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Phew.

Mamas all over the world breathed a collective sigh of relief yesterday when an International Olympic Committee spokesperson announced that breastfeeding athletes would be allowed to bring their children with them to the 2020 Games in Tokyo later this month.

“After careful consideration of the unique situation facing athletes with infants, we are pleased to confirm that, when necessary, young children will be able to accompany athletes to Japan,” the Tokyo organizing committee said in a statement.

Well, thank goodness. Because if there’s one thing harder than competing at an elite level in the most high-profile international sporting event of the summer, I imagine it’s leaving your nursing baby behind at home.

While the new guidance seems like a total no-brainer, it’s a big win for athlete moms, especially since Tokyo has set strict limits this year on who will be able to attend the Games, citing coronavirus concerns. There’s currently a ban on foreign spectators, including family members of athletes, and the size of international delegations has been limited.

When it became clear a few months ago that the restrictions would extend to breastfeeding infants, there was a significant public outcry, and many affected Olympians took to social media to express their concerns. Among the most vocal have been U.S. marathoner Aliphine Tuliamuk, whose daughter was born in January; Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher, who gave birth in March; and U.S. soccer player Alex Morgan, who has a one-year-old daughter.

“It’s important to allow mothers the option to have their kids with them when they compete,” Morgan said back in April. “If a child is under 1 or 2, they might still be breastfeeding, so that’s a huge piece of it.”

Tuliamuk posted a heartfelt message on Instagram on Sunday that resonated with moms across the globe.

“I had been putting off thinking about Zoe not coming to Tokyo with me for a while now, but I had to start to . . . and I have cried a lot since.”

“I know that I will be leaving her for only 10 days, and she will be just fine, and that so many other moms have done the same, but I can’t even imagine being away from her for half a day. My throat is lumpy.”

Cue the tears. That lumpy feeling in your throat is one that any mom can relate to when it comes to leaving her child, especially a five-month-old!

Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher also appealed to her following on Instagram in an effort to get the policy overturned. “Right now, I am being forced to decide between being a breastfeeding mom or an Olympic athlete,” Gaucher said in a video she posted last week. “I can’t have them both. Tokyo has said no friends, no family, no exceptions.”

Gaucher clapped back at a suggestion to just pump a lot before leaving:

“Um, I don’t have enough milk in me to train as a high-level athlete, get my butt back in shape and feed her currently, all while stocking 28 days’ supply,” she responded in her video. “We’ve looked into shipping milk, [but] we’ve run into some complications . . . It’s not going to be easy.”

Gaucher has since released a new video praising the guidance reversal. “WOOO!!! Sophie is coming to Tokyo.”

Win or lose, what a tremendous victory worth celebrating for moms everywhere.

And to the nursing athletes competing at the Games this year: we can’t wait to cheer you on, knowing your experience will be that much sweeter because you get to share it with your babies. 

Go get ’em!

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Emily Solberg

Emily Solberg is a soldier, military spouse, mom of two, and fierce advocate of women supporting women. The goal of her writing is to help others feel less alone in their parenting journeys, and she isn’t afraid to share the hard parts of her own. You can find more from her over on Facebook and Instagram at Shower Arguments with Emily Solberg.

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