Four women and their nursing infants have become the poster children for a northern Ontario community's campaign to reduce the stigma around breastfeeding in public.
The Porcupine Health Unit in Timmins, Ont., launched a campaign this week that will have life-size cardboard cut-outs of the local women nursing their children displayed around the city.
The initiative is to remind people that breastfeeding is healthy and natural, and that women shouldn't be discouraged from nursing in public spaces, health unit nurse Meagan Potvin said.
"I think there is some misinformation about nursing in general," Potvin said. "(Some) have that belief that if a mother is nursing her baby, then we see it all, and that really is not the case. If a mother is comfortable and nursing, she is fully protected by law."
About 80 per cent of women in the Timmins area start breastfeeding after giving birth, Potvin said, but that number starts to decline after a few months partly because of fear of being asked to cover up.
"This campaign wasn't necessarily just to push the idea of breastfeeding, but to make sure all mothers feel supported and that they have the information to make the best decision for their families when it comes to feeding their infant — whether that be breast milk, formula or both," she said.
As part of the campaign, the cut-outs are being placed in front of public places such as restaurants, retailers and government buildings.
Potvin said the campaign so far has received plenty of local support, with businesses signing up to display the cut-outs and promote themselves as breastfeeding-friendly spaces.
Nancy Lebrun, who works at Jorie's Fine Clothing, said the downtown shop has always allowed mothers to breastfeed inside, so it was fitting that it take part in the campaign.
Reaction has been positive
She said the business will get its cut-out later this month, but so far there has only been positive reaction from people in the community.
"Nobody was really fazed by it," Lebrun said. "It was something that was accepted, and 'maybe it's about time' is the response that a lot of people had."
Kate Durst, one of the four women lending her image to the campaign, said she has also mostly received positive feedback.
Nobody was really fazed by it.Nancy Lebrun
But the 42-year-old mother of two added there were some comments online that criticized her about breastfeeding her two-year-old son.
"I try not to let opinions sway my decision on a personal level," said Durst, who owns a gym in the city. "I have to respect them, I just don't share the same opinions."
Durst said she was selected for the campaign because of her decision to breastfeed her son until the age of three. She also said health officials wanted women who represented different demographics, so a young mother and Indigenous women were also chosen.
Durst said the campaign marked her first professional photoshoot, even though she had plenty of opportunities in the past as an amateur body builder.
"I think that this has so much more meaning to me," she said. "Feeding my child is something I do every day."
The Porcupine Health Unit said the cut-outs will stay in Timmins for the summer, but the plan is to eventually move them to smaller towns in the region.
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