by Tracie Bettenhausen | Photography: Photos by Jacy
Alicia Gourd says we could all do more to support moms.
“There is a lot of pressure on women today,” Alicia says. “Women are busy. We work, raise our children, doing what we can to be our best in all areas.”
As a mother of two—three-year-old Wažupiwi and 20-month-old Tinpsila—Alicia has a support system of her husband, family, and friends. But she found personal experiences helped her build her confidence around advocating for moms—experiences like natural birth with both daughters, the journey of breastfeeding—including its struggles—becoming a doula, and learning the midwifery model of care, which includes monitoring the physical, psychological, and social well-being of the mother throughout the childbearing cycle.
The North Dakota Breastfeeding Coalition has been around for 15 years, but officially became a non-profit in 2016. It includes those working on breastfeeding promotion and support efforts across the state. Members represent organizations such as health care systems, WIC, local public health agencies, universities, doulas, and mothers across the state.
BriAnna Wanner, North Dakota Breastfeeding Coalition executive director, says there are many challenges for breastfeeding mothers to be successful.
“In public spaces, it’s hard to find a clean space outside of a bathroom to use if the mother would like some privacy,” BriAnna says. “And frankly, many times bathrooms are not clean and cozy places to breastfeed. Many women go to the bathroom out of having no other options.”
The coalition’s most recent initiative to support moms who are breastfeeding is the installation of breastfeeding suites across the state.
“Through a grant from the North Dakota Department of Health, we were able to purchase a suite for airports across the state and to place in the Fargodome,” she says.
The suites are roomy, with two benches inside and graphics on the walls displaying educational material for moms. They are well ventilated and have electrical plugs for pumping machines and to charge cell phones.
“The doors lock and also are able to track how many moms are using the suites,” BriAnna says. “We haven’t dug into the data yet, but airport staff tell us they are seeing mothers going into the suites frequently.”
Airports were a first focus for the breastfeeding suites because of the way flights are often scheduled in North Dakota’s airports.
“When people leave North Dakota and get to another state, layovers are often short enough that it’s impossible to pump at their next location,” BriAnna says. “We want to make life easier for moms, and this was a good place to start.”
In addition to providing a clean, quiet place for mothers to pump and breastfeed, the suites offer another benefit.
“A lot of people don’t think about the mother who may be traveling by herself with an infant and one or two other children,” BriAnna says. “If the infant needs to breastfeed, it’s tough to keep the other children near. They love to run and play. So, if the mom can get into the suite with all her children, she doesn’t have to worry about them running off.”
Alicia Gourd has used breastfeeding suites.
“I had traveled to the East coast with the my family, and on the way back, I had to take a flight separate from my husband and kids,” she says. “When I got back to Bismarck ahead of the rest of my family by a couple of hours, I needed to pump and was so thankful for the breastfeeding suite. I pumped, and by the time my family landed, I was able to feed my child, and we stayed on our schedule.”
The North Dakota Breastfeeding Coalition was also instrumental in helping get breastfeeding rooms set up in the zoos in Bismarck, Minot, Wahpeton, and Fargo, and BriAnna says on average, those rooms are used a dozen times a day during summer hours.
BriAnna has always been passionate about nutrition—the significance and the impact on the life cycle.
“Making sure babies have the best nutrition available is so important to our future,” she says. “Children who are breastfed tend to become healthy adults. Our society has not done a good job in supporting women to make it possible for them to breastfeed as long as they’d like. I think the steps we’re taking will help alleviate some of the pressure women are facing.”
Alicia says the confidence she built through the birth of her daughters and the education she received through the midwifery model of care means she has been a strong advocate for her own breastfeeding needs at work and in public.
“I want other women to feel supported and empowered like I feel, and so I make it a point to encourage women when I see them breastfeeding in public,” Alicia says. “When you see a mom out with her kids, offer support. Tell her she’s doing a good job, offer to sit and hold her baby while she’s eating, support mothers who are co-workers by advocating for them.
What’s next for the North Dakota Breastfeeding Coalition?
The coalition is working to bring a milk depot to North Dakota.
“The hospitals are engaged in this, and it’s an exciting venture,” BriAnna says. “Women who produce extra milk will be able to donate their milk to the milk depot—located at a hospital. The hospital will ship the milk out to be pasteurized, and then be sent to neonatal intensive care units for premature babies who couldn’t get breast milk otherwise.”
The coalition has raised money through Giving Hearts Day to make the milk depot a reality. The money would help pay for hospital grade freezers to store the milk.
Click here to see more photos of Alicia and her daughters by Photos by Jacy.
Tracie Bettenhausen is a senior staff writer/editor at Basin Electric. She has generously opened her home to two once-foster, now-adopted kitties, Basil and Sweet Pea.