Healthy Births, Healthy Moms: Black Maternal Health in America

Part: 19

New Twitter Storm Is About Public Breastfeeding

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When a mother posted a photo of herself nursing at her college graduation on a breastfeeding Facebook page, a flurry of disapproval quickly ignited all over social media. Questions are being raised about how public breastfeeding should be.

Bookmark and Share


breastfeeding graduate
Karlesha Thurman nursing her 3-month old daughter


Credit: Facebook of Karlesha Danae

Bookmark and Share

(WOMENSENEWS)-- A picture of what should have been a happy moment--a mom breastfeeding at her college graduation --has become a source of online frenzy.

After crossing the stage at her graduation from California State University in Long Beach on May 22, Karlesha Thurman came back to her seat and realized her daughter, 3-month old Aaliyah, was hungry. So she fed her as she normally does--she nursed the infant, with the moment being photographed by a friend.

The 25-year-old wrote on her Facebook page that her daughter was her motivation to graduate, and was glad to capture the experience because "receiving my BA was OUR moment."

This past weekend, Thurman sent the photo to the Facebook page Black Women Do Breastfeed, which aims to counter the invisibility of black women in the breastfeeding community. The photo was published with the caption "Congratulations, mama!!!! Giving her daughter more gifts than one! Isn't this beautiful?!#normalizebreastfeeding."

That's when the hashtag storm started. Some criticize Thurman for breastfeeding in the middle of a graduation ceremony. In a commentary published by The Guardian, breastfeeding activists countered that the sexualization of women's breasts is one reason why so many are uncomfortable with the activity being public--especially because women's bodies are shamed when they are not being used for titillation.

Here are just few examples of tweets body shaming the woman:

Yet, many are coming to support Thurman and breastfeeding activists argue that such images are important for normalizing breastfeeding in society.

"I'm thrilled this photo went viral," Sojourner Grimmett, co-founder of Table for Two, a national campaign to establish public lactation rooms, said in an email interview. "I hope the selfie of Karlesha nursing her baby is retweeted more than Ellen DeGeneres' Oscars selfie."

"When we "scandalize" breastfeeding it tells others that breastfeeding is unwelcome and possibly a set up for public ridicule," Kimberly Seals Allers, a breastfeeding activist and author of the Mocha Manual, told Women's eNews in an email exchange. "Karlesha and all women who commit to breastfeeding need and deserve our support, not our snark."

Thurman says she sent the photo to the Facebook page to show that breastfeeding is natural. "I really didn't know that breastfeeding in public was such a controversy," Thurman told NewsOne. It's unfortunate that I did get as many negative comments as I did, but the main reason [I posted the photo] is still there."

Yet on Twitter, advocates of breastfeeding applauded Thurman for posting the now-famous picture:

The controversy is coming at a time when the place for breastfeeding in public--particularly in social media--is being contested. While Instagram has deactivated the accounts of several users who have posted breastfeeding pictures, Facebook recently excluded breastfeeding mothers from the ban on female nipples showing in photos.

Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that women breastfeed exclusively for six months, just 16 percent of the babies born in 2010 met that standard, according to the CDC. Black women are less likely to breastfeed than white mothers--the CDC reported that 62 percent of black mothers initiated breastfeeding compared with 79 percent of white mothers.

"For black women, who have historically lagged in breastfeeding rates yet our children have some of the highest levels of the same infant and childhood diseases that breastfeeding helps prevent, this is not a social media matter--this is a public health imperative," Allers said.


Would you like to Comment but not sure how? Visit our help page at

Would you like to Send Along a Link of This Story?

0 COMMENTS | Login or Sign Up to post comments



Black Moms Are Raising Volume on Breastfeeding


Detroit Moms of Color Gather to Boost Breastfeeding


Michelle Obama Urged to Speak Out for Breastfeeding


Part: 23

In Detroit Hospital, Black Babies Are Latching On

Part: 22

National Initiative Tackles Rising U.S. Maternal Deaths

Part: 21

Simple Language Helps Catch a Killer: Preeclampsia

Part: 20

U.S. Hospitals Hinder Black Women's Breastfeeding

Part: 19

New Twitter Storm Is About Public Breastfeeding

Part: 18

Birthing of Health Care Plan Put Midwives in Limbo

Part: 17

Detroit Moms of Color Gather to Boost Breastfeeding

Part: 16

U.S. Maternal Death Data Held Up by Nine States

Part: 15

Formula Marketers Put Pediatric Academy in the Bag

Part: 14

Testimony: NYC Needs More Data on Maternal Deaths

Part: 13

Closure of Bronx Maternity Ward Stirs Activist Ire

Part: 12

'Baby-Friendly' Hospitals Bypass Black Communities

Part: 11

New York City Pushes Back against Infant Formula

Part: 10

Teen Moms Get 'No Stigma, No Shame' Pep Talk

Part: 9

Task Force on Maternal Deaths in Texas Awaits Governor

Part: 8

U.S. Maternal Health Needs Intense Focus on Moms

Part: 7

Pregnant? Watch Your Risks in Great State of Texas

Part: 6

Reproductive Justice Confers Degrees of Privilege

Part: 5

'We Simply Don't Know' Why Black Moms Die More Often

Part: 4

Black Moms Are Raising Volume on Breastfeeding

Part: 3

Step One: Diversify Ranks of Lactation Consultants

Part: 2

Lactation Consultants Need to Diversify Yesterday

Part: 1

U.S. Health Law May Curb Rising Maternal Deaths