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Keeping abreast of breastfeeding: Bemidji group shows support for national awareness month

Breastfeeding in Bemidji members paraded down Beltrami Avenue on Saturday afternoon in support of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. The group started at the Big River Scoop and concluded at Diamond Point Park. CRYSTAL DEY | BEMIDJI PIONEER

BEMIDJI -- Mothers have been breastfeeding babies since the beginning of the human existence, yet in the modern day, women are often discouraged from feeding their children in public. Breastfeeding in Bemidji, a nursing support group, set out Saturday afternoon on a walk through town to support a woman's right to breastfeed.

The crew of moms, dads, children and activists pushed strollers and carried a banner from Big River Scoop across from Paul and Babe through town and on to Diamond Point Park. At the park, approximately 60 people gathered to share experiences with breastfeeding, network with like-minded folks and educate those curious on the topic.

"It's set in law that we can nurse," Breastfeeding in Bemidji founder Arianne Pyke said. "It's a natural thing we've been doing for years."

Pyke started Breastfeeding in Bemidji in 2013 when pregnant with her daughter. Pyke wanted to give her baby the best nourishment she could, natural food, i.e. breast milk.

While it is the natural and original way to feed a baby, nursing has become taboo in some areas.

"Some mothers are timid about exposing themselves, people don't know how to react," Pyke said as she nursed her daughter at the park. "Just smile and say good job."

Pyke said the shift from nursing to bottle feeding with formula can be attributed in part to a push in the 1950s to use formula.

"Hospitals give free samples. People say it's easier. There are a lot of reasons," Pyke said.

"During the 1940s and 1950s, post WWII, women were pulled into the workforce," Breastfeeding in Bemidji's breastfeeding educator Mary Auger said. "There was also a surplus of milk in the country."

Auger, a retired lactation consultant, explained that scientifically it seemed to make sense then that something that could be measured was perceived as better. What the scientists didn't count on was the components in breast milk that can't be replicated, Auger said.

"There was an increase in breastfeeding in the 1980s and 1990s, then it tapered off. Hopefully, we will see the increase again," Auger said. "We're losing generations of maternal wisdom."

Auger hosts Breastfeeding in Bemidji meetings in her home every other Monday.

"It's a support group of other young mothers along with a consultant to educate the group," Auger said. "Breastfeeding is really about health. Health for the mother and the infant, with a lifelong impact on the child's health."

Pyke said Saturday's walk was a two-fold effort, to raise awareness for acceptance of breastfeeding in public and to encourage women to continue the practice.

"It's very much both for us," Pyke said. "A lot of moms out there don't feel supported."

Since 2013, Breastfeeding in Bemidji has grown to 70 Facebook members and 20 regulars. Members of the group range from new moms who are receiving guidance on how to effectively breastfeed to mothers who have weaned their babies and want to remain part of the support network.

"We're constantly recruiting new mothers," Pyke said.

One support system the group practices is milk sharing. If one mother naturally produces milk easily she has the opportunity to share her excess with a mother who may not be producing enough milk for her baby.

"We don't have a milk bank in town. I don't think there's even one in the state, the closest is probably in Chicago," Pyke said. "When I started Breastfeeding in Bemidji, the closest group was in Park Rapids."

Pyke said she ordered 120 shirts with the breastfeeding awareness logo for this year's walk. Based on the turnout, she anticipates having the Breastfeeding in Bemidji walk in honor of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month annually.

To become a member or learn more about Breastfeeding in Bemidji, visit the group's Facebook page or call Auger at (218) 444-2722.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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