Nearly 50 nursing mothers set up picnic blankets and lawn chairs at Essex’s Sand Hill Park on a sunny Friday morning to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, cooing babies and energetic toddlers in tow.
Event leaders kicked off the local “Big Latch On” with a countdown, aiming to have all of the attending mothers simultaneously nursing their squirming babes for one minute as the clock struck 10:30 a.m.
That was a bit tricky for Colchester resident Samara Fogel. Her 18-month-old daughter, Aliza, has a mind of her own, she joked, laughing as the toddler tossed her rattling toys about.
Fogel relocated to Colchester from New Jersey a few months ago and made a point to seek out local breastfeeding resources upon her arrival. She participated in a Big Latch On event in New Jersey last year, too.
Locally hosted by the Chittenden County Breastfeeding Coalition for the fifth time, the global event is designed to raise awareness of breastfeeding, encourage the formation of support networks between breastfeeding mothers and normalize breastfeeding as a part of daily life, according to its website.
Across the globe, 17,790 children were breastfeeding during the 2017 one-minute count, according to the organization.
Still, Fogel struggled to come up with a time she’s had a negative experience with breastfeeding, only mentioning one dirty look thrown her way in New Jersey when Aliza was a newborn.
“I didn’t care,” Fogel said, noting she’s never even owned a fabric breastfeeding cover. “It’s never bothered me.”
That’s not an unusual experience, according to Vt. Department of Health breastfeeding coordinator Tricia Cassi.
“Breastfeeding is becoming more and more of the norm throughout the U.S.,” Cassi said.
“[It’s] just a more relaxed atmosphere.”
It’s especially the case in Vermont, Cassi noted, where 84.5 percent of mothers breastfeed, compared to 81.1 percent nationwide, according to the CDC 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card.
The same dataset shows 58.8 percent of Vermont moms were exclusively breastfeeding when their babies were 3 months, with 31.3 percent still exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months.
“The awareness is growing, but Vermont has been a breastfeeding-friendly state for many years,” Cassi said. “A lot of it has to do with the culture and the community … you see breastfeeding in your community and your friends and family are doing it.”
Indeed, mothers at the Latch On echoed Fogel’s experience time and time again. Cradling 6-week-old son Hunter, Colchester resident Moira Adams said she’s breastfed all three of her children, growing increasingly confident with childrearing after each.
“I’ve breastfed all three of my kids in public, and I don’t think I’ve seen a nasty look,” Adams said. “Maybe I wasn’t looking.”
Resource pamphlets and hotline numbers were scattered on nearby tables, along with knit baby hats shaped like (what else?) breasts. Various state organizations, including the Dept. of Health’s Women, Infants and Children program, compiled the information.
“Together WIC and CCBFC are working to transform the landscape so that our culture can reclaim breastfeeding our infants as visible and normal,” state public health nutritionist Lori Dotolo wrote in an email.
“My favorite part remains the moment when the lively chatter of moms in the park, suddenly turns silent,” Dotolo continued. “A peaceful mist of oxytocin seems to permeate the atmosphere, and it is always calming and magical.”
Waitsfield resident Rebecca Brynga came to the Latch On with her 9-year-old daughter and 2-month-old son. With such a big age gap, Bryna said she especially appreciates the resource now.
“I was really young with her, and I was the first of my friends to have a child,” Brynga said. “[Now I] have a little bit more time and energy to put toward [breastfeeding], and it’s been a much more positive experience.”