By Hayley M. Cook
PIKEVILLE, Ky. – In support of World Breastfeeding Week, mothers from both Mingo and Pike counties gathered in Pikeville to “latch on.”
The Latch On event, which was held in the University of Pikeville’s Booth auditorium, was a great success, with 107 mothers in attendance with their children. Twenty-eight of these mothers were able to latch on by breastfeeding their babies in a public setting surrounded by like-minded and supportive individuals, which many of the mothers said is not always the case for breastfeeding mothers in this area.
“It is otherwise difficult to find people who are one-hundred-percent supportive of my decision to breastfeed in our area,” said Amy Lester, mother of 19-month-old Bentley Elias Lester. “This event brought us all together in one area and it was great being able to see I am not alone.”
Lester said past incidents of feeling judged for her decision to breastfeed has led her to dedicate her free time and energy to promoting the cause of naturally feeding babies.
“I have never felt ashamed of my decision to breastfeed, but I have felt judged many times,” she said of her breastfeeding experiences. “It is pretty hard when those who you felt were your friends make you feel like you need to hide just to feed your baby.”
At a designated time during the event, all nursing babies and mothers gathered together to “latch on” simultaneously. Lester said the act of breastfeeding among others mothers was freeing and rewarding.
“This may sound silly, but it is a freeing experience, and definitely helps some with their fear of breastfeeding in public,” Lester said, in reference to latching on. “It is an educational experience for new moms, especially in that they are able to see how other moms nurse their babies.”
Latch On was organized by breastfeeding peer counselor and midwife apprentice Ashley Stewart, who studies nursing at the University of Pikeville.
“The event is part of a global effort to raise awareness of breastfeeding and the benefits that come along with it,” Stewart said. “Breastfeeding is something that is still considered taboo in our area, and quite a few mothers find it very hard to find the support they need when it comes to nursing their children. Breastfeeding can be difficult sometimes, and without the right help it can be easy to give up. I have organized this event for two years now in hopes that we can break down those barriers and show women that breastfeeding can be an enjoyable experience, and that when trouble arises that there is support and help out there.”
Stewart added, “Many women are not aware of the support options that they have concerning breastfeeding and birth, and it is my goal, along with the East Kentucky Women’s Care Collective, to make people aware of the options and support that is available to them here in Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia.”
The event was open to the public, so breastfeeding mothers were not the only individuals present. Fathers, supportive family members, pregnant moms intending to breastfeed and anyone curious about the idea of breastfeeding were all welcomed and encouraged to attend the event. The goal was not only to give women a chance to share their support of breastfeeding but to make public breastfeeding acceptable for the Pike/Mingo county areas.
Educational tables were also set up to inform those present of breastfeeding, the benefits of breast milk and other related educational information.
Lester said she was happy the event was a success, and grateful for the opportunity.
“It was such a blessing to be able to take part in this event,” she said. “Breastfeeding was very hard for us. Bentley nursed constantly and was still unhappy, which I later researched and found that he had a severe tongue tie. By the time I found this out, it was too late for my milk supply and I had to supplement with formula until he was 10 months old.”
Lester added, “I would still choose to breastfeed if I had the chance to do so again. For the next baby, I now know what to look for and, hopefully, we will have an easier experience!”