Family Matters

Celebrities Breast-Feeding: Why It Matters

Breast-feeding advocates believe that the more famous moms who nurse, the more accepted the practice will become.

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In case you missed it, in the March 19 issue of TIME, I wrote about why you should care when celebrity moms breast-feed their babies. Why, you ask? Because if you’re a celebrity, people pay attention to what you do. They copy your hairstyle (if you’re Jennifer Aniston), your zany style (if you’re Lady Gaga) and your propensity for breast-feeding in public (if you’re Gwen Stefani or Salma Hayek or, most recently, Beyoncé). Or at least that’s the hope.

So it was that breast-feeding advocates rejoiced when Beyoncé appeared to nurse her 7-week-old daughter, Blue Ivy, at a Manhattan restaurant last month. It was a shot in the arm for public breast-feeding, which has been waging a public-relations war in recent months as mothers have held nurse-ins across the country to normalize the concept of feeding hungry babies in public rather than retreating to bathrooms or other private, out-of-the-way spaces.

MORE: How Beyoncé’s Public Breast-Feeding Changes the Nursing-in-Public Debate

In my recent TIME article (available here to subscribers), I describe an upcoming tea at actress Jenna Elfman’s Los Angeles home, co-sponsored with actress Kelly Preston and former pro boxer Laila Ali, to promote breast-feeding and non-toxic living for babies and children. Elfman detailed her own unique experience with breast-feeding for Best for Babes, a breast-feeding advocacy organization that will be on hand at the April 14 tea.

Best for Babes first found Elfman through Twitter where she was tweeting about nursing her second child. Elfman agreed to do an interview with the group, one in a series the organization has done with celebrity mothers. In the words of Bettina Forbes, a Best for Babes co-founder:

Like so many mothers in America, Jenna had expected to have no problems breast-feeding and got a rude awakening at the lack of support she received in the hospital. Because of the barriers she experienced, she was never able to get her first child, Story, to latch … so she ended up pumping exclusively for 10 months, a herculean task.

Because she was pumping, she was producing a lot of milk (exclusively pumping moms, or EP’ers, as we call them in the breastfeeding community, sometimes fear running out of breast milk more than any other staple), and she ended up donating her extra milk to a baby that was critically ill. She saw first-hand the healing effect of human milk on this drug-addicted baby who promptly recovered.

Elfman described pumping “in the backs of cars, on the way to the set, on the freeway, shopping and then going back to the car.” Oh, and in FAO Schwarz. She stored up so much milk that she was able to feed a baby who had been exposed to methamphetamines in the womb. The baby was being cared for by Elfman’s friends, so she learned first-hand that the infant thrived on her breast milk, gaining weight and overcoming his withdrawal symptoms.  “…My friends ended up officially adopting him, and I saw him at a birthday party the other day,” said Elfman. “He is now 3 and doing great.”

MORE: Is Breast-Feeding “Lewd Behavior”? Angry Moms in Georgia Fight Back

Perhaps what’s most interesting about Elfman’s interview is the fact that despite her rich-and-famous status, the barriers she faced in breast-feeding were no different from those of any mom. Being solely responsible for a baby’s nourishment can be, as Elfman said, “way stressful.” The more celebrities — and regular moms — who breast-feed in public and breast-feed at all, the more support we’ll all have.