A group of local women took to the streets last Thursday to empower nursing mothers and help them feel confident breastfeeding whenever their babies are hungry.
More than a dozen ladies marched from the Fort Frances Public Library to the Rainy Lake Square while holding up a “World Breastfeeding Week" banner before participating in a "latch mob” where mothers breastfed their children at the square.
The event is in its second year and was hosted by the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre, the United Native Friendship Centre, and Sunset Country Metis.
“'World Breastfeeding Week' is celebrated all around the world and so it's really common in communities to do events like this where there's a latch mob, a walk—just anything to really promote breastfeeding, to celebrate it,” said Melissa Wilson, event organizer and NWHU public health nurse.
“I think having moms nursing in public increases the perception that it's okay to breastfeed. It's not something that is shameful or it's not like we're being exhibitionists or anything like that. They are just wanting to meet their baby's nutritional needs in the best way,” she added.
“Babies are humans—they have the right to eat when they are hungry.”
Wilson said sometimes she meets new moms who breastfeed but are hesitant to leave the house because they're worried their baby might need to eat and don't feel comfortable nursing in front of other people.
“That can cause a bit of isolation for moms, so we just want them to know that it's okay," Wilson reasoned. "Anytime, anywhere is okay to breastfeed.”
She said acceptance of mother's breastfeeding publicly is increasing but there are still mothers who receive rude comments while feeding their baby.
“They're told to go to a different place, like the bathroom, or go somewhere else to nurse instead,” Wilson explained.
"Unfortunately, this is still out there but it has definitely improved.
“It can really vary from community to community, depending on the social groups that you're dealing with,” she added.
At the NWHU, Wilson said they promote exclusive breastfeeding until a baby reaches six months of age, at which time they recommend introducing some complimentary or solid foods while also breast feeding.
She highly recommends that mothers breastfeed if able because of the all the benefits associated with it.
“For babies, it reduces their risk of infections, respiratory stomach infections, ear infections,” Wilson noted.
“Breast milk is totally designed for babies and it changes as they age. It's not a static thing, whereas artificial breast milk or formula is the same all the time.”
“Babies will also get antibodies from mom's immune system to fight off any infections that happen to be circulating within the community or even within a family,” she added.
Wilson also told the Times that breastfeeding costs nothing, is always portable and ready to go, and creates less environmental waste than infant formula.
“It reduces the risk of childhood cancers, obesity, diabetes, and it decreases mom's risk of cancers, including breast cancer, and decreases her chance of osteoporosis,” she explained.
“Human milk is designed for human babies, for their digestive system and their growth and development.”
While breastfeeding is natural, it's not always easy in the beginning, Wilson noted.
“If moms need support, they should get support early on. Call us here at the NWHU, and reach out to peers like friends and families who have experience and get that help early,” she remarked.
Wilson would also like to emphasize that mothers need a lot of support after a baby is born.
“They're home from the hospital one or two days after they had the baby and they just really need to be able to focus on recovery, feeding their baby and resting,” she said.
“They need support from family and friends to help look after older kids, help look after concerns around the house and even help them look after themselves by making them meals and giving them time to rest in between feedings.”
“It's not just up to the mom to increase breastfeeding rates. She needs the support of people around her and the community in general,” Wilson added.
If anybody is having trouble breastfeeding, they can speak to a nurse or lactation consultant 24 hours a day through Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-000.
And those living in town are encouraged to call the NWHU at 274-9827 if assistance is needed.