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The new normal 

Breastfeeding is a waste-, pollution- and energy-free way of feeding babies, yet in the year 2013 it’s still not widely accepted by Nova Scotia’s general public.

Hannah Gibson and co. - SCOTT BLACKBURN
  • Hannah Gibson and co.
  • Scott Blackburn

If there was a time and a place to feed your hungry child, when and where would it be? For most mothers, it's far from that simple. Entrepreneur and mother-of-three Hannah Gibson is one of them. A restaurant owner of five years with three sons under six, there aren't many hours in a day that she's not running off her feet.

After she and her husband took ownership of Dartmouth's Rocco's Ristorante Italiano in 2008, having her children with her at work became the norm for Gibson. For her, it's a luxury to be able to run her business and be with her kids at the same time, and for the most part she's never heard peep about it. But last spring Rocco's made the move into a new location four weeks after Gibson gave birth to her third son. Since then, she's had two frustrating run-ins with food safety inspectors who received complaints regarding her breastfeeding on the job.

"I don't hide away and sit somewhere else, mostly because it's counter-productive---you can't get anything done when you're sitting with a blanket over your head," she says. "It doesn't make sense, for me. It doesn't fit with my lifestyle or any of my children's personalities---they don't sit still, they never did."

After her story got picked up by national media, Gibson was shocked when she got more negativity than kudos in response. Phone calls, emails and online comments cast judgment over her business practices, and mothering skills, because of her public breastfeeding.

"This is not the culture we're trying to build, its not good for anyone. It's not the way society's supposed to be developing---it's backwards," says Gibson. "Someone saying, 'There's a time and a place' is a perfect indicator that we're no more advanced than we were 50 years ago. The scientific community and the health community have done all sorts of work and made strides to let people know these are the benefits, this is how it works and why it works. But there's no political structure to back that up."

The Breastfeeding Community of Practice is a volunteer-driven group that's working to promote, protect and support breastfeeding, and moms like Gibson. The group boasts over 100 members that range from nurses to doulas to lactation consultants to mothers of all ages who are inspired by Nova Scotia's breastfeeding statistics, which aren't far from being the lowest in the country.

One initiative the group is working on is Make Breastfeeding Your Business, a program aimed at building a more breastfeeding-friendly culture in the HRM, and province-wide. It's a toolkit designed to help businesses support breastfeeding employees and clients---they've even drafted a breastfeeding policy for interested employers to use.

"Change really happens when you go down to the population and work at that level," says Kathryn Hayward, a nurse, lactation consultant, Dalhousie professor and member of the Community of Practice. "It's the people in the community really stepping up and working hard who'll make a change."

So far, over 30 businesses in the HRM have taken the time to become recognized as "breastfeeding-friendly," including dentist offices, restaurants, retaillers and hair salons. And the Community of Practice is just getting started. This project, along with the group's other initiatives, strive to not only support the local breastfeeding population, but educate the rest of us.

For Gibson and many moms like her, the ideal moment to feed is just that---an ideal. But with projects like Make Breastfeeding Your Business working hard, the hope is that the scope for that "time and the place" will start to broaden. "It's about normalizing breastfeeding," says Hayward. "Not necessarily talking about it being the best option, but talking about it being normal."

Find the Breastfeeding Community of Practice at breastfeedingcop.com

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