To breastfeed, or not to breastfeed. That was the question for Australian Senator Larissa Waters, Deputy Co-Leader of the Australian Greens Party. The question was easy for her to answer. She decided to breastfeed her two-month-old daughter in the middle of a federal Parliament session and became the first member of Parliament to do so.
Waters took 10 weeks of maternity leave for the birth of her history-making second daughter, Alia Joy, before returning to Parliament with her baby. “I’ll be having a few more weeks off but will soon be back in Parliament with this little one in tow,” Waters wrote in a Facebook post. “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).”
Part of the reason Waters could bring Alia into the Senate chambers is because of an amendment to the house rules, which Waters introduced, and which allows parents to bring their children into parliamentary chambers. Prior to the amendment, the politicians who brought their babies to work with them would have to take their babies out of the chambers and vote by proxy.
For example, a state senator who breastfed her infant in the House chambers was asked to leave by the Sergeant at Arms. He told the new mother, “You can’t have a stranger in the House, and she hasn’t been elected to Parliament,” referencing the 11-day-old infant.
By the end of 2015, more than 10 members of the current Parliament had welcomed their own bundles of joy into their families. Members of Parliament began to ask whether their rules properly accommodated the new mothers. “As the numbers of breastfeeding members in the House have increased, the need for adequate provisions to support these women has become apparent,” said Coalition MP Andrew Southcott.
Recognizing how far Parliament has come from the days of kicking out infants and mothers, Waters is filled with delight, writing on Facebook “I am so proud that my daughter Alia is the first baby to be breastfed in the federal Parliament!” Waters also mentioned what would add to her happiness: seeing more women involved in public service and seeing all workplaces make reasonable accommodations for new parents.
“We need more women and parents in Parliament. And we need more family-friendly and flexible workplaces, and affordable childcare, for everyone,” she wrote.
Fellow MP Katy Gallagher celebrates Waters’ choice and looks forward to the practice becoming commonplace. “It is great to see it is able to occur now in the Senate,” Gallagher told Sky News. “Women are going to continue to have babies, and if they want to do their job and be at work and look after their baby…the reality is we are going to have to accommodate that.”
With the support Waters’ received for her decision to breastfeed, Alia became the first baby to be breastfed in a federal Parliament session, and she surely won’t be the last.
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