at the races Breastfeeding at the Boston Marathon

Breastfeeding at the Boston Marathon

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Photo credit Andrew Thuss

On Monday, the world’s most famous marathon made its welcome return to Patriots’ Day for the first time in three years. Athletes who trained during the winter months of 2020 were finally able to live their dream of turning left onto Boylston—covered with as many screaming fans as cherry blossoms—toward the finish line of the 126th Boston Marathon. 

Runners from all over the world completed their own runs that day, strategically timed in order to be home to watch the many outstanding performances of the day. Peres Jepchirchir captured her third victory after winning the 2021 New York City Marathon and 2020 Olympic Games Marathon, and Canada had four athletes finish in the top 20, with performances by Olympians Malindi Elmore (11th), Natasha Wodak (19th), Trevor Hofbauer (15th), and Josh Cassidy (7th in the Wheelchair Division).

I enjoyed tracking runners throughout the morning while reading stories about race predictions and getting some work done on my computer between updates. I shared runners’ feelings of both happiness and disappointment with their races, started thinking more about my own race goals, and enjoyed seeing peoples’ finish pictures and videos posted on social media. The moment that stood out most for me—of everything that morning—was viewing a short video of a mom walking mid-race while breastfeeding her five-month-old infant son.

I breastfed our children while training for various races over the years. I topped them up moments before starting guns and met them just after crossing finish lines. Yes, many have. Malindi Elmore sat post-race on the ground in Houston to breastfeed her infant son after travelling with him to run the 2019 Marathon. I flipped pancakes and multi-tasked one-armed in my kitchen many school day mornings while the baby fed. But I never stopped to breastfeed during a race—especially one so grand as the Boston Marathon.

I was fortunate that when our children nursed frequently, they would take a bottle of my expressed breast milk. I never had to choose between racing and feeding my child—something that many have had to do. After viewing the video multiple times, I asked if I could repost it on my own social media. I then started getting a lot of likes and positive direct messages. I then connected with this super mom, Canada’s Sarah Curtis shortly after she finished the race, and, no doubt, fed her infant again.

I presumed that she and her partner Andrew—who raced the 5K the day before—had a plan to meet on route at a certain point so that their baby could feed. But it was more than that. I learned that the Boston Marathon had a specific tent in the athletes’ village for nursing moms to gather to pump before the race. She said that these moms—whom I presume she had never met—shared stories with each other that made her “cry with gratitude before the race even started.”

Breastfeeding is emotional. Running the Boston Marathon is emotional. Breastfeeding while running the Boston Marathon is another level of emotion. She went on to tell me that her coach, Lindsay Scott, told her about this support that was available, and after an email to the Boston Athletic Association, she simply had to stop by a booth at the expo for further details. While most moms chose to “pump and dump,” Sarah used another mom’s extra storage bag to carry her breast milk until she met Andrew at the pre-arranged 14K mark. Moms brought their own pumps that were placed in race-approved “medical device” bags that were carried with them on the bus to the start, used in the tent, and then transported to the finish line for pick up. They could also send their breast milk back in the bags.  

I’m so proud of where we’ve come to support parents so that they can do both, race and nurse, and not have to choose one or the other. While Boston Marathon participants, spectators and volunteers slept soundly through the night after an exhausting day, it’s highly likely that Sarah and a handful of other parents were up tending to their little ones, no doubt, with big smiles on their faces.