Why breastfeeding is bigger than inflatable breasts

I wish my breasts were inflatable, then they wouldn’t be saggy, stretch marked, breastfeeding breasts.

Not the most hard hitting, astute first thought, but I’m nothing if not honest. And a little bit insecure about my post partum body. And sleep deprived. New teeth = no sleep. That’s the kind of math lesson I could have done with in high school.

Four giant inflatable breasts (their words, not mine) have been erected around London in a campaign that is “an invitation to everyone to stand with all those women that have felt shamed or confined when breastfeeding or pumping,” according to the company behind it, Elvie.

Aside from the fact that Elvie think only women can breastfeed, on the surface it seems well and good. People don’t breastfeed or pump in public because they’re worried about showing a little bit of breast, so shove a giant breast in the public’s collective face and hopefully people with breasts will feel a little bit less uncomfortable producing milk in public.

Digging deeper (which basically just translates to reading other people’s thoughts on Facebook parenting groups), problems emerge. Elvie claims, on their website, to produce “the world’s first silent wearable breast pump”. Despite all their apparent support for visibility and awareness of breastfeeding, their product appears to be prioritising silence and discretion over function.

The big, important thing most women look for in a breast pump is suction. It’s pretty key to getting the milk out. Elvie does not perform well in the suction department. A positive review described the suction on the highest setting as “gentle”, while several less complimentary reviews claimed the suction was inadequate and made pumping slower.

Mother-of-two Jessica Mollie Ensing asks where is the baby in Elvie’s Free the Feed campaign. CREDIT: Michelle Osment

So the Elvie pump sacrifices suction in favor of making itself basically invisible. It might just be me, but this doesn’t seem particularly consistent with their supposed objective to destigmatise pumping. Rather, it just makes any pumping that isn’t discreet and silent seem less than ideal.

The bigger problem I have with the whole campaign is that it’s a bit, well, objectifying. They’ve taken these enormous breasts (which look nothing like breastfeeding breasts past the first few weeks) and removed the important bits.

Where is the baby? Where is the breastfeeder? Let’s face it, I spend enough time feeling like a milking cow without a peppy advertising campaign reducing me to just a breast, especially when they claim to be doing it under the banner of destigmatisation.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a fun idea, maybe just one that misses the mark a bit. Are people likely to feel more comfortable breastfeeding or pumping in public if they’re underneath a giant inflatable breast? Quite possibly. Will it help destigmatise breastfeeding and pumping? Questionable at best. Is it an excellent publicity stunt for Elvie to help them sell a breast pump that feeds the existing stigma around pumping? Yes.

Words by Jessica Mollie Ensing