By Terrah Baker
Shawn House was sitting at a local business breastfeeding her child, when an employee walked over and asked her to cover up.
“She was acting in response to another customer who had said they were offended,” House explained.
After a brief discussion with the manager on what Arkansas law holds as a mother’s right to not have to cover up, she realized much more education on breastfeeding, even in her own community, was necessary. As an experienced mother and midwife, she felt able to help bring these lessons to those who needed them, but wanted to make sure it made a lasting and widespread change.
That’s when she developed the idea for Breastfeeding Friendly Arkansas that launched in early March with a mission to spread education and support for breastfeeding mothers.
House’s first objective was to get Arkansas businesses on board and labeled as “family friendly” establishments, equipped with a simple blue and white BFA sticker on their door and a small section about breastfeeding in their employee training materials.
“Our first thing is educating businesses so they can educate their employees and therefore provide a supportive and comfortable environment for moms to nurse in,” House explained. So far they’ve recruited 11 local businesses that openly support breastfeeding mothers, and they’re working for many more.
The other component to BFA is to provide individual and group support for nursing and beginning mothers — something that may prove to be their biggest challenge of all. “I felt like breastfeeding was the best choice for us, and I was willing to do whatever it took to make sure my child was exclusively breastfed,” said Martha Cardwell, Fayetteville breastfeeding mother.
But like many mothers, Cardwell’s milk was slow to come in during the first few weeks, and because of sensitive skin her nipples began to bleed. Even though Cardwell knew breastfeeding was the right decision for the health of herself and her baby, she had to stay strong through serious problems that most women don’t have the support and knowledge to make it through, she said.
“[Terra Tots] has brand new mothers coming in crying with their babies needing help nursing, and they usually think they don’t have enough supply or the milk’s not good enough. It’s the misconceptions that come from everywhere — licensed physicians, friends and even grandma,” said owner of Birthroot Midwifery and Terra Tots in Fayetteville, Jennifer Creel.
In fact, Creel said out of the over 500 births she’s assisted with, only three times was a mother physically unable to breastfeed her baby.
While numbers show only 10 percent of U.S. mothers exclusively breastfeed after the first six months; and only 62 percent of mothers ever breastfed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These numbers show a disconnect between reality and what’s being taught to new mothers, House said. For new mothers, BFA will offer support on an individual basis, and for any stage of breastfeeding; Terra Tots in Fayetteville offers free breastfeeding support during office hours, and La Leche League of Fayetteville meets regularly and offers free support locally and across the country through different chapters. But statistics show much more work needs to be done, the group said.
To learn more about Breastfeeding Friendly Arkansas, and how you can get involved or become a “family friendly” business in Arkansas, visit breastfeedingfriendlyarkansas.org.