Breastfeeding graduate never expected to spark furore

CRADLING her son in her arms, Maroochy River mother Jacci Sharkey never thought she would be at the centre of a breastfeeding debate.

The 24-year-old shared an image with the University of the Sunshine Coast of herself dressed in her graduation cap and gown while breastfeeding her then six-week-old son before the ceremony.

Mrs Sharkey sent the photo to the university to say thank you for its support while she juggled two pregnancies and two newborns during her studies in human resource management.

She believed the photo encapsulated the past three years of her life as she strived towards reaching her goals and furthering her career.

RELATED: Uni Facebook post of breastfeeding mum goes viral

The image, published on the USC Facebook page with permission, conjured a fierce debate over the benefits and inconveniences of breastfeeding.

"Just wanted to share a photo from the most recent graduation that I am proud of," Mrs Sharkey said in the post.

"I'm extremely proud that with the support of the uni, where during my degree I was able to have two babies and still finish my degree. Thanks USC!"

The university's post has already received more than 200,000 "likes" and more than 6000 "shares" as the image circulates on social media. Close to 4000 have commented on the post.

"I really loved the photo. It sums up my year, really, and my university degree," Mrs Sharkey told The Daily yesterday.

"I never realised it would cause this sort of massive controversy."

While Mrs Sharkey has never considered herself a breastfeeding advocate, she is proud to be an inspiration to other mothers looking to further their education.

"I'm happy the degree is finished and now I've got that stepping stone and backing, I did it and I have that degree in my hand," she said.

"I had great support from my family, friends and the uni. I even took my eldest son Ari into lectures with me some

times.

"I want other mums to know they can do it, it is possible, you just need to be a bit tenacious and you need to really want it to get through."

Mrs Sharkey was about to walk into her graduation ceremony last month when her son needed a feed. After he refused to accept a bottle, Mrs Sharkey said she had no choice but to feed, in fear he would scream through the proceedings.

"I had no choice. I just had to do what I needed to do as a mother," she said.

"I would have been the worst mother in the world if I let him scream through the ceremony and didn't feed him, but some people have made comments saying they don't like it.

"Breastfeeding is a normal thing.

"The photo was never about how awesome breastfeeding is, it was about how the university was so supportive that I was able to do my degree, have my kids and have a life.

"It was never meant to be shoved down people's throats. It was meant to be a reassuring message to mothers that they can have a career and have children."



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