The Big Latch-On

Here is something I love about today:  lots of women are sitting on the steps of the capitol building in Richmond, Virginia and breastfeeding their babies.  I love this for so many reasons:  because it is Richmond, and the capital building (the site of recent protests against Virginia’s restrictive laws about women’s reproductive health and choices), because it is a public display of breasts feeding children instead of breasts selling things, and because it promotes breastfeeding—and just as importantly, support for breastfeeding.  While breastfeeding is wonderful for both mother and child, it isn’t always easy, especially at first.  It can hurt when you’re learning to latch your baby on, and it can be exhausting, so you have to take really good care of yourself.  Women who can’t breastfeed or who choose not to because of lack of support, pain, and time constraints are often shamed while other women who are breastfeeding are shamed for doing so in public.  So I believe we need all the public displays of affection between baby and breast that we can get.

The Big Latch-On is happening all over the world—that’s right, all over the world—today and tomorrow, August 2 and 3, 2013, at registered locations. Breastfeeding women latch their babies onto their breasts for one minute at a set time, and the numbers are recorded worldwide.  Now that’s some happiness right there.

Here are its stated aims, from the Big Latch-On website:

  • Support for communities to identify and grow opportunities to provide ongoing breastfeeding support and promotion.
  • Raise awareness of breastfeeding support and knowledge available in communities.
  • Help communities positively support breastfeeding in public places.
  • Make breastfeeding a normal part of the day-to-day life at a local community level.
  •  Increase support for women who breastfeed – women are supported by their partners, family and the breastfeeding knowledge that is embedded in their communities.
  • Communities have the resources to advocate for coordinated appropriate and accessible breastfeeding support services.

It’s all part of World Breastfeeding Week, which is August 1–7th.  This week is about supporting breastfeeding mothers worldwide through education and peer support.  The theme for this year is peer counseling—anyone can step up and be trained to help a breastfeeding mother learn the ropes, and support her along the way.  This kind of support was invaluable for me when I was a new mother—a lactation consultant visited me in the hospital and helped me learn how to hold my baby and latch her on, and how to know when she was getting milk.  When I left the hospital, I had a phone number in hand to call the consultant any time I had questions or concerns.

But that just gets the ball rolling.  You know who really helped?  My husband.  In the middle of the night, when our daughter would cry, he would cross the room, prop me up on pillows, pick up our baby, and hand her to me.  Then he’d go back to sleep—and half the time, so would I—as our baby had her meal.  World Breastfeeding Week seeks to educate families and communities so that more women have the kind of support, both public and private, they need to sustain breastfeeding.

There is much debate about breastfeeding—some feminists believe the pressure on modern mothers to breastfeed is part of backlash, as it keeps a mother physically tied to her child, and her home, for a longer period of time.  And then there’s the shaming I mentioned earlier—breastfeeding is one of the items on the very long list of what it takes to be The Perfect Mom.   These issues are symptoms of how breastfeeding currently fits—or doesn’t fit—into our society, and backlash does play a role.  For if we shame mothers about their breasts, and give them no public or private support while also making sure they know breastfeeding is a very healthy choice for both mother and child, we are indeed setting everyone up for failure.

But if we support moms by creating a healthy environment for breastfeeding, educate fathers and partners about its value and the need for support, and also allow the woman to make her own choice about her body and her child, well then we set everyone up for a win.  That is just what the Big Latch-On and World Breastfeeding Week are all about.

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