September 22nd, 2010 • Comments: 0 • by Wendy • Health & WellnessJust for Fun

Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and the Corset

Shortly after the launch of PumpEase Organic, I received the following email about our marketing image (shown below).  I figured if there was one person out there that felt this way and took the time to email me, that there may be others that had the same concerns and yet didn't say anything.  So I've decided to share both the emails and my interview with Melanie Talkington of Lace Embrace Atelier, an expert in corsetry and the owner of one of the largest antique corset collections in North America.  I met Melanie at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in 1993 where we were both studying Fashion Design and Technology.

PumpEase Organic

The following is the email that I received, unedited...

Dear PumpEase folks

I just came across your advertisement for your pump. As a childbirth Educator, breastfeeding advocate and educator, and mother of four breastfed children, I find the picture extraordinarily harmful to breastfeeding women.

Postpartum women are sensitive the enormous changes that their bodies go through. As I am sure you can appreciate, growing a baby for nine months is a huge endeavor. After birth, the body must not only recover from birth, but make the slow and subtle changes back to its pre-pregnancy state.

This picture of a woman, who is presumably postpartum since she has the hands free pump attached to her, definitely does not have the body of a woman who has just given birth. The corset and size of the woman's waist are completely misleading( is she a size 3?) further promoting the media stereotype that resume their pre-pregnant bodies immediately after birth.

The picture also gives the false sense that the woman who is pumping would never have to support those flanges and bottles attached to the bra. The weight of those bottles and eventual milk will weigh down on her breasts and nipples and cause her discomfort and/or pain. For women with large sized breasts this would not be a possibility. She would need to support the weight of her breasts with her hands for comfort.

Not only does this picture not represent what the postpartum women is going to look like, but in all honesty, it's pretty cheesy. Your ad did get my attention, but I would not recomment your product in my classes.

Xxxx Xxxxxxx

And my response...

Good day Xxxx,

I apologize for the late reply - our assistant got married and went on her honeymoon for two weeks, and as a result we got quite behind.

I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and feedback on PumpEase Organic, especially since it's a product that is extremely helpful to breastfeeding moms whom you support.

The colleague who lent us the corset that you see in the image, who is a leading corsetiere in North America, works with many new moms to help them return to their pre-pregnancy figure.  She has had women come in as soon as one week after giving birth.  In Victorian times, postpartum women were wrapped in a soft cotton corset with ties down the front to help the new mother get her figure back.  Corsetry supports the back, slims the waist and improves the posture.

In fact, postpartum belly-binding/compression has been in practice therapeutically for thousands of years and is still evident today.  Women are routinely told, by both hospitals and birthing professionals such as yourself to purchase a “compression garment” and to wear it “as tight as you can stand it” immediately postpartum to help return the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size, decrease bloating caused by water retention and support the legs & back. There is information on Belly Bandit’s site about the safety of this practice including how it can support Caesarian Section incisions.  Therefore I’m not sure why you feel the need to fault moms for doing something to boost their own confidence, if that's their choice.  It's like criticizing a mom for covering up when she nurses in public; I say that whatever helps moms' confidence, goes.

We do not feel that we are giving the wrong message to new moms at all with this image. We feel we’re doing something positive for body image by not using a stick-thin model (as evidenced by our model Talysia’s upper arms and wider hips).  Talysia is, in fact, an average size 12, with a waist measurement of 29-½”, not a "size 3" as you stated in your email.  She is also a mother.  Having said that, women come in all shapes and sizes and their bodies react differently to pregnancy, even from one baby to another.

Further, we are not suggesting that women don a corset after birth any more than we are suggesting that women dress-up as a pin-up girl or as Holly Golightly as seen in our other marketing images.  In fact, moms LOVE our images, with most finding them very empowering.

I should also correct you in your statement:  "The picture also gives the false sense that the woman who is pumping would never have to support those flanges and bottles attached to the bra.  The weight of those bottles and eventual milk will weigh down on her breasts and nipples and cause her discomfort and/or pain.   For women with large sized breasts this would not be a possibility. She would need to support the weight of her breasts with her hands for comfort.”

I have many testimonials on my site attesting to the fact that PumpEase works wonderfully for larger breasted women AND supports full 6-8 ounce bottles. And again, I can attest to this personally as I pumped 10 oz of milk with no problems whatsoever.  I was a D when nursing and do NOT have “perky” boobs by any means.  I was also using the Petite version of our product (as this was during our prototype stage).  We now have a wider version of PumpEase which provides even more support.

We designed PumpEase solely to help moms extend their nursing relationship with their babies.  Our customers include moms pumping for their toddlers and preschoolers as well - not just newborn babies.  If you look around our site, I’m sure you’ll agree.

If you’re ever in Vancouver, you should visit Lace Embrace and try a corset on.  You will find that they are very comfortable, easy to wear and wonderful for your waistline and posture.  I know, as I’ve worn one myself on several occasions.

Thank you,

Wendy Armbruster Bell

After I received this email, I contacted Melanie to help me with my research.  We had previously discussed my interviewing her about maternity and nursing corsets both because I love the History of Costume (one of my favourite subjects in school) and because I find it very interesting to hear about the nursing apparel from other eras and thought some of you may too.

So without further adieu...

