Moms Around the World Are ‘Latching On’ to Fight Back Against a Major Social Stigma

Thousands of women synchronized their nursing in public during World Breastfeeding Week.
In Medellín, Colombia, on July 31. (Photo: Raul Arboleda/Getty Images)
Aug 2, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

It happened on trains, in parks, and at coffee shops. Around the world on Friday and Saturday, thousands of women gathered to publicly engage in an activity sometimes relegated to private homes, offices, and restrooms.

Mothers aimed to shed the social stigma and raise awareness about the health benefits of breast-feeding by staging events in which they committed to nursing their young children for one minute at a set time and place. “The Big Latch On,” as the annual demonstration is known, drew nearly 35,000 people in more than 30 countries this year and tallied about 14,450 latches—just short of its record of 14,536 in 2013—according to the organization.

Held annually during World Breastfeeding Week, “The Big Latch On” was founded by the New Zealand–based charity Women’s Health Action in 2005, was spearheaded in the United States by the family wellness group Small Beginnings in 2010, and has spread globally in the years since. This year, “The Big Latch On” was organized by groups on six continents, including South America, Asia, and Africa. While some moms in North America opted for events at hospitals, community centers, and even in Times Square, one group in the Philippines staged an event at a shopping mall in metro Manila; in China, women breast-fed on the subway.

The World Health Organization has attributed increased health benefits, to breast-feeding, including nutrition for growth and brain development, protection against respiratory infections and other life-threatening ailments, and protection against obesity and other diseases. But globally, just 38 percent of infants are exclusively breast-fed, which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for the first six months. Part of the reason is a stigma against nursing in public places. WHO is aiming to increase breast-feeding prevalence to 50 percent within the next decade, which could help curb infant deaths.

In suburban Manila on Aug. 1. (Photo: Jay Directo/Getty Images)

In China, the rate of exclusive breast-feeding is even lower—30 percent in rural areas and 16 percent in urban areas, according to National Health and Family Planning Commission data. In April, the country considered banning advertisements for infant milk formula—often falsely marketed as a healthier alternative—as a means of encouraging women to breast-feed. But it seems the underlying cultural stigma goes deeper than advertising. In China, about half of new moms or moms-to-be described breast-feeding in public as embarrassing, according to a 2014 global survey by Lansinoh Laboratories, a maker of breast-feeding accessories.

Those statistics make breast-feeding on the subway all the more powerful as a statement of protest against China’s social norms. This year’s action builds on World Breastfeeding Week three years ago, when a breast-feeding flash mob assembled in a shopping mall in Wuhan, central China’s most populous city.

‘The Big Latch On’ in the Philippines

(Photo: Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images)
Mothers breast-feeding on the subway on Aug. 1. (Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

‘The Big Latch On’ in China

(Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)
In Medellín, Colombia, on July 31. (Photo: Raul Arboleda/Getty Images)

‘The Big Latch On’ in Colombia

(Photo: Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)