When folks came to Biga Pizza asking owner Bob Marshall to support breast-feeding at Missoula businesses, he could hardly wait to sign up.

"Moms have enough obstacles already," said Marshall, whose business proudly sports a window sticker declaring it a "breastfeeding friendly business." "Anything we can do for them as a community, whether its holding a door or giving them a place to breast-feed, we should be doing it."

Marshall's pizza place is now one of more than 100 businesses that have signed on to what started 18 months ago as a low-key campaign to de-stigmatize breast-feeding at Missoula businesses.

"I can't imagine there being a business that would want to discourage something that's obviously in the interest of a child and a healthier society," said Marshall, a father of two daughters.

The effort, run by the Missoula Breastfeeding Coalition and the Missoula City-County Health Department, started not long after a December 2008 incident where a Missoula woman was asked to cover herself after patrons of a Southgate Mall restaurant complained.

A month later, the coalition started asking businesses to step up and declare their support for public breast-feeding, which is already protected by Montana law.

"The problem is the societal stigma, and that's what we're trying to sweep away," said the coalition's Jennifer Stires, who owns the Nursing Nook, a store that caters to breast-feeding needs. "We're not trying to get a bunch of women to start breast-feeding at all our stores and businesses. This is really more about public education."

Although the campaign started small, with the help of some interns from the Missoula City-County Health Department, more than 100 businesses now sport the breast-feeding signs.

"There's a real sense of accomplishment now that we have 100 businesses," said the health department's Rebecca Morley. "But we think there should be a lot more."

The initiative targeted businesses of all sort, not just those where a woman might actually sit down and breast-feed a child.

"Part of this is about having more places that are friendly to breast-feeding, but it's also about the symbolism of saying that it's the right thing to do," said Stires.

The health department also promotes breast-feeding as the healthiest choice for children, though both Morley and Stires said they don't want to create a reverse stigma for mothers who chose formula feeding.

"We certainly don't want to criticize choices mothers make," said Morley. "But we do want to promote breast-feeding in our community, and this has been a great way to do it."

Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or at mmoore@missoulian.com.


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