And if you'd like to learn more about historical costume you need to attend one of Ivan Sayers' lectures.  Ivan Sayers is a fashion historian who specializes in the study of women’s, men’s and children’s fashions from 1650 to the present.  Sayers has one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of historic clothing in private hands in Canada.  He is the founder of the Original Costume Museum Society in Vancouver.

So what do you think about corsetry?  Corsetry while pregnant?  Corsetry while nursing?  Do you find this as fascinating as I do?  And what was your first reaction to our marketing image?  Did you think it was inappropriate?  Empowering?  Silly?  Leave your comments below - I'd love to hear all about it!  And if you're ever in Vancouver, be sure to visit Lace Embrace and try a corset on.  Remember my warning however - they are totally addictive!

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Deidrea says:

Oh Wendy, I LOVED this blog post!!! I found it so interesting..I think my aha moment was when Melanie likened a corset to our present day bra & panties; although it is CRAZY to think there were pregnancy is very interesting!!

Posted on September 23, 2010

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

@Deidrea - the history of costume is truly fascinating and corsetry during pregnancy and nursing is no exception. I was just showing Rebekah my workbook from when I took the History of Costume in Fashion Design school. We studied dress from prehistoric times, when clothing was solely for protection from the elements, to present day when, of course, fashion plays a huge, if not exclusive role.

Lovin' it! And thanks for commenting...

Posted on September 23, 2010

Denise says:

I love the picture, she is beautiful. She is obviously not rail thin. I can also vouch for the fact that the PumpEase holds up full 10 oz bottles... Pain??? Never had any pain. After watching that video, I'm thinking I shoulda got a corset. LOL
I think the person who wrote the letter needs to stop being a cave woman, think out of the box and stop being so close-minded and judgemental. I also find it strange that she feels as though she is THE voice of all new mothers. Hmmm...

Posted on September 23, 2010

Heather Hazen says:

I started to feel defensive reading the letter. But you handled it beautifully and did not lash back for a second! I want to try a corset! I wore basically a belly brace during pregnancy as I was a runner up until 6 days before my son was born and I jumped back into it at 5 weeks pp. The support during pregnancy kept me in heels and my back from hurting. I wish I had known about wearing the hipster corsets immediately after birth so that my hips would have returned comfortably to their pre-baby size... Thank you for this post!

Posted on September 23, 2010

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

@Denise - you still CAN get a corset! Melanie owes me one for grading all her patterns. Come with me and try one on!

@Heather - my blood pressure totally went up when I read her email, and re-read it and read it again... It took me a while to research and write a response. Kudos to you for running late into your pregnancy. With my first, I was at the gym working out with weights and cardio 12 hours before she was born. I have finally, after 5 years, got back into my former exercise routine and am thinking of training for the marathon that I was supposed to run before I was 40 (it will have to be before I'm 50 now).

P.S. Melanie sells her corsets online and is excelllent about helping with fitting etc...

Posted on September 23, 2010

Judy @ Mommy News Blog says:

Wendy, I just love the elegance of your reply to this email. It is wonderful! I can also attest to hands-free pumping being fine with a large bust - I was a 40G when my son was an infant and I always pumped hands-free - and never once had to support the bottles! I also own a corset, but have only worn it a few times....maybe I'll have to pull it out again! -- Judy

Posted on September 23, 2010

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

Thanks for your comment Judy! I should note that I never heard back again from the writer after replying to her email.

Posted on September 23, 2010

shannon fitzpatrick says:

Wow, just wow! Amazing reply Wendy! I'm looking at the photo going this woman has beautiful womanly curves, is this girl insane?! And yes lots of moms do go right back to their pre-pregnancy weight - thanks to nursing! I know I did with both girls, lost 40lbs in under 2 weeks! Is that realistic? No but it does happen? And is this woman crading a newborn? No she could be pumping to cure grannies cancer! Sigh. People are so close minded! And I wore a corset after having my second! She was a section and they cut my stomach in a giant T to get her out, I had lost all muscle tone, if it weren't for the corset I'd have been bed ridden for weeks and not been able to visit my daughter in the NICU! So thank you once again to the age old bright woman who invented corsets. We women truly need to go back to the basics, especially with breastfeeding/pumping.

Posted on September 24, 2010

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

Thanks Shannon for your most excellent comment.

I finally Googled "Who invented the corset?" and found this online. Super interesting!

Posted on September 24, 2010

Jaimie says:

I was feeling very defensive reading that woman's email as well. She strikes me as the typical feminazi who feels the need to speak for all woman kind b/c we obviously can't do it for ourselves. Very frustrating. I see nothing wrong with the image at all - and being a 42G who has pumped 12oz or more at a time, i can attest to how well PumpEase works. Sheer silliness in my opinion. I loved studying costuming too during my theatre major courses in college. :) fascinating! :)

Posted on December 8, 2010

Jaimie says:

I also find it interesting how fixated she was on immediately post partum, and not talking about months, or even years later that you could be pumping when body *IS* back to relative normality. :) You answered fabulously though...

Posted on December 8, 2010

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

Thanks for your comments Jaimie.

This has turned out to be one of my favourite posts - probably because it marries two of my loves: fashion and breastfeeding!


Posted on December 8, 2010