Local businesses strive to end the negative stigma around breastfeeding
Today marks the end of World Breastfeeding Week here in Canada, a time during which local businesses have addressed the need for support by advocating breastfeeding-friendly establishments.
Building a Breastfeeding Environment (BaBE) is a network of individuals, families, and communities that has been working with businesses in Nova Scotia since its inauguration back in 2014.
Through their Make Breastfeeding Your Business program, BaBE's mission is to make breastfeeding socially acceptable and raise awareness concerning a women's right to breastfeed under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.
Students in the StFX Nursing program have also been collaborators on this initiative for the past two years via co-op positions and placements in Antigonish and other nearby communities.
Most recently, fourth-year Nursing students Jamie Myers and Hannah MacDonald were assigned to the project. They have been following up with businesses in Antigonish that have already signed on with the program.
Those who sign on are provided with an action support kit, which includes the resources to help them create a supportive environment and address barriers that may influence a woman's decision to breastfeed her child.
These baby-friendly businesses include the Maritime Inn, Brownstone Café, Dream Catcher's, The Wheel, Pizza Delight, Boston Pizza, Scotiabank, CBI Health, Ponderosa Play & Learn, Children's Place Learning Centre, Children's Place Day Care, Kids First Family Resource Centre, and more.
Melinda March from Kids First says she hopes this program will continue to normalize breastfeeding, and that people will start realizing it's a natural thing and the best choice for the baby.
Business owner Mike Hassin shares a similar sentiment, adding that he wants mothers to know that they can come into The Wheel at anytime to breastfeed whether they are waiting for a pizza or not.
Many businesses in Antigonish have been supportive of the initiative over the years, but the students say they encountered some who weren't as receptive to the program.
"It's the stigma," Myers says. "Some don't realize the importance or they don't think it applies to them. They may not realize the positive benefits for the mother, the baby, and for their business."
For mothers, not breastfeeding can increase the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease, while the child sees an increased risk of developing asthma, respiratory infections, ear infections, obesity, and diabetes.
In addition, breastfeeding employees tend to be more satisfied with the balance of their lives when supported in the workplace, leading to increased productivity and morale. Overall, support is a key factor that may influence when or whether a mother chooses to breastfeed.
One component of the Make Breastfeeding Your Business toolkit is an internationally recognizable baby-friendly symbol that businesses owners can display in their establishments.
This symbol notifies mothers, whether they are employees or customers, that they are in an environment where they can feel safe and comfortable enough to breastfeed their children.
"I think the continuous recognition of that stickers is very important," MacDonald says. "A mother might go into an auto shop, for example, and the likelihood of someone breastfeeding in an auto shop isn't that great, but you see the sticker and it registers that breastfeeding is a supported thing."
"Like smoking," Myers adds. "With every business, you can either smoke in it or you can't. That symbol is common... everyone has it. But why can't breastfeeding be the same way?"
Increasing visibility is one of the primary goals in combatting the negative stigma that is held towards women who breastfeed in public.
"The huge issue is getting everybody to realize that it's normal, it's natural," explains MacDonald. "It's how women originally fed their babies before formula was ever developed. And the sexual stigma that is attached to it, this idea of 'exposing yourself', has to go.
Myers and MacDonald will conclude their placement in a few weeks and another group of Nursing students will be assigned to take over.
For more information about the baby-friendly businesses in Antigonish and upcoming events, find the 'BaBE - Building a Breastfeeding Environment' page on Facebook.