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Last updated: Sun. Aug. 03, 2014 - 12:32 am EDT

Latching on to healthy practice

56 mothers gather to urge acceptance of breast-feeding

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At 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Fort Wayne's Tokens-N-Tickets, 5820 Coldwater Road, 56 mothers did something that still raises eyebrows.

They adjusted their baby slings, their bras and their necklines. Many raised their shirts. Then, they began breast-feeding.

In unison. For a full minute. In plain view, in public – although few in the crowd of about 150 children and adults were unrelated to those doing the feeding.

Fort Wayne had just made its contribution to an international event known as The Big Latch On.

Designed to promote awareness and acceptance of breast-feeding and commemorating the signing of a World Health Organization/UNICEF document that urged countries around the world to encourage breast-feeding, The Big Latch On last year had 14,536 participants worldwide. 

This year's local participation nearly doubled from last year's, when 37 moms turned out, said event organizer Stephanie Smith, 27, of Fort Wayne.

Now breast-feeding two children, 26-month-old Ethan and 4-month-old Cora, Smith said breast-feeding “is the healthiest thing for them.”

But, she said, mothers who decide to breast-feed often need support, and getting together helps.

“I had a rough start with my son, so it's made me very passionate about empowering other mothers to breast-feed where they're at, whenever their baby is hungry,” she said.

Indeed, Fort Wayne residents soon may be much more aware of breast-feeding, said Jennifer Kuhn­le of Fort Wayne.

Kuhnle, 26, is part of a group of women who started Breastfeeding Friendly Fort Wayne in June. The group is developing educational mat­er­­ials and contacting local business­es about how to accommodate breast-feeding mothers in their establishments.

 It's now state law that women be allowed to breast-feed in public, Kuhnle said.

The group plans to provide cling decals for windows to identify breast-feeding-friendly establishments, she said.

She said she the group wants to “normalize” breast-feeding.

“We're hoping for support,” she said. “We know everybody is not going to be supportive, but we know it is beneficial for our children.”

Ashley Martin, 31, supports such goals. The Fort Wayne mother of four is breast-feeding her daughter Mila, 13 months.

She said she didn't feel confident enough to nurse her older children, who are 2, 11 and 12. 

“What stopped me with the first three is I felt I didn't have enough people in my corner,” she said, adding that she's noticed Mila is more even-tempered and “much easier to comfort” than her older children.

Having connected to local breast-feeding groups online and on Facebook, Martin said she's often breast-fed in public – at her son's Little League games, at the grocery store.

“Wherever we are,” she says. “I feel comfortable now.”

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