Breastfeeding In Public: Why Are Nursing Mothers Glared At?
India is a country where a man peeing in public is seen as a normal and acceptable affair. But, when a woman is seen breastfeeding her hungry baby in public, our eyes suddenly pop up with astonishment. However, it is imperative to understand that ‘breastfeeding anywhere is normal and natural’.
Why cover up?
A woman breastfeeding a child at a restaurant, park, market or any other public place in India often faces criticism. Some people argue that a mother should only feed her child at home or use formula milk when travelling outside. But is it okay to compromise an infant’s health merely to avoid men’s glare? Or should a mother confine herself to a room because her baby may feel hungry anytime?
While many use a nursing cover, dupatta or anything that is handy to do away with the glares while breastfeeding, some mothers do not opt for it, fearing discomfort and suffocation of their babies. How would it be to eat your meals fully covered up under a blanket?
It is inappropriate to shame nursing mothers. We live in the 21st century, and pointing fingers at mums for feeding their baby in public implies that we still live in an old-school patriarchal society.
Nursing Rooms – A Dream yet to be achieved
In India, the concept of having nursing rooms at public places is not too widespread. There are a handful of nursing rooms in the country. The Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation and Bandra Station in Mumbai have taken a step towards the initiative. But, by and large, this initiative still has a long way to go in India.
As breastfeeding in public is frowned upon, women are hesitant to feed their babies in public. This has resulted in many women opting for formula milk while travelling. It is convenient and prevents the unwanted stares and comments. However, it compromises their child’s growth and development.
Breast milk is considered to be the “perfect food” for a human baby’s digestive system. Its components include lactose, protein and fat, which are easily digested by a newborn.
Mothers share experiences
Shabana Ansari, a mother of a four-month-old, recalls an incident where she was laughed at by some college students while breastfeeding. She told SheThePeople.TV, “Recently, I visited Juhu Chowpatty with my husband and baby to spend the weekend. Suddenly, my baby started crying, and I knew she was hungry. I tried to search a place to feed her, but since there was no restroom or anything available nearby, I decided to breastfeed her in public. There was a group of college students, both boys and girls, hanging around near us. When they saw me breastfeeding my baby in the open, they began laughing at us.”
“It initially shocked as well as embarrassed me, but I chose not to pay any heed. The incident has given me immense courage and I never shy away from feeding my child anywhere. My baby and her health is my priority. It will take years to change people’s attitudes. Also, if I don’t change my perspective, I will never be able to change that of others. Breastfeeding is a natural phenomenon for both mother and the child. I encourage others to think about their babies first. The world will change gradually,” Ansari said.
New mother Ramma Bhandary said, “Initially, I was very reluctant to feed my child in public, and carried a bottle of milk whenever I travelled. But, once I visited my mother in Mangalore and on seeing that I fed my child formula, my mother burst out in anger. She asked me the reason for doing so, and when I shared my concerns with her, she carefully made me understand what wrong I was doing. She motivated me to it take it as any natural process. I’ve been proudly breastfeeding my baby in public ever since. If men can pee in public, then why is feeding looked down-upon?”
Adhunika Prakash, founder of ‘Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers’ (BSIM), is a mum of two. She told Shethepeople.tv: “Today, women have access to nursing covers, which help you cover your skin while breastfeeding in public. But, using a nursing cover or not is a personal choice. It is more important to inculcate a sense of confidence and comfort in women. A new mother is often reluctant and hesitant while breastfeeding in public. But, it is just a matter of time, as the child grows, it becomes regular for her too.”
“Having nursing places everywhere is not possible. You cannot have them in a park, market, bus stand, etc. As for me, nursing places are not a necessity. If your baby is hungry, you cannot wait to find a nursing room and then satiate the baby’s hunger. A mother should be free to breastfeed her baby anywhere, regardless of the place and people around,” – Adhunika Prakash
She added, “It is the over-sexualisation of breasts that has led to the idea of breasts solely being an organ for pleasure and sexual activities. We should enable women to be confident in what they’re doing, because they aren’t doing any wrong.”
Kavita Mukhi from La Leche League India said, “All the big places like malls, railway stations, airports, etc must a specific room for feeding. If these places can have a smoking corner, then why not a nursing room? Several mothers don’t breastfeed their babies because they are shy as people around keep staring. Also, it is not always possible to cover your skin, because attires have some difficulties. Nursing rooms should be available at every place to make the mother’s feeding process comfortable and healthy. It is essential to maintain privacy.”
Time to change
India is country that is constantly growing and developing. We are putting all efforts to becoming a strong developed nation, investing in smart cities and more. It is now time to give due attention to proper infrastructure and healthcare facilities for mothers and babies. India will flourish when its future is safe.
Megha Thadani is an Intern with Shethepeople.tv