Victorian values are usually portrayed as being terribly prim and proper, but when it comes to breastfeeding, the 1800s could teach us a thing or two.
Especially today, as World Breastfeeding Week begins. The week is celebrated in more than 170 countries and promotes the value of breastmilk for infant nutrition and health.
We wonder how Facebook will handle the celebration. Debate rages over breastfeeding images on Facebook, which continues to remove photographs of women breastfeeding from its pages despite continued complaints.
Facebook claims that breastfeeding photos violate its terms of service if they show a visible nipple or areola, claiming its “obscene,” “pornographic,” or “sexually explicit.”
Meanwhile attitudes to breastfeeding in public remain prudish in many sectors. David Koch (Kochie), host of Channel Seven’s morning show Sunrise, outraged mothers earlier this year by saying: “I totally think women should be able to breastfeed in public but I just think they should be a bit classy about it.”
His comments were in response to a Queensland mother-of-three who was asked to leave Bribie Island pool for breastfeeding her 11-month-old daughter on the edge of a pool while she dipped her feet in and supervised her two older children Kylan, 6, and Jayda, 5.
It even sparked a “Nurse-In” by 50 breastfeeding mothers outside the Channel 7 studios in Martin Place, Sydney.
So it’s fascinating to discover that back in the mid-1800s images of breastfeeding mothers were a fad in the United States.
As Jill Lepore explains in The Mansion of Happiness, cultural expectations surrounding femininity became highly centered on motherhood and the special bond between a mother and her children in the Victorian era.
When daguerreotypes – the first commercially successful photographic process, invented around 1837 – became available, women began to pose breastfeeding their infants.
It was an expensive process, therefore quite possibly it would be the only photograph you’d ever have taken of yourself, which shows just how seriously women took the decision to pose while breastfeeding.
The average daguerreotype cost around 50c, at a time when the average daily wage was around 90c a day.
So that photo was a pretty big deal. And not in a “how DARE she?” kind of way.
Take that Facebook!