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Why does the sight of a breastfeeding mother annoy so many of us? Breastfeeding Week is a great time to talk about the stigma against breastfeeding in public.
The World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from 1 to 7 August to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.
It commemorates the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF and other organizations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
This year, WHO is working with UNICEF and partners to promote the importance of family-friendly policies to enable breastfeeding and help parents nurture and bond with their children in early life, when it matters the most.
This includes enacting paid maternity leave for a minimum of 18 weeks, and paid paternity leave to encourage shared responsibility of caring for their children on an equal basis.
Mothers also need access to a parent friendly workplace to protect and support their ability to continue breastfeeding upon return to work by having access to breastfeeding breaks; a safe, private, and hygienic space for expressing and storing breastmilk; and affordable childcare.
Breastfeeding promotes better health for mothers and children alike. Increasing breastfeeding to near-universal levels could save more than 800 000 lives every year, the majority being children under 6 months.
Breastfeeding decreases the risk of mothers developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. It is estimated that increased breastfeeding could avert 20 000 maternal deaths each year due to breast cancer.
WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth until a baby is 6 months old while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years or beyond.(Information courtesy WHO).
The Maternity Benefit Amendment Act in India increased the duration of paid maternity leave available for women employees from the existing 12 weeks to 26 weeks. This was a welcome move enabling women to continue their careers while caring for their babies without the worry of financial burden of the new arrival.
Sadly, no. Breastfeeding week is hardly noticed and never a talking point in society, media or government agencies. The mood is hardly celebratory, unlike a Valentine’s day, birthdays, anniversaries and a million other stupid days we find relevant and reason enough to celebrate.
Maybe, because breastfeeding is just another job done by moms and that calls for no special appreciation by way of cards, chocolates or gift hampers, so nursing mums aren’t really special people in our society.
Breastfeeding is not just mum’s job as it is made out to be since ages. Rather it requires the support and empathy of families and people around. It’s essential for partners, fathers, brothers, and other women in the family to recognise, empathize and respect the efforts by mums while making their journeys easier and happy.
As a society we are terribly prudish when it comes to breastfeeding in public or in our homes. We use an ugly expression ‘maternity confinement’ for women recouping after birth of a baby with several social taboos and restrictions making women fear it. Even in our homes, we are guarded and secluded when breastfeeding and never feel free to nurse babies before fathers, or brothers leave alone in-laws, friends and public places.
Surprisingly, women from marginalised sections are more comfortable when it comes to breastfeeding in public as compared to mothers from middle or upper classes despite our English education and affluence and that speaks volumes about the prejudices and hypocrisy that exists in our society.
When we are comfortable with strapless dresses and wonderbra cholis for our public appearances, why does breastfeeding in public gets a thumbs down from everyone including our savvy Twitter class? Perhaps, it is something to do with our social conditioning and the male fixation with breasts as something associated with sexuality, when in fact, nature intended them as utility for baby food.
Why do women continue to settle for dingy feeding rooms or washrooms (an unhygienic option), pantry space or are forced to use breast covers like stoles, dupatta, sari pallu for modesty sake, even if it means suffocating the baby? Women sacrifice social outings, visits or even errands like going to a bank or market for fear of having to feed the baby in public. So, either the baby is overfed or we would rather use the bottle than our breasts.
Ironically, for a country that worships the mother, nursing mothers fear public shaming, disapproval, stares or disgust from the conservative bunch. Something to do with mindsets that nursing mothers must stay at home and not venture out except perhaps to visit the doctor. The idea of nursing mums and babies in public spaces like malls, restaurants, streets invites public ire, the general opinion being mums must sacrifice fun and enjoyment in maternity, the very attitude that makes people uncomfortable when they see a woman hold her drink, wear revealing clothes or be in the company of other men… and it’s called misogyny.
The most developed nations like the UK, USA and European countries required legislative enactments for supporting breastfeeding in public, and it is still considered obscene or revolting to do it; in many cases you could be asked to leave, if people around find it offensive, so patriarchy and misogyny are still alive and women must cover up or reveal their bodies aesthetically – and nursing boobs are just not aesthetic enough or even disturbing and revolting to male sensibilities.
It would be wrong to restrict breastfeeding week to a particular period of the year or make it about #bfgoals #bf babies #motherhood – rather it must continue as a conscious social effort to normalise breastfeeding in public and help mothers overcome stigmatisation.
Neither is it about only the most successful women or achievers, but about every mother who tried. It’s about making it inclusive while recognising her struggle and journey, because every mother has a story, so let’s dedicate breastfeeding week to all mothers while supporting, empathising and celebrating their efforts, made selflessly as only mothers can do.
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