Stephanie Hanson knows all the too well the look.
She gets it when she goes to feed her infant daughter Charlotte in public.
Hanson breastfeeds her daughter. It’s natural, it’s normal and it’s healthy.
The Big Latch On, held Aug. 5 at Yowell Meadow Park, promotes breastfeeding in public and helps mothers connect to discuss natural feeding.
Cindy Curtis, owner of Pink Cocoon and a local lactation specialist, has hosted the event for five years for mothers like Hanson.
“There’s not a lot of support sometimes in the community or a lot of mothers don’t have families around, so this is an event to promote breastfeeding and breastfeeding in public so mom’s feel comfortable,” Curtis said.
Hanson has three children, and Charlotte is her youngest and has been her hardest to get to latch on.
“She is my most difficult to latch, but I knew what to look for and I knew how to get help and in that way she’s been the easiest,” Hanson said.
Her other children had lip and tongue tie and Cindy and her support group – held every first Thursday of the month at Providence Baptist Bible Church from 10 to 11 a.m. – helped her deal with the issue.
“It makes you want to cry, because you feel like it’s some that should come easily,” Hanson said. ‘While it is natural, it does not always come easily. Especially if you have other children or other demands on your attention, it can be a little overwhelming to do everything at one time.”
Seventy-seven mothers sat near the pavilion at Yowell Meadow Park Saturday, all naturally feeding their children and sharing stories of success and frustration.
“It’s really great to have an event that promotes public breastfeeding because it can be very daunting to breastfeed in public,” Hanson said. “I think there was a period of time that breastfeeding was unusual, and I think that carried over to not a lot of people seeing it regularly. The only way breasts were seen were as a sexual purpose. It’s been difficult to get back seeing them as for nurturing first.”
As lately as two years ago, breastfeeding in public in Virginia was illegal. The General Assembly passed a bill in 2015 to make it legal but a stigma remains.
“I don’t know why there’s such a stigma with breastfeeding,” Curtis said. “They encounter it quite a bit. It’s better than it used to be. I’ve been doing this for 30 some years. Events like this that bring mothers together help.”
Just having someone to talk to helps, Curtis said.
“Moms are always sharing their breastfeeding stories and their difficulties,” Curtis said. “The support group is really great because this month we had three new moms come and the experienced moms can say ‘yeah, that happened to me.’ Just knowing they aren’t the only ones going through it can be really helpful.”
Malinda and James Haun know a lot about breastfeeding – all eight of their children have done it.
Their latest additions – twins Wyatt and Colton – moved restlessly as they waited to feed during the Big Latch On.
“I think it’s very important so people aren’t looking at mothers and are so judgemental when we breastfeed in public,” Malinda said.
While some may still look down on the practice, there has been progress made since their oldest was born 20 years ago. They relayed a tale of an older couple who praised them for feeding in public and helping keeping the twins healthy.
“I also think with the knowledge behind it because we were really young when we had our first son, and breastfeeding wasn’t really advocated enough,” James said. “Now, over the years, they are really promoting it.”
“You still sometimes get looks,” Malinda said. “The only thing that bothers me is young boys seeing me.”
James said it’s important to be supportive and help in any way possible. Promoting breastfeeding is the easiest way to do that as a husband.
“It helps give your wife confidence and motivation to do something that’s all natural and so beneficial for your child,” James said.