In a Parliament First, Australian Senator Breastfeeds Baby While Giving Speech. Credit - Australian Parliament via Storyful0:29
Australian Greens Senator Larissa Waters breastfed her baby daughter, Alia, while moving a motion in the Senate on Thursday, June 22. Waters made headlines just weeks earlier for being the first federal lawmaker to breastfeed during Senate proceedings. On Thursday, Waters was breastfeeding when she was called to move a motion about black lung disease. In the footage, Chair of Committees Sue Lines can be seen smiling while Waters feeds her baby and stands to speak. Waters later tweeted: “First time I’ve had to move a Senate motion while breastfeeding! And my partner in crime (Alia) moved her own motion just before mine, bless her”. Breastfeeding in parliament has not been without controversy. In 2003 MP Kirstie Marshall, of Victoria’s state parliament, was kicked out of chambers after she breastfed her 11-day-old daughter. Credit: Australian Parliament via Storyful
When I opened my morning internets to see Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and mum Mara Martin walking a runway breastfeeding her five-month-old daughter Aria, my first instinct was to roll my eyes.
Obviously, I thought, this was yet another hackneyed PR stunt from a dying magazine, desperate for clicks, sales and relevance. Yes we get it, I thought. Women can breastfeed whenever and wherever they like. Yay motherhood. Yay nature. I even came up with a droll analogy about the irony of models lecturing the rest of us about baby nutrition when they live on half a blueberry a day themselves.
Others seemed to agree with me. “Not necessary,” sniffed one man on Instagram. “Who cares, been done a million times.”
Mara Martin was one of 16 finalists chosen to model swimwear during the annual Miami Swim Week show, which also featured a Paralympian snowboarder with an artificial leg and a number of plus-sized women.
According to reports, Martin had originally intended to simply walk her baby down the catwalk but her little girl had other ideas. “She spent over 12 hours holding a 20 pound baby during the casting,” explained one of Martin’s friends, Samantha Purcell on Instagram. “They wanted her to walk with the baby for one of her walks. The baby was hungry. End of story.”
In fact, this isn’t the end of the story at all. As I looked into it a little closer I realised, with mounting indignation, that while the topic may feel a bit passe to privileged western women like me, the world still needs breastfeeding role models. We still need to see women normalising this most ordinary of activities — the passing of nutrition from a mother to a child.
Being blasé or sneering about seeing a woman breastfeeding in public is such a first world privilege.
That’s because much of the world still isn’t promoting breastfeeding as the best option to feed a hungry baby.
Many women in developing nations are receiving constant messages from formula companies. And many of them don’t realise that not only is breastfeeding normal, but can actually save babies’ lives.
Around the world only 36 per cent of infants younger than six months are exclusively breastfed, and in developing countries, poor feeding practices contribute to the deaths of 800,000 children under five years of age each year, according to the World Health Organisation.
The breast-vs-bottle debate in these countries isn’t about privileged women having a choice to do what works best for their families. It’s about babies dying. Breastmilk is an overwhelmingly healthier alternative in developing nations, reducing the rates of diarrhoea, pneumonia, middle-ear infection, SIDS and more.
The reasons why the rates are so low globally are many. Pushy tactics by formula companies who are losing their markets in developed countries as women learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding is one — but one of the largest seems to be purely education. Older generations who didn’t breastfeed are still telling younger mothers to choose formula. Health professionals are doing the same.
Sickeningly, this dangerous view recently found an ally in the USA, which just this week tried to stop the United Nations from passing a resolution that promoted breastfeeding globally, despite the fact that the data in developing countries is unanimous — more breastfeeding means fewer dead babies. The Trump administration tried to bully other nations into removing language that called on governments to protect, promote and support breastfeeding”, claiming, in its uniquely first world way, that women should have a ‘choice’ to use formula. It was only when the hero we never knew we needed, Russia, stepped in and supported the pro-breastfeeding language that the resolution went ahead.
So when a Sports Illustrated model makes headlines around the world for openly clamping her little one to her bosom as she struts a runway, I can’t help but think it must go some way to changing minds and challenging norms. Not in middle-class suburban Sydney or Melbourne, maybe, where many of us will roll our eyes. But on a grander scale. It may just make governments think twice. It may alert healthcare organisations. It could help influence legislation and education. It certainly can’t hurt.
In Australia, where we’ve long enjoyed liberal breastfeeding laws that say women can and should breastfeed wherever they like, I understand that this outré display of breastfeeding seems redundant or even confronting. Perhaps we look at it and think, like one commenter on Twitter: “What a circus! They made a beautiful, intimate moment between a mother and child into a freak show only to get everyone’s ‘acceptance’! There’s no sanction on breastfeeding! Just stop this nonsense!”
Or perhaps formula-feeding mothers in the western world, or mothers who couldn’t or wouldn’t breastfeed for whatever reason, feel shamed for being made to think that there is only one way to feed a baby.
Guess what, privileged western women. There are still sanctions. There is still misinformation. And there are still lots of babies who need to be fed in the healthiest, cheapest way available.
It’s not always about you.
Alex Carlton is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter: @Alex_Carlton