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An Australian senator became the first politician to breastfeed her baby on the parliament floor, taking to social media to post about the milestone with a photo that could have only come from outside the U.S.
“So proud that my daughter Alia is the first baby to be breastfed in the federal Parliament! We need more women and parents in Parli,” noted Larissa Waters, co-deputy leader for the Australian Greens party, on Twitter. She repeated the post on Facebook, adding, “And we need more family-friendly and flexible workplaces and affordable childcare for everyone.”
As she joyously breastfed her 10-week-old daughter, Alia Joy, Waters became the first mom to take advantage of an Australian law, updated in 2016, that permits lawmaker mothers to nurse their babies in-chamber. Previously, children were allowed in the building but banned from the floor — as was demonstrated in 2009, when a Senate member’s 2-year-old was tossed out, igniting a national parenting debate — and absent breastfeeding moms were given a proxy vote.
But during the 2016 vote to change the rules, House Leader Christopher Pyne declared, “No member, male or female, will ever be prevented from participating fully in the operation of the Parliament by reason of having the care of a baby. There is absolutely no reason that rules should remain in place which make life in politics and the parliament more difficult for women.”
In the U.S., however, where public-breastfeeding controversies erupt weekly and women must defend their decisions to feed their hungry infants in places from malls and courts to public pools and even a church, such a decree seems futuristic at best.
“It was certainly a challenge for me to balance being on the House floor for votes and having to feed my infant son,” Rep. Linda Sanchez of California told Broadly at the time of Australian’s law update. “I’m glad to see the Australian Parliament made progress so that being a parent and a legislator is a little easier. My hope is that sensible changes to the laws and norms in countries across the globe are made to help working parents better manage their work and family responsibilities.”
Some countries are much closer, including New Zealand, where an Icelandic politician was praised in 2016 for delivering a speech to Parliament while breastfeeding her 6-week-old daughter. But that same year, Spanish member of Parliament Carolina Bescansa ignited controversy by nursing her son during a session, with fellow politicians calling the move “lamentable” and “frankly unnecessary.”
In 2015, in Argentina, Donda Pérez, the youngest woman to ever be elected to the Argentine National Congress, breastfed her 8-month-old during a parliamentary session, prompting both criticism and praise.
As for Waters, her social media posts were also met with a mix of responses.
On Facebook, fans wrote, “Won’t it be great when this doesn’t even rate a mention in the news, given it will be common practice in workplaces?” and “Good on you Larissa! It’s high time breastfeeding is normalized and visible in society, what better way to do it than in parliament.”
Another commenter, Deirdre Finter, shared this gem: “I was the first woman to breastfeed during classes at Central Queensland University in 1982. It’s taken a long time for Federal Parliament to catch up.”
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