Olympians May Have to Choose Between Playing And Breastfeeding

Olympians May Have to Choose Between The Games And Their Babies — Not Acceptable

June 10, 2021 Updated June 13, 2021

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Scary Mommy and Vonkara1/ Floortje/Getty

The Olympics are back. That statement alone sounds surreal in a world that is still grappling with a global health crisis, but it’s true. The Olympics are back after being postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic. But things won’t look like they’ve always looked.

The biggest change will be felt and seen in the audience. Overseas spectators will not be permitted at the Olympics this year. Foreign visitors, including family members, are not allowed, either. As of now, this ban applies also to the infant children of breastfeeding athletes and coaches. That means Olympians who are nursing moms might have to choose between the games and their babies.

“This policy is detrimental to athlete moms and coaches,” Milk Stork CEO and advocate for working moms Kate Torgersen told Scary Mommy in a phone interview about the policy. “The stress of competing and being away from an infant is unacceptable.”

The athletes agree. Aliphine Tuliamuk, a long distance runner and mother to four-month-old Zoe who is still nursing, echoed that statement in another recent interview. She said, “If I’m going to perform my best, [Zoe’s] going to have to be there with me — and I hope she will be.” Serena Williams has even suggested that she might skip the Olympics if she was not able to bring her three-year-old daughter with her.

The hope is that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) amends their policy for infants and young children. If not, Milk Stork wants to give breastfeeding athletes and coaches another option to explore—shipping their milk home. Milk Stork is offering the company’s assistance to nursing athletes and coaches to get their breast milk home from Japan.

Milk Stork is the first-ever breast milk shipping company. The company strives to make it easy for working or traveling moms to get their breast milk home to their infants and breastfeeding children. For moms shipping internationally, all they need to do is pump and freeze up to 180 oz of milk. The rest is taken care of. Milk Stork sends pre-printed labels, ensures the proper paperwork for international priority is prepared, and even includes the tape you’d need to seal the box.

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The Olympics, and the Olympic Village, would no doubt add an additional logistical step to the process. “There are some moving parts that we haven’t connected dots on yet,” Torgersen admits, but it’s a challenge Milk Stork is more than willing to take on to support nursing athletes and coaches.

The idea for Milk Stork was born after Torgersen found herself lugging about thirty pounds of pumped milk and ice through airport security and onto a plane. She was a business-traveling, breastfeeding mom of twins and producing a half gallon of milk a day. The security agent asked her why one mom had so much milk—as if it was his business or her responsibility to explain the realities of nursing twins. It was then that she realized it shouldn’t have to be this hard. She shouldn’t have to explain and get the buy-in of every person she encountered in the airport just to get her milk home to her babies.

When it comes to Olympic athletes and coaches, Torgersen finds it both shocking and also all too predictable that they’re being forced to choose between competing and breastfeeding. Working mothers are too frequently forced to choose. “Women are competing at highest levels of their sport and we are eroding their greatness by forcing them to make arbitrary and unnecessary…not even choices because we’ve taken away choices,” Torgersen says.

COVID considerations are obviously still necessary. COVID is a serious global health crisis that isn’t over—and is in fact surging in many countries. Japan is currently experiencing a deadly surge that’s putting a strain on parts of the country’s medical systems.  The ban on international spectators is no doubt rooted in the realities of trying to pull off a huge international event during a global health crisis. But infants and young children are not just international spectators. Breastfeeding babies in particular are not international spectators. They are not accessories that can be simply left behind.

Supporting nursing athletes and coaches isn’t just about helping these specific athletes and coaches, confirms Torgersen. It’s important for society. “When women have to choose one or the other, that’s the problem. We all lose out.”

“Our families are not a hurdle to our greatness. They are a power source of greatness. So when we’re connected with our families and able to accomplish things we want as parents and able to be bonded to our children in meaningful ways, that enables accomplishment and ‘wow’ things,” Torgersen says.

Milk Stork has partnered with &Mother, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting athletes who choose to become mothers during their athletic careers. Torgersen encourages any breastfeeding athletes or coaches who plan to attend to the Olympics to reach out as soon as possible through email at: [email protected]