A hungry 2-month-old baby and her mother made history yesterday on the floor of the Australian Parliament. Senator Larissa Waters brought her daughter, Alia, to work, and when the healthy, growing baby needed to eat, Waters latched her—in the chamber.
The historic move—make no mistake, it was historic—was commemorated in a Twitter post where Waters tweeted: “So proud that my daughter Alia is the first baby to be breastfed in the federal Parliament! We need more #women & parents in Parli.”
Senator Waters is a member of the Green Party, and prior to her maternity leave she worked to change the rules in Parliament to make them more family friendly. Not only are senators now explicitly allowed to breastfeed their children in Parliament, both men and women are allowed to bring their children into the chamber. In praise of the rule change, Waters told CNN, "If we want more young women in Parliament, we must make the rules more family friendly to allow new mothers and new fathers to balance their parliamentary and parental duties."
The new rule has broad support, but Australian Parliament wasn’t always so family oriented or women friendly. In 2009 Senator Sarah Hanson-Young couldn’t find childcare for her 2-year-old. She did not wish to miss the vote so she brought her daughter into the chamber with her. The Senate president ordered the child removed, and Senate staff actually took the toddler from her mother’s arms. Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, faced endless misogyny, made famous by her 2012 speech.
And then, there was this, back in 2003:
In a Facebook post on International Woman’s Day, Waters pointed out the continued need to fight for equality and to normalize breastfeeding. She announced her daughter's birth and wrote, “I'll be having a few more weeks off but will soon be back in parliament with this little one in tow. She is even more inspiration for continuing our work to address gender inequality and stem dangerous climate change. (And yes, if she's hungry, she will be breastfed in the Senate chamber).”
Australia, much like the United States, has been working to improve it’s breastfeeding rates. In a similar trend to the U.S., Australian breastfeeding starts out strong, with almost all babies breastfed at birth, but drops off dramatically after 4 months. Public acts of breastfeeding designed to normalize the act of feeding a baby can only help that cause.
Waters isn’t the first elected official to breastfeed on the job. In October 2016, Icelandic Parliamentary member Unnur Brá Konráðsdóttir addressed Parliament from the podium while breastfeeding her infant. And prior to that, in Argentina, Victoria Donda Perez breastfed her 8-month-old while attending a meeting in the Argentine National Congress.
These female leaders prove that you can work effectively and be a mother at the same time. Maybe they will inspire more women to run for office, and help mothers the world over garner the respect they deserve.