BENNINGTON -- More than 50 mothers, fathers and children gathered at Willow Park on Saturday to walk the quarter-mile path around the park for breastfeeding awareness.
In coordination with International Breastfeeding Awareness Week, the Tri-State Breastfeeding Awareness Task Force organized the inaugural walk in Bennington, hoping to have it return as an annual event. The task force is involved in Vermont, Massachusetts and New York.
"We are gathering today just to raise awareness of breastfeeding, making it a more integral part of the community," said Sheilah Printz, a public health nutritionist from the Vermont Department of Health.
Several public health campaigns in Mexico, the U.S. and worldwide have attempted to create a likable image of nursing mothers, pushing against what might be perceived as cultural norms, to formula feed or nurse in private.
The event initiated its roots at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in 2003 with an annual nursing celebration at the hospital.
"We've tried to do more to recognize and bring the event into the community," said Marie Watson, a lactation specialist at SVMC. "This year is a lot different because we have had so many people come here to help organize this. It makes a difference in what we are trying to accomplish."
Before Saturday's walk, parents were encouraged to decorate their infants' strollers with streamers and the like to enter a contest.
After the quarter-mile walk, mothers joined others around the world for the Global Big Latch On, in which they publicly breastfed to make a statement about the health benefits and normalcy of nursing.
"I've had more emails this year from events in other counties participating in the Big Latch On event: We do this in public places to take away the stigma and normalize it," said volunteer Erin Delaney.
The Big Latch On features registered locations around the world to have tens of thousands of women simultaneously participating to make a larger statement. The annual international event began in New Zealand in 2005 by Women's Health Action, and was further publicized in the U.S. beginning in 2011.
"They tally up the numbers and every year, it goes up by the thousands," said Jean Garretto, local doula and member of the Green Mountain Birth Connections. "We break the record from the previous year every time."
Local event sponsors included the Vermont Department of Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, Norshaft Lions Club, the SVHC Auxiliary, the "Phone Doctor" LLC., Green Mountain Birth Connections, Megan Cross Photography, Big Belly Wellness, Price Chopper and Hannaford.
New York and Massachusetts have exemptions for breastfeeding in their indecency laws. There are laws in Vermont only restricting nursing in the workplace.
Find more about the Big Latch On at http://www.biglatchon.org/.
Contact Tom Momberg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg