Women Urged to 'Latch On' Round the World

Canadian Quintessence FoundationWomen in Quebec City, Canada, breastfeeding during the third International Breastfeeding Challenge last year.
It's rare to see a woman take her breast out in public in Moscow. This is a big problem, according to the organizers of the International Breastfeeding Challenge 2008.

The International Breastfeeding Challenge was set up three years ago by the Canadian Quintessence Foundation, the French group La Grande Tetee and the Filipino group Children for Breastfeeding Philippines to educate the public and breastfeeding mothers about the benefits and normalcy of breastfeeding.

At 11 a.m. on Oct. 11, breastfeeding mothers will "latch on," to use their own slang, in various public venues around the world.

"Bringing about cultural change is a very slow process, but an event like the challenge, especially as it spreads globally, gives a very clear message. Breastfeeding is a normal human function, and women should feel free to feed their babies wherever they need to," Frances Jones, coordinator for Quintessence Foundation, said in an e-mail interview.

Now in its fourth year, the challenge hopes to include more than 10,000 participants in 318 sites in 17 different countries. Two of those sites are in Moscow: the Mega mall in Khimki and the IKEA store at Tyoply Stan.

Despite medical research suggesting that breastfeeding benefits both mother and child, it has become a forgotten practice for a number of women.

"We have had women register for the challenge who told us that they knew no one who was breastfeeding a child," said Jones, who credits this to a cultural taboo against breastfeeding in public.


For MT
Soviet health poster from 1930s


"It seems that when form rather than function is on display, there is not a problem with seminaked breasts. This seems very odd in a culture where breasts are used to flog everything from beer to cars!"

In Soviet times, posters extolling the virtues of breastfeeding were hung in local health clinics. One famous poster advises women to rub ice on their breasts to keep them in form for feeding. But there was little support at the time for women breastfeeding in public.

"In Russia, breastfeeding is seen as something that you do discreetly, in your home, and that you can do without it," Moscow organizer Marianna Bashkirova said.

Some are squeamish about women feeding their child in public; others are opposed to the practice for more aesthetic reasons.

"Many Russians feel that breastfeeding will change or deform the shape of their breasts," said Anastasia Pogrebitskaya, a 25-year-old interpreter.

Site and event organizers hope to provide support and education to breastfeeding mothers who choose to brave the local stigma.

"It's not so common to breastfeed in public, and it's very lonely to do something alone, without being able to discuss it. At the event, mothers can make connections," said Bashkirova, 34. "Breastfeeding is something you do not only for your baby but also for yourself."

International Breastfeeding Challenge 2008 takes place at 11 a.m. on Oct. 11th at Mega mall food court in Khimki, 23 kilometers, Leningradskoye Shosse and at IKEA Tyoply Stan, 21 kilometers Kaluzhskoye Shosse. Participants can register at www.babyfriendly.ca/challenge. For Mega Khimki registration, contact Marianna at 8 901 513 7003, mama@omama.ru. For Tyoply Stan registration, contact Darya 8 905 531 2285, darya.mashina@gmail.com.