastitis. This happened on and off and was painful for me and it meant my son found it very difficult to latch.
My maternal instinct took over. Knowing that you’re the only one providing and now looking back, I find it hard to believe how I got through it with practically no sleep. Making this project enabled me to talk openly with other mums and feel less alone in our own experiences. I was also really lucky that my partner took a good chunk of time for paternity, so I had a lot of help during the day.
“All babies are different and have their own pace at doing things. I found it important to keep telling myself that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
I hope to see a little more honesty when it comes to breastfeeding. Knowing that in reality, it can be hard and for some women it doesn’t work for various reasons. Whilst there’s so much pressure on women to breastfeed, making women who can’t or simply don’t want to feel this huge guilt. The most important thing is that the babies are being fed and the mothers are looking after themselves, too.
So much of pregnancy prep classes focus on the birth. But that’s actually such a small part of what’s to come. It would be good if the focus could be a little more about after the birth.
And there you have it. To view Sophie’s full Milk series and latest work, you can head to her website here.