Three-month-old Nathan Crerend is nursed about every two hours, like clockwork. For his mother, Ashley Crerend, it doesn’t slow her busy schedule. She understands the benefits of breastfeeding and has no problems with doing it publicly.
Mrs. Crerend sat on a bench at Bergfeld Park Wednesday to watch her older two sons play. Within seconds, without anyone noticing, she’d guided little Nathan under toward her breast and he began to feed.
It’s a natural occurrence but the 29-year-old mom said modern American culture has made breastfeeding in public taboo.
That’s why she’ll participate in the Big Latch On 2014 — a synchronized breastfeeding event on Aug. 2 that aims to bring awareness and support to women who breastfeed.
“I’ve seen mothers sitting in a bathroom trying to nurse because they were embarrassed to do it in the restaurant or in the store, and it shouldn’t be anything to be embarrassed about,” she said. “I personally nurse-cover because of my own comfort, but I don’t go away. I sit at the table. I don’t hide anywhere. I don’t feel like you should have to hide to feed your baby. I don’t eat in the bathroom. I don’t think he wants to eat in the bathroom.”
Erin Menard, 28, will hold the Big Latch On in Tyler for the second year. She learned about the campaign at the Henderson event two years ago, after giving birth to now-2-year-old Logan.
Last year’s event brought out nine mothers. She’s signed up at least 25 for this year’s event and wants more to attend.
The Big Latch On began in New Zealand in 2005 as part of World Breastfeeding Week. It has since spread across the globe. Portland, Oregon, held the first American Big Latch On in 2010. Last year, 14,536 women simultaneously breastfed during the event.
Mrs. Menard wants to raise more awareness locally about the benefits of breastfeeding, as well as give moms an avenue to receive information and support.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 percent of mothers breastfeed immediately after birth but only 16 percent breastfeed exclusively six months later. The need to have more mothers breastfeed has been part of the national initiative, Healthy People 2020.
Mrs. Menard said breastfeeding slightly lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. It also provides babies with antibodies to ward off illness. Advocates point to its cost-effectiveness compared to formula feeding. And for mothers, they tend to lose baby weight faster while breastfeeding.
“There’s nothing wrong with formula feeding,” Mrs. Menard said. “It is a great alternative if you can’t breastfeed, but breastfeeding has so many more benefits, health-wise, for both mom and baby.”
Mrs. Menard also believes in extended nursing, or nursing past 12 months old. She sometimes nurses Logan.
She admitted she thought East Texans would react differently about public breastfeeding. However, she, as well as Mrs. Crerend, has had positive reactions and support.
“I know a lot of people in big cities who’ve been told to leave, who’ve been told to cover up or go to the bathroom,” Mrs. Menard said. “I’ve never encountered that in Tyler.”
Both women are stay-at-home mothers, but they recognize it’s more difficult for women who work to breastfeed.
In addition to time restraints, not having the help from a lactation consultant or other support often prevents new moms from trying it.
“We’re trying to normalize it, so women feel more comfortable nursing,” Mrs. Menard. “Lots of women don’t breastfeed past the first few weeks because they don’t have the support and they don’t have the knowledge. A lot of times they feel like they’re being judged.”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Menard said she’s not crusading against sexualizing breasts.
“It’s not necessarily to take it away from being sexualized, but just to say that’s not their only purpose,” Mrs. Menard said.
BREASTFEEDING AND THE LAW
Women can’t legally be asked to leave an establishment because she’s breastfeeding. However, a 2010 WIC study found that most people with children younger than 18 are unaware of state laws regarding breastfeeding.
Both federal and state laws protect women who need to nurse while in public.
“In the state of Texas, a woman is allowed to nurse a baby anywhere her and the baby are allowed to be, which means that obviously, if it’s at a place, like a bar, they don’t have that protection because the baby’s not legally allowed to be there,” Mrs. Menard said.
In addition, the Affordable Care Act in 2010 amended a section of the Fair Labor Standards Act to ensure employers provide nursing mothers reasonable breaks to express milk.
“A lot of women don’t know about it,” Mrs. Crerend said. “A lot of employers will try to hide it. If you don’t know your rights, you can kind of get pushed around.”
To learn more about the Big Latch On, visit www.biglatchon.org .