We were sitting in Bonefish Grill in Omaha, Nebraska, eating my favourite Bang Bang Shrimp. The whole restaurant was packed to capacity, with a big crowd still waiting to be seated. Our food had arrived and suddenly the baby began to cry. It was her feed time. In seconds my friend, swiftly covered herself with her feeding sling and very noncholantly kept eating her shrimp, while the baby was breast fed. Right there at the table. There was no frantic running to the restroom to feed the child.
Having been a breast feeding Mum myself and realising the efficacy of breast feeding infants, it is heart warming to know that Doctors and other medical practitioners are pushing the facts of the effectiveness of Breastfeeding. However with appealing ads out on TV and on hoardings, there are many mothers who have been pushed to believe that the tinned baby milk and food will give their babies better nourishment than breast feeding. This is mainly with the uneducated and poorer women and unfortunately is prevalent even today. Plus in India, lactating mothers often shy away from social and normal life as they are apprehensive of feeding the child in public spaces like malls, parks and movie halls, besides at gatherings and functions held with family and friends.
India Home Health Care (IHHC) is observing World Breastfeeding Week 2016 starting August 1 – 7 August 2016 across its centres in India. This will include raising awareness about Breastfeeding, its importance and various challenges that new mothers face. Their theme for this year globally is about how breastfeeding is a key element in giving the newborn the best nourishment it can ever get — it’s own mothers breast milk. They want to make women understand that the traditional concept that a mother hides herself away when breast feeding should be ignored and there is no stigma attached to breastfeeding.
“Feeding in public should be a regular way of life; it is about the child being hungry and no social stigma attached to it should limit a mother to breastfeed her infant. India Home Health Care (IHHC) support every mother nurse and nurture her child with Breastmilk even when away from walls of home. In today’s world, safeguarding from public who embarrass with the likes of nursing covers is needed and not weaning your child from its hunger during outings; you can’t expect the babies to be breastfed in unhygienic bathrooms and stairways. Although some malls and public space have options, India still needs to awaken to this cause for the sake of healthy nurturing of babies and current generation young mothers. ” Says Dr. Anitha Arockiasamy, President, IHHC.
28 year old young mother, V Rekha, who lives in Ambbatur, Chennai has a three month old little girl. ” I have slight discomfort when feeding in public, especially when I go to the hospital for a check up or even out to the park. ” Other women will ask me why I have brought the baby out when she is so young. Why don’t you go home and feed the child they say. I need some fresh air on my face everyday and I need to go out once in a while. I use a towel to cover myself but I am not encouraged to feed publically. ”
A serious issue for Rekha, as she would like to breastfeed her child, but unfortunately for her, outdated, traditional mindsets baulk her desires at every step. ” My baby Nikita was only 2kg when she was born and inspite of only breast feeding, she has gained weight and now is more than double her birth weight.”
Young mothers like Rekha realise and know they have to be healthy and eat well if they have to nurse their own babies and help them to grow. Their mothers and mother-in-law are supportive, but it is the public attitude to breast feeding which worries her and probably a number of our Indian young mothers.
Speaking to Doctor Annika Cutinha who just had her own baby a few years ago, she says, ” Most people today are aware that breastfeeding is important. Working mothers get some maternity leave, but I remember using a pump to express my milk and leave it for the baby to be fed at home. It was painful and sometimes mothers can get sore with the pump but there is no substitute for the balanced nutrition given as a gift by a mother to her child.”
Doctor Cutinha filled bottles and kept them in the freezer. Her mother or mother-in-law who was at home looking after the baby when she went to work, used the thawed milk to feed the child. A lot of working women find it a big nuisance to express their milk and keep for the child through the day at work, but she says Doctors have to explain the importance of breast feeding in corporate scenarios where today’s women work. Education on the concept is the key, as all mothers will want only the best for their baby,” she said.
So the next time you see a mother tenderly nursing her baby in what is considered public areas, do give her that much needed support and affirmation, especially if you are an older woman. It takes a lot of courage as you can see to overcome the stigma we humans have created in our minds, which other mammals don’t have. It is a natural and much needed practice, which we need to welcome and bring back into the public arena for the comfort of our young mothers.
Marianne de Nazareth is a Freelance journalist