COLUMBIA — At 10:30 a.m. sharp, the sound of infants at play disappeared from a conference room at the Boone County Department of Public Health as a small congregation of mothers began to breast-feed their babies together.
Sixty seconds later, the group of six women could officially count themselves among the final number of participants in a global synchronized breast-feeding event called the Big Latch On.
The Women, Infant and Children Supplemental Program put on the Friday morning event in order to raise awareness about the benefits as well as the normality of breast-feeding.
Kim Schooley, 31, brought her 1-year-old daughter, Briley Bruns, to show support for the new mothers. Schooley said after being involved with the program for 11 years, she's "well-seasoned."
"I think it’s good to hold things like these to show women that there are others out there like them," Schooley said.
Almost 65 percent of the women in the program initiate breast-feeding, nearly a 20 percent jump from years prior, said Stephanie Rodriguez, a breast-feeding peer counselor and internationally board-certified lactation consultant. Although that's below the statewide average, Rodriguez said it's a remarkable number considering many mothers in the program work for hourly wages, are unable to request much time off and have shorter maternity leaves.
Schooley became pregnant at 19 and remembers walking across the stage with a big belly at graduation. She said breast-feeding requires a lot of time and effort, so she's proud of herself for starting with her first daughter — even as a single mother at the time.
Rodriguez said $13 billion could be saved annually in the United States if mothers breast-fed their babies for just six months. Breast-feeding can not only save parents money but also has multiple health benefits for both child and mother.
"If you just stick with it, it definitely pays off," Schooley said.
Cosmopolitan Park will play host to a second Big Latch On event Saturday morning at 10 a.m. Like Friday, feeding will begin at 10:30 a.m.
Mothers in 23 different countries will participate in the Big Latch On this year, according to biglatchon.org. That's an 18-country jump from 2011, when the event broke its own record for simultaneous nursing with 5,687 mother-child duos.
Still, "there’s a lot of people out there who think of breasts as a sexual object instead of just something that mothers need to nurse their child," participating mother Katy McDonald, 30, said.
"(Breast-feeding) tends to be sort of a cultural taboo," Rodriguez said..
Rodriguez said that since the '50s and '60s, society has moved away from breast-feeding as the norm as scientists began to promote other nutritional products for babies. Although baby formula can be an alternative option for mothers, Rodriguez said breast-feeding remains the best option.
During breast-feeding, Rodriquez said, there is an exchange of what the infant needs and what the mother needs that helps the mother to produce a "designer milk" every day.
Plus, Schooley said, it's environmentally friendly.
Rodriquez, McDonald and Schooley all agree that choosing to breast-feed is a personal preference for each mother.
“The bottom line is that you do the best you can do for your child," McDonald said.
Supervising editor is Hannah Cushman.