One mom’s incredible book on breastfeeding

February 5, 2020

A few weeks ago Cape Town-based photographer Leah Hawker got in touch about a book that she had self-published, called Breastfeeding 101, with portraits and stories of 101 breastfeeding women.

I asked Leah some questions about this incredible project – what she discovered, the “controversy” of breastfeeding, and what she wishes people would know.

PS: The breastfeeding pictures below are featured in the book, and all the others are Leah’s other photographic work.

Tell us about yourself

I’m an independent and freelance photographer born in South Africa to Zimbabwean parents. I work from my light-filled photographic studio in the old textile district of Woodstock where I shoot a mix of maternity to nudes and portraits to newborns.

I also love shooting on location and in the personal spaces of my private clients to capture really intimate and natural moments. My specialisation and passion lie in working with women and dealing with all kinds of women’s issues through the visual image.

How many years has this project been in the works?

I started working on Breastfeeding 101 three years ago. It’s been a personal passion project from the start and was a slow build up to wear I am now,- three months post launch and loving being a proud author of a successful book which has been featured  between parenting sections, current affairs and art books in Exclusives and Wordsworth book stores.

How did you find your subjects?

Finding my subjects was an exciting journey in itself. Many people have assumed that I just stopped people in the street and asked them but that is not the case at all.

All 101 mothers I documented, with the exception of three, were interconnected in a sort of web of communication passed on from one mother to the next.

It started with two messages I sent to my cousins who are both mothers and they sent the message on and so it went. It was intentional. I wanted to recreate the art of communication and therefore the support between women, conceptually at least.

One thing I’ve learned about breastfeeding is that it would be so much better if women talked to each other more – the support is invaluable.

How do you want people to react/respond to the book?

With intrigue and with fascination. You know that feeling you get when you watch a great Netflix series and it’s getting late but you tell yourself ‘just one more and then I’ll stop’? I want each story to feel like that.

The stories are short and concise and packed with really informative content which is often surprising and unknown.

Did you come across any obstacles or difficulties, like angry people shouting, when you were shooting the book?

Nope, but I had expected it funnily enough. I think the camera made the whole situation more formal, you know, like a photoshoot is happening, do not disturb…

There were probably only a handful of moms who declined participating throughout the three-year project, I was really impressed by that.

What do you think the biggest myth is with breastfeeding?

That it’s supposed to be easy!! Most assume that because it’s natural it will come automatically, but it simply doesn’t for so many mothers.

What do you wish everyone knew about breastfeeding?

I wish people spoke more to each other about their difficulties and not just the easy parts. I think it would make new parenting far easier. We’re losing that oral tradition. I wish fathers would also inform themselves. Some do, but not enough and women need serious support.

Lastly, formula feeding can NEVER, ever compare to breastmilk and its unique microbiome.

Are you a mom, and if so, what was your own breastfeeding journey?

It surprises everyone, but no, I’m not a mom and have never breastfed. I chose the topic because I think it’s fascinating how the breast has these two roles, which play side by side – that of the maternal and the sexual.

Society and marketing do so much to effect our perceptions of self and of our identity as men or women and the breast just felt like such a central axis to many of these things.

What about birth, mother and breastfeeding photography do you find so compelling?

Birth photography is the most challenging, beautiful and surprising experience to document. To watch that first inhale and the first sound a child ever makes gives me goose bumps – it’s very emotional and profound.

There are some similarities I can draw both to newborn, maternity and breastfeeding photography: Something magical is happening, something precious.

Where can people buy the book, plus the cost?

There are two ways to get the book, the first is to go into a bookstore and the second is to drop me an email with your order and I’ll sort it out personally. The book retails at R400 and I sell them privately for R350.

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1 Comment

  • Heather

    Amazing pics!

    February 5, 2020 at 6:32 pm Reply
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