The Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County offers free services and support for breastfeeding mothers.
Breastfeeding in public was once stigmatized and illegal, but now it’s celebrated.
The 10th global “Big Latch On” event was celebrated at the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota and in 28 countries this year. In honor of world breastfeeding week, mothers in Sarasota gathered to breastfeed together, offer moral support and raise awareness.
The Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County, which hosted the event, offers free services to breastfeeding mothers who need help with home visits by Certified Lactation Counselors (CLC).
“We’re here to support moms and babies who are breastfeeding, and to celebrate it,” said Shon Ewens, executive director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County. “If I didn’t have a certified lactation specialist, I would have quit breastfeeding. There’s not enough community awareness.”
Sarasota has progressed in its acceptance and promotion of breastfeeding in the past few years. Some businesses around the city have signs that read “breastfeeding welcome here,” including Perq Coffee Bar and Rosemary Court Yoga, and a lactation room opened in June at the Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center.
“When you’re a first-time mother, you’re scared to death. You get help at the hospital for a few days and then you have to do it all alone,” said Jeanie Dela, a CLC who works with Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County. “The worst part is it can be painful and then you’re worried that you’re not doing it right.”
Alexis Mazzarella, a first-time mother of a 10-month-old boy, attends Suncoast La Leche League meetings, which help educate breastfeeding mothers.
“If we ever had issues, I know (Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County) would be there for us,” Mazzarella said.
There are higher rates of infant mortality for babies who aren’t breastfed, compared to babies who are exclusively breastfed in their first six months and continue breastfeeding after.
Research shows that breastfed babies also have lower risks of asthma, childhood leukemia and childhood obesity. It also has emotional benefits — it improves maternal-infant bonding, which may affect child behavioral outcomes as they grow older.
It wasn’t until last year that all 50 states had laws that protect women’s right to breastfeed in public. In Florida, the state law that legalized this right was passed in 1993. All mothers in the state have the right to breastfeed anywhere and they aren’t required to do it discreetly.
“There’s been a greatly increased awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, so more people are trying and more people need help,” Dela said.
This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.