PORTLAND, Maine — The city of Portland is rolling out the red carpet for nursing mothers, launching a campaign Wednesday to highlight the health benefits of breast-feeding and encourage new moms not to feel self-conscious about doing it in public.
Greater Portland businesses willing to take part in the “Whenever, Wherever” campaign can display decals signifying that nursing mothers are welcome and can take advantage of training for employees on how to handle complaints about breast-feeding.
The campaign is being led by the city’s Public Health Division and Opportunity Alliance’s Communities Promoting Health Coalition.
“On the individual level, we think this really will help reduce some of the stress that comes into play for mothers and for families as they’re choosing what’s best for them,” said Zoe Miller of Opportunity Alliance, one of the co-chairwomen of the Whenever, Wherever campaign steering committee.
Miller is also a nursing mom.
“When you go out into public spaces, you just kind of think, ‘Boy, I hope nobody feels put out by this,’” she said. “I’ve had the experience of sitting down at the mall to breast-feed my son and then having a couple sitting across from me abruptly get up and walk away. Maybe they weren’t walking away because of the breast-feeding, but it sure felt like it.”
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan joined Miller, nursing mom Rebecca Flaherty and Nicholas Mavodones, city councilor and operations manager for Casco Bay Lines, during a Wednesday campaign launch at Bell Buoy Park on the waterfront.
“If every community makes the commitment like Portland has to help families feel comfortable breast-feeding as they go about their daily lives, we will succeed in raising a healthier generation,” Brennan said in a statement. “We need to support moms and their families whenever, wherever and I encourage local businesses to join the city in supporting nursing moms by joining the campaign.”
Jackie Rogers, who is co-chairwoman of the steering committee with Miller, told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday the effort is as much about educating people who are not nursing mothers as it is about ensuring those breast-feeding moms feel welcome.
“I think the value of the campaign like this is bringing in the public and letting them know the importance of something like this,” she said. “When women are out and about in their daily lives and with their babies, there is some anxiety about it. Sometimes they get looks from other people, but in general, they just don’t feel that the public is accepting of breast-feeding.”
If the health benefits of breast-feeding were more widely known, Miller said, the public may be more accepting of the practice.
“The health outcomes for breast-fed babies are good — they have lower rates of asthma, they have lower rates of obesity, in the short term they have fewer illnesses, in the long term they have fewer illnesses, and there are health benefits for moms as well,” Miller said.
Campaign organizers on Wednesday touted a recent study in the industry journal Pediatrics estimating that if 90 percent of U.S. mothers breast-fed for the first six months of their babies’ lives, the country would save $13 billion in reduced medical and other costs. Slightly more than 41 percent of babies in Maine are breast-fed for the first six months, they said, and that number might go up if nursing in public becomes more comfortable.
“We really feel that this campaign is going to benefit the community on a bunch of different levels,” Miller said.
For information about how to take part in the Whenever, Wherever program, visit www.weallbenefit.org.