While it has been a critical practice throughout the entire span of mankind’s history, the stigma of controversy over mothers breastfeeding their babies in public has never gone away, but thanks to the events such as the recent 2008 Breastfeeding Challenge held in Rimbey, attitudes are starting to change.
“We’re here for the 2008 Breastfeeding Challenge,” said event coordinator Jamie Mackinaw of Bluffton. “We try to get as many moms and babies out to give the mothers support. Basically, it’s just for fun and to promote breastfeeding.”
The challenge took a two-part approach to the practice that some may consider to be a bit too risqué for public eyes. Not only was it intended to inform new or expecting mothers of the importance of breastfeeding, but also to let them and the public know that it is a natural process and key to the development of healthy children.
“This is to promote breastfeeding for expecting and new mothers. It is to promote breastfeeding, but it’s also intended to promote breastfeeding exclusively for six months and that means no formula, no water and no supplements at all for the first six months,” Mackinaw said citing Health Canada recommendations. “And then, breastfeeding up to two years and beyond with appropriate foods.”
While she said she has never been approached in regards to her practice of breastfeeding in public, Mackinaw added that she has felt the glaring eyes – generally from males, while trying to feed her babies which obviously has made her feel a somewhat uncomfortable.
“Breastfeeding is normal and natural and mothers should be able to feed their babies any time and anywhere. I’ve never been confronted, but I have been stared at in the West Edmonton Mall where males have actually turned around and stared at me, or they see you’re breastfeeding and they turn away really quickly because they seem to think it’s wrong,” she said.
“The whole reason for this challenge is to promote breastfeeding and to protect the rights of mothers to breastfeed their babies any time, anywhere,” Mackinaw added. “It’s certainly not to flaunt breasts or to make anyone feel guilty for not breastfeeding, but more to offer information and support.”
According to the Breastfeeding Challenge’s major promoter the Uintessence Foundation, breastfeeding has many well-documented benefits including better health for both mothers and babies however many women fail to meet their own breastfeeding goals and wean their children prematurely well before meting the recommended guidelines.
The foundation also stated two of the biggest hurdles facing breastfeeding women are a lack of support and marginalization by the community, an irony that Mackinaw knows all too well.
In an effort to find a suitable location to hold the Breastfeeding Challenge in Rimbey, she said she was stonewalled on two occasions – one being a private business while the other was one of the community’s more-public locations.
“The first place said mothers were more than welcome to breastfeed their babies there, but they would not support a breastfeeding challenge,” Mackinaw said. “The second place said they wouldn’t support the challenge because of all the teenaged boys that visited the location.”
Luckily for the group, local businessman Jack Webb stepped forward and offered up his establishment to the ladies and their babies, a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed by the gathering.
“We’re very appreciative of Jack for letting us do the Breastfeeding Challenge here,” Mackinaw said. “He was very accommodating and said yes right away.”
Currently a breastfeeding consultant, she is currently training to become a lactation councilor and said there are many sources of support and information for new mothers to access in the community, but was quick to add many may not be aware of them.
For those who aren’t, Mackinaw hosts a breastfeeding support group for expectant, new and experienced mothers monthly at the offices of the Family and Community Support Services. There are also a number of web sites available to provide information or advise for breastfeeding women.
In the meantime, Mackinaw offered up a bit of advice to those who, for one reason or another, feel the urge to ‘sneak a peak’ during one of the most intimate and personal times between a mother and her child.
“If you see a breast when a woman is breastfeeding, you’re too close,” she said. “It’s a natural thing, but breasts are also sexual and many have a problem with that because they think it’s actually inappropriate, but it isn’t.”