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Nursing Olympians no longer have to choose between the Tokyo Games and their babies

Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher will be allowed to bring her daughter, Sophie, who was born in March, to the Tokyo Olympics next month. (Jessica Hill/AP)

Organizers for the Tokyo Olympics will permit athletes who are nursing mothers to bring their infants with them to next month’s Summer Games, an IOC spokesperson said Wednesday, reversing a stance that drew anguished pleas from athletes and outrage from public health officials.

“We are very pleased to hear that the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee has found a special solution regarding the entry to Japan for mothers who are breastfeeding and their young children,” the spokesperson said.

Tokyo 2020, which coordinates policy for the Games along with the Japanese government, confirmed the change in a statement Wednesday night, saying, “After careful consideration of the unique situation facing athletes with nursing children, we are pleased to confirm that, when necessary, nursing children will be able to accompany athletes to Japan.”

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The new policy, first reported Wednesday by Reuters, affects at least a handful of athletes who have qualified for Tokyo, including U.S. marathoner Aliphine Tuliamuk, whose daughter, Zoe, was born in January; Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher, whose daughter, Sophie, was born in March; and U.S. soccer player Alex Morgan, whose daughter, Charlie, was born in May 2020.

“I had been putting off thinking about Zoe not coming to Tokyo with me for a while now, but I had to start to, at team processing a week ago in Eugene, [Ore.,] and I have cried a lot since,” Tuliamuk wrote in an Instagram post Sunday, before the restrictions were eased. “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.”

Gaucher, in an Instagram video posted last week, indicated she had not yet made up her mind about whether to go to Tokyo without Sophie, saying: “Right now, I’m being forced to decide between being a breastfeeding mom or an Olympic athlete. I can’t have them both.”

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Gaucher also described well-meaning people advising her to pump breast milk “like mad” in advance of leaving Sophie behind.

“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 said in the video. “We’ve looked into shipping milk, [but] we’ve run into some complications. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The new policy announced Wednesday did not make clear whether an additional caregiver also will be permitted to accompany the baby into the country for those times when the mother is training or competing. Tokyo 2020 has banned foreign spectators, including family members, from attending the Olympics and has limited international delegations, citing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

“Of course, I’m hugely relieved for these athletes. I’m so thrilled they do not have to undergo this extreme … and really painful, emotional event to have to make these decisions,” said Cecilia Tomori, director of global public health and community health for the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. “But more importantly, this entire situation should have never taken place. This guidance [banning nursing infants] should have never been issued. And it highlights how often mothers and infants are often overlooked in the policies we make.”

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