Kenai moms boost Big Latch On tally

Rashah Mcchesney

KENAI -- Thirteen moms spread out on picnic blankets in Soldotna Creek Park, tending to nearly 20 children.

They each waited for their 60-second chance to help The Big Latch On 2012 beat a record for the most women breast-feeding simultaneously.

The two-day event brought local moms together with women from at least 23 countries to raise awareness of breast-feeding, swap advice on technique or share stories. Some even teased one another about kids who refused to participate in the moment.

Michelle Martin and her 10-month-old, Dexter Greer, of Kenai, had no problems, up until it was time to record everyone who managed to coax their child into latching. Dexter balked and refused, but Martin said she wouldn't force him and laughed it off. He seemed more interested in wandering away than continuing to eat.

"I like to come where other moms are hanging out just to get some time with other people," she said.

She said she has had no problems feeding Dexter in public, even though she cannot cover her chest because he refuses to wear any sort of cover over his head.

"We just go for it," she said. "Honestly, I have had nothing but support when I've breastfed in public. I've never run into anybody giving me dirty looks or saying I was doing anything inappropriate."

Nearby Samatha Askin of Nikiski had no trouble feeding both 2-year-old Innova Askin and 6-month-old Faye Askin for the full minute and then some.

"I nurse everywhere so it's not really a big deal to nurse in public," she said.

Although she hasn't really heard from strangers about her breast-feeding habits, Askin said she's heard a lot from her family.

"My mom is like, you need to cut off the 2-year-old," Askin said. "I'm like, she's not ready."

Askin said her favorite place to nurse is usually in the car.

"That sounds really, really weird but it's like, I could nurse anywhere," she said. "I could stop at a park and nurse them both and, I don't know, I just go everywhere and anywhere."

The group sat close to a tent that Niki Parrish said she would bring to other local events to give moms a safe, comfortable place to feed their children. Parrish, the event organizer and president of the Central Peninsula Birth Network, said it's a step up from a hurried meal in a car or bathroom.

Parrish said she was excited to see so many women turn out for the first day of the event.

While there have been other public breast-feeding events in town, Parrish said this is the first that was part of the international Big Latch On movement.

"I thought, why not bring awareness to breast-feeding in public?" she said. "Support women and their struggle."

The Central Peninsula Birth Network helped to sponsor the event and bills itself as a local mother-friendly chapter. One of its goals is to promote health organizations in the central peninsula that have breast-feeding-friendly policies. The group also offers workshops for expectant and new parents once a month.

Parrish said those community events, workshops and meetings were part of the reason she was able to convince so many women to attend the latch-on event.

"A lot of these mamas are associated with breast-feeding groups, baby-rearing groups, gentle parenting groups," she said.

At 10:29 a.m. Parrish told everyone to get ready and by 10:30 nine of the mothers managed to have kids latch on, joining 8,862 mothers worldwide who were latched on over the weekend, according to the Big Latch On organization, a jump over last year's nearly 5,700 mothers.

The organization was started by Women's Health Action in 2005 as part of World Breastfeeding Week, and Parrish said she was excited to have the 11 local sponsors to foster a welcoming community environment for moms.

Peninsula Clarion