Life-size cardboard cut-outs of breastfeeding moms and their babies are going to start popping up around Billings.
The Billings Breastfeeds photo project is part of an effort to normalize breastfeeding by the Billings Breastfeeding Coalition. The photo cut-outs will be unveiled at a public event in the Community Room of the Billings Public Library on Tuesday, Feb. 13.
The event will begin at 10:30 a.m., with a short statement from the coalition and some remarks from one of the moms in the photo. People will then be invited to take a closer look at the photos and to meet with the models, all of whom are scheduled to be on hand. There will also be refreshments and a play area for kids.
Amy Queen, breastfeeding services coordinator for the Women, Infants and Children program at RiverStone Health, said lactation specialists see many women who want to breastfeed their children but slowly abandon the practice for lack of support from their families and the wider community.
Queen and Dawn Gordon-Wilcox, a lactation consultant for the Butte Health Department, learned of a similar, New York City-based photo project when they attended a breastfeeding conference in Washington, D.C., two years ago. Inspired by that, Gordon-Wilcox mounted a photo exhibit in the Butte-Silver Bow County Courthouse last summer.
“Butte was the first community here in Montana to do it, so hats off to her,” Queen said.
The Billings project is sponsored by the Montana State Breastfeeding Coalition and Children’s Clinic. After the public unveiling next week, the cut-outs will be displayed Feb. 14-20 at St. Vincent Healthcare, RiverStone WIC and Billings Clinic. All of those are part of the coalition, as is Billings La Leche League.
After that, Queen said, the cut-outs will be taken to special events at other locations and will be on display around town. At the unveiling and afterward, she added, people will be encouraged to take selfies with the photo cut-outs and post them on social media with the hashtag #billingsbreastfeeds.
All the models are Billings-area moms and babies, plus one father who asked to be in a photo, and Queen said an effort was made to make the group of models as inclusive as possible. The photos were taken by local photographer Jill Nauman.
Queen said the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Public Health Association, the Institute of Medicine, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life for healthy full-term infants.
In a report titled The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, from 2011, Queen said, it was estimated that if 90 percent of U.S. families complied with this recommendation, the country would save $13 billion a year in pediatric healthcare costs.
In a Centers for Disease Control report card on breastfeeding, Montana ranked No. 1 out of all 50 states in terms of the percentage of women exclusively breastfeeding at three months, 60.7 percent, and six months, 33.8 percent percent.
In Billings, however, the numbers appear to be lower. There is no city-by-city breakdown in the CDC report, Queen said, but based on the most recent breastfeeding rates available through Riverstone WIC, the three-month duration rate for the Billings WIC population averaged 26.2 percent between 2011 and 2015, in comparison with the statewide cumulative WIC three-month rate of 30.7 percent during the same period.
“While WIC rates are representative of only a certain portion of the community,” Queen said, “these numbers do give a clear indication of the potential impact this breastfeeding cut-out project could have on our entire community.”
For more information on on the Billings Breastfeeds project, visit the group’s Facebook page.