May 25, 2014

UNT students fight for right to breastfeed in public

An ad campaign depicting mothers breastfeeding in bathroom stalls has created a buzz on social media.

While running errands one day, Monica Young paused to breastfeed her 5-month-old son in the car. She rolled down the window to cool off, and a man strolled by and made a rude comment.

She was incensed.

So when a friend asked if she would be interested in posing for some breastfeeding public service announcements, Young readily agreed.

“Breastfeeding is a completely natural, normal act, but society is always telling us to cover up or do it in private,” said Young, 21, of Denton. “I wanted to help shed light on a problem that a lot of people don’t even realize is a problem.”

Neither Young nor the creators of the advertisements, two University of North Texas students, expected the photos to go viral, shared thousands of times on Facebook and covered in detail on numerous parenting websites.

The campaign, titled “When Nurture Calls,” supports the passage of Texas House Bill 1706, which would protect breastfeeding mothers from harassment. But it also seeks to promote the public acceptance of breastfeeding, which doctors tout for its health benefits.

Johnathan Wenske and Kris Haro, communication design majors at UNT, created the series of three posters for an art direction course assignment that required students to design a campaign for a social issue or product.

Wenske and Haro, both 20, selected the topic while researching online and coming across a story of a woman harassed at a store in Webster. Their professor, Mark Allen, gave their idea the go-ahead.

The students shot three ads, each featuring a woman breastfeeding in a public toilet stall. The ads include phrases like “Private dining,” “Table for two” and “Bon appétit.”

Wenske, from Austin, and Haro, from Beaumont, found the models through Facebook, friends and the La Leche League in Dallas, then shot the photos in restrooms at UNT, an area shopping mall and a convenience store.

Immediately, responses poured in on social media, Wenske said. About 80 percent of people supported breastfeeding in public, he said; 10 percent suggested women should cover up, and another 10 percent were not supportive.

“This made people stop and say, ‘Oh, my gosh. Is this really happening?’ ” he said. “Unfortunately, this is happening all the time, but people don’t usually see it.”

Professional organizations have reached out to Wenske and Haro to discuss printing the posters or further developing the campaign.

“People aren’t used to seeing these images,” Young said. “But the more people breastfeed, the less shock value it will have. Someday, mothers will be able to nurse in public peacefully.”

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