Why we all need to talk about public breastfeeding in India

Why we all need to talk about public breastfeeding in India
Highlights

A restaurant is a place for adults to satiate their hunger pangs Can a monthold baby receive their food at the same place Mothers often are met with criticism and despicable looks when they sit down to breastfeed their babies in public Why is it that something as natural and beneficial as mothers milk is given so discreetly to the baby

A restaurant is a place for adults to satiate their hunger pangs. Can a month-old baby receive their food at the same place? Mothers often are met with criticism and despicable looks when they sit down to breastfeed their babies in public. Why is it that something as natural and beneficial as mother’s milk is given so discreetly to the baby?

Mother’s milk is the primary source of nutrition for a newborn that they receive in the first hour of life. It encompasses a wide variety of nutritional components like vitamins, minerals and proteins. It has the power to reduce infant’s risk of ear and respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome, allergies, childhood obesity, childhood leukemia and diabetes.

The role that breast milk plays in the development and growth of an infant begins from the first moments of child birth and continue for many years after breastfeeding ends. Skin-to-skin contact allows for development of a bond between the two. Not just for the infant, it is beneficial for the mothers as well. Breastfeeding aids in losing pregnancy weight faster and lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Naturally, with all these benefits, it is advised that mothers should exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months and continue breastfeeding along with complementary foods up to 2 years or beyond. Unfortunately, the mothers in India are not feeding their infant adequately. Out of the 26 million babies born every year in India, only about 41.6% were breastfed within the first hour after birth. Only 46% per cent of the babies born in India were breastfed in the first 24 hours of their birth. And only 38% of babies remain to be on exclusive breastfeeding at six months.

Dr. Vijaya Krishnan, Director, Healthy Mother Wellness & Care, Hyderabad and Member of Medela India LC Club states her views on the Taboo attached to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has often been sexualized and looked down upon in public spaces. It is considered a home chore. The act is discouraged on the ground of civilization and morality. Breasts is a nurturing organ and breast milk is an infant’s right. For mothers then, it becomes a dual task. To guard and nurture the baby as well as protect oneself from the judgmental stares of the public.

What is stopping women from public breastfeeding in India? Mother’s milk is the primary source of nutrition for a newborn so you should not ever feel shamed, belittled, embarrassed or wrong for feeding your baby the way nature intended

Pre-conceived notions
It is assumed that couples will somehow manage to nurse their baby anywhere. It is not even considered a matter of concern because largely feeding is considered a home task.

Support begins at home
While the decision to breastfeed lies solely with the mother, the duty of the people around her is to create a suitable environment in which she feels comfortable. Even though breastfeeding is a biological process, the role of family is extremely relevant. Husbands need to take the lead in being the supportive pillars for their wives. Fathers should educate themselves starting from the when the mother is expecting.

Garnering awareness through books, videos and expert guidance is evident to provide both moral and physical aid. It helps to-be parents to be scientifically aware by attending antenatal classes which can deal with different aspects and benefits of natural birth and breastfeeding. Being prepared enables the parents to try for natural birth and immediate skin-to-skin contact with the baby, so that the hormones promoting breastmilk production and release are at their optimum. Also, it minimizes family perpetrating the myth of “not enough milk”.

Facility at workplaces
Women tend to avoid or reduce breastfeeding when they resume work. One of the reasons for this is dearth of a facility or room where they can breastfeed. If a creche like facility is provided, women can easily pump or breastfeed at work. An open mind and encouragement from fellow employees at the workplace is also important. With the right attitude, women can breastfeed with their busy work schedules.

According to WHO, nearly all mothers can breastfeed if they have the right information and the support of family, the healthcare system and society at large. According to a survey conducted by Medela India in collaboration with ProEves in 2018, of the companies surveyed, only 33% provide dedicated nursing room for women to extract milk.

Lack of infrastructure
Several public places like malls, metro stations, airports lack a designated area for mothers to nurse babies. This often puts mothers in a difficult situation. Lack of infrastructure not only creates a physical barrier for women but also affects their decision-making ability.

Therefore, the need to create a plan for providing separate rooms in public spaces is required for mothers to breastfeed in privacy. A place away from the heat, the dust, the noise, or the indiscreet gazes. With the setting up breastfeeding pods at the railway station in Kochi, and at a bus stand in the Hitec city/ Madhapur area of Hyderabad, the conversation on requirement of a room with a diaper-changing section, wash basin has started again.

With the health advantages that breast milk entails, the creation of feeding rooms at public areas will allow for more mothers to breastfeed. This in turn will lead to reduction in infant mortality, thereby reduction in the government’s overall cost of healthcare provision to citizens.

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