Simply the breast: Mothers gather for breastfeeding challenge

Matt Gardner
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A group of Prince Albert mothers and their children gathered at the South Hill Mall on Saturday morning to take a stand for breastfeeding.

Mothers breastfeed their children at the Gateway Mall on Saturday as part of the Quintessence Breastfeeding Challenge 2012. Lori Fletcher is at far left, while lactation consultant Janelle Amyotte sits third from left.

The Quintessence Breastfeeding Challenge is an annual event that takes place in Canada, the United States and other countries. The goal is to have the most women breastfeeding their children in one place.

“It’s terribly worded to be a challenge, because, really, we’re not around here having a breastfeeding contest to see who can breastfeed the best,” registered nurse and certified lactation consultant Janelle Amyotte said just prior to the official “latch-on” at 11 a.m.

“What the challenge is about is to have the largest number of women breastfeeding in one facility or one site, around the world. There are several sites all around the world, around North America, doing this right now, and so places like Montreal often have hundreds of women out. We’re definitely not in the running to compete with that, but we’re just happy to have a larger number than last year, and it looks like so far we do.”

Breastfeeding is known to have a myriad of health benefits for both mother and child. Children who are breastfed tend to have fewer allergies and stomach problems, fewer lung and ear infections and a lower risk of childhood cancers. Breastfeeding mothers, for their part, experience lower rates of breast and ovarian cancer throughout their lifetimes.

Doctors generally recommend breastfeeding babies exclusively for the first six months. But that is by no means typical in North America, where mothers often feel trepidation about breastfeeding in public.

“A lot of women that are coming out to this are very proud to be breastfeeding their children, and that’s one of the reasons they’re here,” Amyotte said. “But I do find a lot of women are shy to breastfeed in public because it’s become a bit of a cultural abnormality —which is too bad, and we’re rising back up.

“It’s becoming a cultural norm. It’s starting to match up with what the evidence is saying … that this is the best way to feed your child. It’s the normal way to feed your child, and there are hazards and consequences to choosing formula feed instead. But this is just a personal choice for people and they want to celebrate it.”

This is the best way to feed your child. It’s the normal way to feed your child, and there are hazards and consequences to choosing formula feed instead. Janelle Amyotte

Stay-at-home mom Lori Fletcher was present on Saturday with her two-and-a-half-year-old son. It was their third time attending the Quintessence challenge together.

Aside from the opportunity to connect with like-minded mothers, Fletcher felt it was important to promote breastfeeding as something normal and natural that babies are born expecting. While she breastfeeds in public regularly, the age of her son occasionally gives strangers pause.

“For the most part, people are pretty good about it,” Fletcher said. “As he gets older, I feel people are more intrigued by it, or I feel people watching me more and probably wondering why that kid’s still breastfeeding, because it’s not something you see very often … moms in public breastfeeding two-and-a-half-year-old kids. But for us it’s normal, it’s part of our lives and it’s not weird at all.”

Fletcher might return for the challenge next year if her son is still breastfeeding. For now, she has no set weaning date in mind.

Despite recent controversy over a Time magazine cover depicting a mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son, Fletcher makes the point that North American attitudes towards breastfeeding are different from the global norm.

“I think that biologically, we’re meant to breastfeed much longer than most people do in North America,” she said. “The average age of weaning worldwide is over four years old — the average. So North American culture definitely brings that average down because media and … societal influences … suggest that it’s weird to breastfeed … beyond infancy.”

She added: “I just want the point to come across that breastfeeding a toddler isn’t weird or detrimental to a child. It’s just the opposite, and a great way to nourish and nurture a young child.”

Organizations: North American, Time magazine

Geographic location: North America, Canada, United States Montreal

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