Issue Breastfeeding your baby? Have a problem in public? Think the city is not geared up to tackle it? You are not alone, says Priyadershini S.

S ome things cannot be discussed in public. Very gender specific ones, particularly. But discuss, we must, even if a minuscule population in urban areas thinks it is a matter worth discussing: Like breastfeeding in public.

A baby suckling at a mother's breast evokes a humane tug in the heart but the tender scene can also bring about stares, lewd comments and create discomfiture by an insensitive public, swear some. Nursing in public is an issue in debate at Birth Village, Panampilly Nagar, where new young moms sit united in maternal sorority. Birth, babies, breast feeding make their busy world. Though nursing is as old as birth itself it needs a new look in the context of changing society, working mums, day care and crèches.

Says a happy Dr. Shaila Kamath of Westside Hospital, West Kochi, “breastfeeding is back in a big way.” She is one of the main persons behind a successful breastfeeding campaign in Kerala.

Baby friendly

It was her efforts along with a group of doctors that had Kochi city declared a baby friendly city. And now that most young mums are ready to feed happily, looking at its benefits, and of giving their child a healthy head start, they are faced with some unsavoury responses from an uncaring public. Nina Nair, a freelance content writer, said about her friend, “she was nursing her baby at a leading textile showroom in the city and a mischievous salesman hovered around her making her feel very uncomfortable.”

Dr Kamath says that as doctors they always encourage lactating mothers to be modestly dressed while feeding. The sari is an excellent feeding wear ensuring the whole feeding process to be carried out in public in complete decency. As far as western wear or salwar kameez goes she asks the mothers to carry a shawl. Sometimes the dress worn by breastfeeding mothers can cause exposure, which leads to public discomfiture.”

To have an aware and decent public is not a tall order but changing times and changing society is yet to see complete and correct etiquette on this issue or as they say the jury is still out.

Nina adds that though many malls in the city have feeding rooms they are far from adequate in cleanliness, availability of comfortable furniture. Some lack even a fan! “They are there only for namesake!,” she fumes.

A feeding room's requirement is very basic and probably just needs clean comfortable chairs and waist high tables to change the baby's diapers. “Many ask us to feed the baby in a loo!” Gayathri Krishnan, a mother of a three-month-old says that she was even asked not to feed her baby in a loo and to go out. Cars have been the best bet for these young mothers so far, “but it is not so comfortable.” Priyanka Idicula, founder of Birth Village recalls a “very insensitive” comment she overheard- “why should these mums come out at all while they are breastfeeding their child?.”

Urban problem

She adds that this problem is faced by urban women vis-à-vis their rural counterparts, who do so (feeding in public) without much concern in accordance with their social lifestyle.

Dr Kamath says that doctors discourage infants to be taken out to crowded public places as they are susceptible to infections. But healthy, three-month-olds and those older can happily go out and be fed, with just a few proprietary codes to be followed. The first, she says, is to ask for a feeding corner or a room at stores, where privacy is ensured and to be sure that the place is clean. Secondly, and more importantly, to overcome the public gaze, the mothers should be dressed properly. If it is western wear then a shawl or stole is sufficient to drape around. Then nursing can be a comfortable time for both mommy and child.

With the high rate of literacy in the State, the public cannot be unaware of the fact that babies need to be breastfed till they are at least one year old. With more and more women going out independently with their babies, breastfeeding in public is something that will continue to be done more and more. Therefore, facilities must be improved in public places in urban areas and then mothers can confidently breastfeed with peace of mind.