Victoria Donda Pérez, an Argentinian legislator and human rights activist, helped to normalize breastfeeding recently by nursing her 8-month-old daughter during a parliamentary session.
Donda Pérez is the youngest member of Argentine National Congress, and no stranger to political activism. She was born in a detention center in Buenos Aires for “disappeared people” — leftist human rights activists who have been kidnapped by the state — during Argentina’s Dirty War. Her mother and father, political dissidents, are presumed killed by government forces.
One of approximately 500 children of kidnapped and murdered activists, Donda Pérez was given to another family (likely military or government workers, as a way to avoid another generation of dissidents), and was unaware of her true identity until she was 26 years old, after contacting an organization for the children of disappeared people.
After overcoming such a tragic background, it seems absurd that feeding her baby would be at all controversial. But, of course, any time a woman breastfeeds in a public situation, condemnation soon follows. While Donda Pérez has had her share of critics, she has had support as well.
What Victoria Donda Pérez did may seem small, but every act of breastfeeding in the public eye helps to normalize nursing, which is a public health issue. UNICEF estimates that millions of lives could be saved every year if more mothers breastfed.
As many women from the United States know, lack of maternity leave frequently derails the breastfeeding relationship. As the only developed nation in the entire world without paid maternity leave, American women have exceptionally low breastfeeding rates. 2013 CDC statistics show that while 77% of women start out breastfeeding after birth, by 6 months that number has fallen to 16.4% for exclusive breastfeeding.
If we cannot have a decent maternity leave in order to support breastfeeding as well as overall child and maternal health, having a workplace supportive of breastfeeding would be an enormous benefit. Unfortunately, many women do not have jobs where such an option is realistic, but we can thank Victoria Donda Pérez for doing her part to help pave the way.