The intimate selfies that Ariel Landsberger posts daily on her Instagram account are sure to make some viewers uneasy. But this young Minneapolis mom doesn't mind if you peek.
After all, Landsberger says, she's just breast-feeding her child.
The 28-year-old is out to change views about breast-feeding in public — one Instagram photo at a time.
Her account — @365boobies — has amassed nearly 1,000 followers since it was launched five months ago. (The name, Landsberger confesses, is a little embarrassing and is something she came up with while sleep-deprived.) Still, it's created conversation and spurred other women to post their own photos of breast-feeding outside the home — in a park, a restaurant or at the store.
"A lot of women are faced with dirty glances or comments or are asked to leave when they're in a public place," Landsberger said.
A self-described "lactivist," she is a foot soldier in a national movement to, as supporters say, "normalize breast-feeding" in public. The campaign has its own hashtag and is backed by celebrities such as Beyoncé, Gisele Bündchen, Gwen Stefani and Olivia Wilde — all of whom have been photographed nursing in public. The topic even scored a recent BuzzFeed list: "25 historical images that normalize breast-feeding."
"I'm not super-aggressive about where I breast-feed," Landsberger said. "But if I'm out to dinner with my family, I feel like it's OK to feed my child."
Unlike the images of celebrities wearing couture dresses with angelic babies nuzzling at their bosom, Landsberger said her Instagram photos document the often unglamorous side of breast-feeding.
"They're great," Landsberger said of the stars' snapshots, "but they're not incredibly relatable for an everyday woman. In some of [mine], I haven't showered in two days!"
A few months ago, Landsberger didn't even know what an Instagram hashtag was.
Then one night, while she was up late feeding her son, she came across an article on Facebook suggesting that if people saw more images of mothers nursing they would be more comfortable with public breast-feeding.
Inspired, Landsberger decided to jump into the discussion: "I thought, 'I'll do 365 days of breast-feeding.' "
She snapped her first nursing selfie in June while lying in bed with her son. Soon she was taking pictures of herself pumping at work and feeding Sonney at the park. The number of followers and comments "kind of took off," she said.
Support for breast-feeding in general has never been higher. About 77 percent of babies born in the United States start out being breast-fed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty-nine percent of babies are still breast-fed at 6 months. Among its reported benefits: lower incidence of childhood obesity, greater immunity from diseases, closer bonding between mother and child, weight loss for mothers.
The right to breast-feed in public is protected by law in 45 states, but in public the practice doesn't always get a positive reaction.
Landsberger has been criticized for her photo campaign. Some say the pictures are inappropriate, while others contend she's oversharing. A few Instagram users have even posted lewd comments.
"It's hard because my husband sees those comments sometimes and gets all worked up," she said. "But in the long run, hopefully, those guys will see the breast so many times that it [won't be] a purely sexual object anymore."
The desexualization of the breast is at the heart of this movement, Landsberger said.
"As soon as a breast is functional, [people] tend to get freaked out," she said.
That reaction is understandable when you consider the barrage of sexual images focused on the breast in advertising, television and movies, said Valerie Chepp, assistant professor of sociology at Hamline University.
"When people see women breast-feeding they immediately associate it with something sexual. That leads to feelings of discomfort and anxiety or feelings that somehow it's shameful to do that."
Brielle Stoyke, a nurse midwife and lactation consultant, leads a breast-feeding discussion group for new and expectant mothers at several Health East hospitals. The issue of nursing in public always comes up, she said. Some women say they've received disapproving comments. Some mothers will bring a bottle so they won't be embarrassed. Others worry about the possibility of being exposed, should the cover they're wearing slip.
Although she hasn't seen Landsberger's Instagram account, Stoyke said she liked the idea behind it. But she added that Landsberger is facing an uphill battle. "It is a tall order to change the way we all think about breasts by an Instagram campaign," she said.
Landsberger has won over at least one person with her Instagram campaign: her boss.
One day while working at Wilde Roast Cafe in Minneapolis, there were two women in the restaurant who were breast-feeding their children.
Co-owner Dean Schlaak said, 'Do they have to do that here?' Landsberger recalled. Later, he came across her blog (threesixtyfivemama.com) and approached Landsberger to tell her he now had a better understanding of the issue. "He said, 'I totally get it,' " she said. "I thought it was really cool. Now I joke that he's become a lactivist."
While Landsberger's social media influence is still relatively small (Stefani's recent breast-feeding Instagram got 45,000 "likes"), her online following does reach beyond Minnesota.
Victoria Coons, a mother of three boys in Pennsylvania, discovered Landsberger's Instagram when it popped up as a suggested account for her to follow. Seeing other women nurse in public without hesitation has emboldened Coons to do it more often, too.
"It's like there's an empty dance floor, and someone goes out there and it's kind of awkward, and then everyone joins in," she said.
For Landsberger, that social connection — for mom and baby — is key.
"Eating is a social thing for adults, and it is for babies, too," she said. "It's also important for Mom not to cower in her house or in a bathroom stall or in the back of a car if she has to go out."
Coons credits Landsberger with inspiring her to start her own Instagram account dedicated to sharing information and pictures of her adventures in breast-feeding.
"If it wasn't for people like her putting pictures up, I don't think I would know it's OK to feed your baby in public," Coons said.