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Breastfeeding female athletes and career choices

WOMEN IN SPORTS By Rosa Agutu | March 13th 2021
Winnie Wambui was spotted breastfeeding her baby at Karangatha Stadium [Photo Courtesy/Carol Radul Twitter]

On the 8th of March, during an International Women’s Day football match in Njambini, Kakamega, 23-year-old mother Winnie Wangui Kamau was photographed breastfeeding her child.

Wangui, did not know a stranger was taking her photo, as she subconsciously breastfed her one-year-four-month-old baby during half-time.

“I had no idea the photo was being taken, I was just breastfeeding my baby like I always do during halftime breaks,” said Wangui during a phone interview with The Standard.

Throughout the interview, Wangui answers questions while rocking her baby who is crying in the background, needing full attention.

“I am sorry for the distraction, I am just rocking her trying to show her that I am also focusing on her," adds Wangui with a slight giggle.

Wangui confesses she was terrified when she logged on to social media and saw her name trending.

“I was really tense. I was just wondering who took the photo and why they posted it on social media. We hear things about social media and they are frightening,” says Wangui.

Julia Wanjiku, her coach, was able to calm her down, which gave her the courage to read the comments. To her surprise, she was not trending for the wrong reasons. 

“It’s the right of the child to be fed. I urge mothers not to fear breastfeeding their babies in public. People will always talk. I always carry my baby during the matches and every halftime I breastfeed her then go back to the field,” said Wangui, now confident after finding out her daily routine has inspired many.

“When we become mothers our self-identity doesn’t change. We shouldn’t have to lose who we were before we were mothers. Men certainly don’t. You see all these great pictures of dads crossing finishing lines with their babies. Why do we as a society see that as different for the mothers?” she said.

Wangui's talent was discovered while she was in primary school. She has been pursuing it ever since and explains how she went back to it after delivering.

Winnie, did not know a stranger was taking her photo, as she subconsciously breastfed her one-year-four-month-old baby during half-time. [Courtesy]

“After I gave birth I wanted to go back immediately but I had to be patient. I remember when my baby was three-months-old I missed a tournament that was held in Busia County. Eventually, I was able to go back to playing after a year.  I had to be ready physically,” explains Wangui.

Breastfeeding in public

In 2018 Ultra runner Sophie Powers photo breastfeeding her three-month-old son, Cormac, while still pumping milk at the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc went viral.

During an interview with The Guardian Power said, “In the picture, I’m just focused on feeding Cormac, pumping the milk. Probably a metre out of shot is my husband, John, trying to convince me to eat an avocado sandwich...”

Powers emphasised the need for mothers to not lose their self-identity, even after giving birth to children in the middle of their careers.

Quitting careers

Over the years female athletes have had to quit their careers when they decided to start families. Also, the physical effects of pregnancy on a woman's body may persist for around 4-6 weeks postpartum.

In 2009, WNBA Star Candace Parker, who was relied on to carry the league shocked many after announcing that she was expectant.

During an interview with Time Magazine Parker described getting a child as "pleasing herself" after entertaining thousands of Basketball fans for years.

“My whole career has been trying to please people in basketball, now it’s time to please myself.”

Candace who later won a championship with the LA Sparks said that she felt she could go back to the court soon enough. “I’m very stubborn, I feel like I’m going to play this season,” she said.

Other WNBA stars who were able to go back to the court immediately after giving birth are Tina Thompson, who in 2005 gave birth to a son in May and played in a game in July. Sheryl Swoopes returned for the last nine games of the W.N.B.A.’s opening season six weeks after giving birth.

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