Under a thick, winter coat and layers and layers of clothing, a new mother fumbles to situate her baby to breastfeed in public during a long, cold winter in Great Falls, Mont. Her eyes shift, anxious that she might be approached and shunned by some unapproving neighbor.
Instead of suffer the discomfort, the mother figures she ought to bottle-feed, a seemingly more socially acceptable way to feed her baby.
Elizabeth Chargois, a WIC peer counselor serving families in Great Falls says this situation is not uncommon.
“We have an older generation that isn’t necessarily comfortable with women and babies breastfeeding in public,” Chargois explains. “That becomes even more drastic as the child ages. That can make things difficult for the mom…”
She goes on to explain that Great Falls is behind in breastfeeding initiation and rates at three months and beyond.
Lack of education, employment barriers, breastfeeding misconceptions and access to free formula all contribute to low rates, Chargois says.
Maternal child health advocates in their area, including a strong breastfeeding coalition, are working to change infant feeding culture through communication, social media and various other avenues of outreach.
Recently, thanks to a grant from the Montana State Breastfeeding Coalition, the Great Falls Breastfeeding Coalition was able to produce life-size breastfeeding cutouts. Marin Breastfeeding Coalition in Marin County, Calif. was one of the first to produce similar life-like cutouts in 2009.
The cutouts are intended to raise awareness about the importance of breastfeeding and to help destigmatize breastfeeding in public, as originally reported by Enya Spicer of the Great Falls Tribune. So far, one is displayed in a local WIC office and the others will be placed in high traffic areas throughout the community in the next few weeks, Chargois explains.
The coalition meets October 18 when two of the cutouts will get “adopted” by a coalition member who will be responsible for finding it a home.
“Then they would move to another location in time with a different adopter,” Chargois adds.
The coalition will welcome open communication with the managers or individuals at the place of business where the images are displayed.
“I am positive we will get all sorts of feed-back,” Chargois says. “We plan on tracking the campaign efforts through social media and polling the public’s opinion of the cut-outs. The staff at WIC will also inform the clients about the project and see their responses.”
Almost all the staff in the local WIC office are CLC trained, for instance. Health Department Home visiting nurses, pediatric clinic staff, and many nurses and staff at the local hospital have completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course, Chargois reports. The hospital will host another training in Spring 2020.
Chargois continues, “Our military base has a CLC in their pediatric clinic as well as a home visiting nurse who recently was trained as a CLC.”
And, she adds, community members can reach out to La Leche League.
“Great Falls has support at every turn,” she says.
Although an atypical situation among her clients, Chargois recalls a mother she worked with who was overproducing.
Along with their efforts to increase breastfeeding visibility in public, the health department has conjoined with various cancer organizations to educate about breastfeeding’s protective qualities against reproductive cancers.
“We were recently at one of our White Sox minor league Great Falls Voyagers games giving out bracelets promoting Women Against Breast Cancer,” Chargois reports.
The department also recently hosted a table at The Think Pink for the Girls Committee Think Pink Tea fundraiser.
You can follow Great Falls Breastfeeding Coalition on Facebook.