“Yeah, I just said boob in front of the Capitol,” laughed Rachel Papantonakis, Washington D.C. mom of two and founder of the Great Nurse-In, the big white dome of the center of United States government looming behind her. The Nurse-In, a rally to normalize public breastfeeding, took place yesterday, August 4th, on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol building in downtown Washington DC.
“I started the event because I kept reading stories about moms who were harassed for breastfeeding in public. And oftentimes it wasn’t even malicious, it was just misinformation. It turns out in most places the law protects us to some degree, but because there’s no public acceptance and understanding, women face these challenges every day. And when you feel like can’t nurse in public, it can ruin your nursing relationship.” said Rachel, as her nine-month- old son Ian nursed while strapped to her chest.
I’m not a mother, but I am a new doula, so I thought it would be fun and enlightening to go to the Great Nurse-In and see what it was all about. Even as a birth professional, though, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Would the event be filled with stereotypical “lactivists,” hippies in flowy skirts drumming on bongos? There were more than 600 people at the event, families of all shapes, sizes and persuasions with one common goal: supporting breastfeeding mothers and babies. Families were clustered around the small shade-giving trees around the west lawn of the Capitol on a 90+ degree day, lounging on blankets and listening to family-friendly music and speakers. There were water stations, tables where children could color and draw, and lots and lots of babies, some latched on to their mother’s breasts and some taking wobbly, unsure steps in time with the music.
The Big Latch-On, a yearly worldwide public breastfeeding event where women participate in simultaneous breastfeeding, took place at 10:30 am, for one full minute. Great Nurse-In organizers walked around and counted the number of breastfeeding pairs, hoping to contribute to breaking 2011’s world record of 5,867 breastfeeding mothers and babies. It was both amusing and awesome to see typical tourists taking photos in front of the U.S. Capitol while, just a few feet away, scores of mothers had their boobs out—but that’s the idea of the event: to make breastfeeding in public no longer odd or amusing, just normal.