Move over, Zagat and Michelin. Latch has come to town.

Four New York graduate students have devised an award-winning campaign to bring acceptance and awareness of breastfeeding in public to the places new mothers frequent often. The campaign — Latch — uses a rating system to identify breastfeeding-friendly restaurants and supplies window decals to those most accommodating.

Grace Boone, Ruchi Hazaray, Jose Navarrete, and Ran Qin, the four students behind the Latch campaign, all attend the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University but none of them is a parent. Even without direct experience themselves of the dilemma of feeding an infant in public places, the students were inspired after seeing family and friends struggle with the issue.
As of now, the Latch campaign is active only in Manhattan but the students hope to take NYC by storm in the coming year. Eight businesses in Greenwich Village and Tribeca have signed on as of March 2014 but the goal is to place decals in the windows of 150 restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, public libraries, laundromats, nail salons, and other establishments throughout the city.

The Latch group ranks establishments according to if or how they accommodate a nursing mother — in spaces that are open, semi-private, or private. The group also looks for electrical outlets that allow breast pumping.

The American Academy of Pediatrics  (AAP) recommends breastfeeding exclusively until a baby is 6 months old, followed by six months of a combination of breast milk and other foods. The AAP encourages breastfeeding beyond the first year for as long as the mother and baby desire to do so.

This is a tough recommendation to follow, according to the students. Their research indicates that one of the main reason a woman discontinues breastfeeding before the 6-month mark is discomfort feeding the child in the midst of strangers. The students hope to make public breastfeeding less of a rarity as people get more used to seeing it happen.

On a broader scale, the group suggests taking the stigma out of public breastfeeding will reduce national healthcare costs by as much as $13 billion each year if 90% of new mothers would exclusively nurse their children for six months or longer. Data from the US Surgeon General's office indicates only 13% do so now.

The Latch campaign is deemed so promising that it won a $10,000 first prize in the 2014 National Invitational Public Policy Challenge hosted by Governing Magazine and the University of Pennsylvania. Requests to bring Latch to their town from mothers in Atlanta and San Francisco reflect a growing national interest in making breastfeeding the rule rather than the exception.

Source: "Executive Summary: Latch." Fels Institute of Government. University of Pennsylvania. 2014. Web. Apr 3, 2014.