In 1998 the state of Alaska had to pass a law so mothers could feed their babies in public. But that doesn't mean nursing moms feel accepted breast-feeding in public places.
A group of senior nursing students are working to change that.
“A mom can feel devastated when told not to feed in public,” nursing student Christina Carley said.
A 1999 study found that 88 percent of Alaska mom's begin breast-feeding in the hospital, but that number dropped to 48 percent after six months.
The group feels that the University of Alaska Anchorage should play a lead role in providing women the opportunity to breast-feed and pump milk at the university.
“UAA setting that standard is one way of helping the community,” clinical instructor Pam Reardon said. “There's the need now.”
What businesses and the university lack, the group says, is a sanitary place where moms can nurse or pump.
“They just need a seat and a plug for a pump,” Reardon said.
Some mothers don't necessarily need to nurse while at school, but still need to express milk or their supply will dwindle.
“It's more of a pumping issue than a breast-feeding issue,” group member Viva Esquibel said.
The students have visited malls and stores to gauge reactions from businesses and to see if any provide facilities for nursing moms. Carley says mothers need to do a lot of shopping and are willing to frequent breast-feeding friendly stores.
“Moms would spend money at places who offer and accept breast-feeding,” Carley said.
Carley says that some department stores have offered the use of their dressing rooms for mothers searching for a few minutes of privacy. Others have found it safer to not take a stance.
Part of the reason for the lack of awareness and acceptance of breast-feeding is society.
“We have a bottle-feeding mentality,” Esquibel said. “Toy babies come with bottles.”
Bottles and formulas are readily available at supermarkets and drugstores.
“It's hard to find breast-feeding supplies, but you can find a bottle and formula anywhere,” Carley said.
And breast milk is healthier than formula, for both the mother and baby.
“The facts are indisputable that mothers milk is better than formula,” group member Jerry Fromm said.
The group is working to increase public awareness and acceptance for mothers who choose to breast-feed.
“Nobody else has really done this in the community until now,” Carley said.
The students began the project Aug. 30 and have distributed fliers and window stickers for businesses that support nursing mothers.
The only available public places for a mother to nurse or express milk are restrooms, but they are unsanitary and lack outlets for pumps.
The students believe education will increase public acceptance for nursing mothers.
“There's a need to start at a lower level,” Carley said. “We need to start educating children.”