In 2006 the image of a baby bottle on an airport sign announcing the location of a "parents lounge" infuriated us and got us thinking: Isn't there an international symbol for breastfeeding? We called around. Spoke to lactivists and breastfeeding organizations all over the world. No one had seen or heard of an international symbol for breastfeeding. So, Mothering launched a national call for submissions---and out of it came the International Breastfeeding Symbol (at right), designed by Matt Daigle.
The purpose of an international symbol for breastfeeding is to increase public awareness of breastfeeding, to provide an alternative to the use of a baby bottle image, to designate baby friendly areas in public, and to mark breastfeeding friendly facilities.
Of course, breastfeeding does not require a special place and is appropriate—as the Canadian government's slogan says—"anytime, anywhere." The purpose of the symbol is not to segregate breastfeeding, but to help integrate it into society by better accommodating it in public.
The International Breastfeeding Symbol is now used all over the world to demonstrate supportive, safe places for women to breastfeed their children. Businesses, public, and governmental spaces use this symbol to say "Breastfeeding welcome here."
Matt Daigle is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Matt is a stay-at-home dad, freelance graphic designer, and cartoonist. Matt and his wife Kay are the parents of one son, Hayden.
Mothering's Interview with Matt Daigle
Mothering magazine (MM): Did your wife breastfeed?
Matt Daigle (MD): Yes she did.
MM: Any breastfeeding-in-public experiences you'd like to share?
MD: The most awkward experience we had breastfeeding in public was on a four-hour flight to visit my family. The airline had my wife and I in separate seats (with my wife in a middle seat), even though we had booked our tickets months in advance. My wife and I pleaded with the airline explaining to them that it would be very difficult for my wife to be discreet and breastfeed our son if she was seated between two passengers. The airline would not budge. So when we boarded the plane a wonderful man from Minnesota gave up his seat (that he paid extra for just to sit by a co-worker) so that I could be with my wife and she could breastfeed Hayden more discreetly. The plane was very hot so my wife could not cover Hayden with a blanket and feed him—so I basically had to hold up the blanket so they could have air. My wife told me Hayden was making these loud sucking sounds and was saying "Mmmmmmm" as in "Yum, Mom" the whole feed—it was hilarious.
MM: Why did you enter this contest?
MD: My friend who subscribes to Mothering magazine forwarded the contest information to me. She knew that one of my passions is logo design and she thought I would do a great job in creating something that would benefit breastfeeding mothers.
MM: What inspired your design for the breastfeeding symbol?
MD: My wife and son inspired me.
MM: What elements/aspects of breastfeeding did you hope to convey?
MD: I wanted the icon to accurately convey a child nursing on his mother's breast rather than being held by a mother or parent. I wanted the image to be feminine. I wanted to give the impression of breast on the icon (the space between the baby's arm and his/her chin), without having to show a breast in its entirety. While I feel that breastfeeding and breasts are natural, I didn't want to alienate those people who may have a more conservative view about exposing breasts, since this image could be released into the public domain.
MM: What do you hope your symbol conveys?
MD: I wanted the symbol to communicate to the public quickly, at a glance. I knew that it might be reduced to a small size and I didn't want the integrity of the design to be compromised by the small scale. Therefore, I designed an icon that could be recognized from a distance. I also wanted the design to be reversible in color—allowing the child to be blue and the mother white or vice versa—in order to match the other international icons for baggage claim, bathrooms, telephone, information desk and so on. I didn't want the symbol to be a departure from these other international symbols, lest it confuse the public into thinking that it was something other than a public service icon.
MM: How do you hope the symbol will be used?
MD : I hope this symbol is used in all public places to clearly communicate to the public that breastfeeding is natural and healthy and that as a society we support it. I hope that having a symbol will encourage more entities to establish breastfeeding-friendly areas for families to use. Finally, I hope that this symbol will encourage people to make breastfeeding their first choice in nourishing their children.
Some of those places I would like to see the symbol used are in airports, bus and subway stations, malls, rest areas, hospital waiting rooms, fitness centers, grocery stores, parks, amusement parks, and so on—anywhere many people gather for periods of time.
MM: Where would you put the symbol?
MD: I would put the icon anyplace where other international symbols are displayed, but especially in directories at the above places, in brochures, promotional materials, travel packages, freeway information signs, and so on.
I would also like airplanes to offer both a wheelchair accessible/breastfeeding seat. When the seat is not being used by people in wheelchairs, then it could be used by breastfeeding mothers. The breastfeeding symbol on airline websites and ticketing information would indicate to families that such a seat was available.
MM: Anything else you'd like to tell us about your design?
MD : As a profoundly deaf individual, I know how important it is to communicate through visual means. This is why I wanted my design to communicate clearly and quickly that breastfeeding facilities are offered or nearby. I also know, first hand, how frustrating it is to be in a public place and have a hungry baby and not have a clue if breastfeeding facilities are nearby or even offered at all. How much easier it would be to walk up to an information desk, point to the breastfeeding icon, and be directed to the facilities.
MM: Any words of wisdom for the world regarding breastfeeding?
MD: Breastfeeding is natural and healthy and women should never feel embarrassed or awkward for feeding their children in public.
Read Keoland Television's interview with Matt Daigle.
The winning image was chosen from over 500 entries, and 12 semi-finalists. The criteria for selecting the final image included public voting, votes of the major breastfeeding organizations, as well as design and reproduction standards. In addition to the 12 Semi-Finalists, the symbol committee selected The Most Artistic and the Ones that Make us Smile.