Utah mom raises awareness to normalize breastfeeding through viral photo

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Anna Young holds her daughter after crossing the finish line for the Big Cottonwood Half Marathon. Young would later post a photo of herself pumping breast milk while running, which would go viral. (Anna Young)
Anna Young holds her 5-month-old daughter after crossing the finish line for the Big Cottonwood Half Marathon. She had originally planned to run the race in 2015, before an injury caused her to defer. (Anna Young)

Anna Young ran the Big Cottonwood Half Marathon on Sept. 9 with an additional item in her backpack that most racers don’t include — her breast pump.

As the mother of a five-month-old daughter, Young, 27, said she wanted to have the option to pump in order to keep her experience as comfortable as possible.

“When I was trying to plan out my morning I realized that I’d be leaving my house no later than 4:30 a.m. and I probably wouldn’t be finishing the race until well after 9 a.m.,” Young said. “That was kind of a long time for me in the morning to go without nursing or pumping.”

The day after the race, Young, a Salt Lake City resident, was surprised to find a photo of herself pumping while running the course. She decided to post the photo to the Occupy Breastfeeding Facebook page with the following caption:

Anna Young ran the Big Cottonwood Half Marathon with her breast pump in her backpack, slowing down around mile eight to pump. She later posted this photo to Facebook, where it received over 11,000 likes.
Anna Young posted this photo after her race to Facebook, where it received over 11,000 likes. She admits she never thought it would have this big of an impact. (Anna Young)

“Yesterday I ran a half marathon at five months postpartum. I had to leave at 4:30am and the race started at 6:45am. I nursed my daughter before I left my house, pumped after running the first 8 miles and nursed her after I made it past the finish line. This group and Le leche league motivated me to find a way to run my race and take care of my daughter. #normalizebreastfeeding.”

The post itself went viral with over 11,000 likes and over 2,000 shares. Young’s original goal was to thank the groups that gave her support while she and her young daughter struggled with nursing. She confirmed that while she never anticipated her photo achieving such popularity, she hopes it will aid in the normalization of breastfeeding.

“I hope, if anything, this picture’s giving a little motivation for women that they can still go out and do things that they want to and need to do and that maybe it encourages them to not be afraid to nurse in public … I feel like it’s something that we shouldn’t be intimidated to do,” Young said. 

There is a stigma surrounding a woman’s desire to breastfeed in public, according to Diana West, director of media relations for the La Leche League, an international organization that provides support and resources to breastfeeding mothers. 

I think we are still very uncomfortable with mothers breastfeeding in the public eye,” West said. “There are a lot of mothers who really don’t feel accepted and feel like it’s okay; that somebody will approach them and criticize them or tell them to go nurse in a bathroom or something like that.”

A study published this year by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, concluded that the women observed felt discomfort breastfeeding in public places.

The study stated that “many knew of the New York Civil Rights Law that gives women the right to breastfeed in public but stated that they did not usually see women breastfeeding in public places in their neighborhoods. They perceived their communities as being unsympathetic toward women who breastfed in public.”

Brianna Magnusson, an assistant professor in the BYU School of Life Sciences, has spent time researching the attitudes of men toward breastfeeding. She agrees that while people are well informed about breastfeeding, there is still a need to normalize nursing further in society.

“(People) know breastfeeding is the best option for the baby and they’re very supportive of it in theory, but they don’t want to be confronted with images of it,” Magnusson said. “Partly because women breastfeed primarily in their homes, and you don’t see women breastfeeding a lot outside of that. When we see things more often we become desensitized to and they don’t seem so shocking to us anymore. It’s not common in our culture to breastfeed in public, so these images make us uncomfortable.”

Utah has the highest rate of breastfeeding infants in the country, according to the Breastfeeding Report Card, 2016, published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Utah also has passed laws protecting a mother’s ability to breastfeed in public, and amended a law accommodating women to breastfeed in the workplace in March 2016.

Suzanne Smith, a certified professional midwife practicing in Utah, explained the laws passed by Utah are “great,” but there are still cultural inhibitions.

“We need to stop criticizing (mothers) for doing what is best for their baby,” Smith said.

The publicity has been unprecedented and intimidating for Young, but she believes it has been a “good thing.”

As it has gotten more publicity, I’ve been able to share a message with it and that’s been a great opportunity for me, and I think it’s done good things for breastfeeding,” Young said.

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