Ottawa hosts breastfeeding event to raise awareness

Public breastfeeding advocates hope to inspire Ottawa residents to latch onto mothers’ issues during World Breastfeeding Week.

Ottawa Public Health and Breasts Out for Ontario Babies (also known as BOOB) are partnering for the first time to put on the Bistro Bébé Breastfeeding Challenge on Saturday, Oct. 4. 

This friendly competition is the only event in Ottawa this year celebrating World Breastfeeding Week, says BOOB founder Shawna Rioux.

Similar challenges will happen all over the world on the same day. Ottawa’s bistro-themed event is a part of the larger Quintessence Breastfeeding Challenge, a global competition to see who can get the most babies nursing at one time, in one place. 

OPH and BOOB have a common goal: total acceptance for moms who want to breastfeed their babies in public. Through the event, they hope to raise awareness about the resources available to Ottawa moms and create a comfortable environment for women to breastfeed without judgment. 

 “World Breastfeeding Week … is to make breastfeeding more visible. Where you have lots of numbers of breastfeeders together it tends to make an impact,” says Rioux.

Jill Behn, supervisor of reproductive health and the “baby-friendly” program at OPH, says “women should be made to feel comfortable and not judged. That’s the bottom line.” 

She adds: “We’re trying to promote an environment throughout our city that it’s okay to breastfeed – anywhere, anytime.”

Breastfeeding is widely recognized as being the healthiest way to nourish infants.

“Ottawa Public Health, as well as the World Health Organization, Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society … all recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life,” says Behn. 

However, many women still don’t feel comfortable doing it in public. 

“You do get looks from people, or people telling their children not to look,” says Rioux. “It’s so amazing how many people just don’t find it appropriate.”

In March, public breastfeeding made headlines in Ottawa when mom Brea Rehder claimed an Ikea employee had told her she was “disgusting” for nursing her child in line.

The security footage from that day found no evidence of the incident, but Ikea welcomed moms to a “flash feed nurse-in” in the living room section of the west-end Ottawa store to prove their tolerance for public breastfeeding.    

Frances Jones, chair of the board of directors for the Quintessence Foundation, says when mothers feel comfortable breastfeeding anywhere, breastfeeding rates will increase, children will be healthier and health care costs will go down.

In October 2013, the Ontario Ministry of Health promised extra resources for breastfeeding support across the province, says Joan Bueckert, registered nurse at the Centretown Community Health Centre and an international board-certified lactation consultant.

“In the past couple of years things have really evolved in Ottawa, what with having two community health centres and Ottawa Public Health being (designated) ‘baby-friendly,’” she says.

The “baby-friendly” designation, given by the Breastfeeding Committee of Canada, recognizes facilities that offer the best care to mothers and babies to ensure good breastfeeding outcomes, says Bueckert.

The only two health centres in Ottawa that have earned the designation are located in Centretown. Somerset West Community Health Centre was the first to receive the designation in 2007. The CCHC followed in 2012.

Sue Theriault Valin, Ottawa chapter La Leche League leader, says Ottawa is a great place to be for women looking for breastfeeding support. 

“There’s a lot of information and availability for moms to find out about breastfeeding in Ottawa. In that way, we’re lucky,” she says.

The Bistro Bébé Breastfeeding Challenge starts at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 4 at Jean Pigott Place in city hall. Registration is at 10 a.m., and it’s free for all moms with babies who want to participate.