Nikke Whitman is a mother of three and a professional photographer who specializes in images of pregnancy, births and families. If there is a moment worth capturing in those tender, overwhelming early stages of life, she’s done it.
But late last year, after a close friend struggled with breastfeeding, she realized that there was a photo she wasn’t taking.
“I should document bottle feeding, because it’s beautiful, too,” said Whitman, 31. “I do nursing pictures; why wouldn’t I do bottle pictures?”
As breastfeeding had become a subject of celebration and derision, a feat that some moms recorded in gloriously lit, deeply personal images, bottle feeding was in the background. Until Whitman began to watch it closely, feeding a baby with a bottle seemed mostly a matter of convenience or, in some moms’ experiences, a shameful sign of failure.
“This is not okay,” Whitman wrote on her blog about shooting bottle feeding images. “Feeding your newborn should never feel shameful!”
From behind her camera, Whitman noticed the sweet, quiet calm a bottle could give a happy mother and satisfied baby, and the way older siblings eagerly awaited their turn to bond with a new arrival. She saw that dads reveled in a chance to nourish their children and that some babies showed their spark by swatting milk from the hands of their caregivers and proudly holding their bottles on their own.
The images have started to spread online and across social media. She calls the series “Bottle Feeding is Beautiful, Too!”
“Can we agree that as moms, we are on the same team and bonding and health can be obtained many ways?” wrote Whitman, who is based in Graham, Washington. “Our priority is our babies.”
“Seeing a baby bond with its mommy, daddy, sibling, family or friend is a blessing. So I retain my opinion that bottle feeding is beautiful, too.”
Whitman said she still loves to shoot photos of nursing moms. She understands that there are benefits to breastfeeding, and she believes that women should be able to comfortably nurse anywhere they want. But she also wants families who bottle feed to feel confident and celebrated too — especially those feeling disappointment, fear or shame.
“The benefit of being a happy mom feeding your baby a bottle outweighs being depressed and struggling while nursing,” Whitman said. “That bond is going to be stronger while you’re in good spirits.”
Whitman said she understands why moms might not see beauty in the bottle right away. She wasn’t able to breastfeed her children for as long as she would have liked, and she remembers worrying, “I’m not doing what’s best for my baby. This is going to be a financial burden.”
“I would’ve let that (guilt) go a lot sooner if I would have known what I know now,” Whitman said.
Her daughters are 7, 5 and almost 2, and she doesn’t have any photos of herself feeding her children with a bottle. Looking back now, she wishes she did.