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Breastfeeding — Shun taboo, accept challenge

Breasts are perceived in a sexual manner, even when a mother feeds her child. Here it is not just men, but even women who stare if a mother feeds her baby in public and prevents mothers thinking twice about feeding the baby in open.
So many times, new mothers are helpless when their children cry of hunger, simply because they are unable to feed in public. This has to change. Breastfeeding is a matter of pride, and women have to be able to feed their children freely and openly. You don’t need feeding rooms to feed your children. So, we figured that having a discussion around this would be the most relevant thing to do on Women’s Day.

When women are asked to go to the feeding room and feed, it is almost like the society is collectively teaching us to hide this very natural thing. This has to change. But to avoid all the controversies, it is better to have a separate breastfeeding lounge in public places, just like the smoking lounges. A better council should prevail in this matter and it should not be treated as an obscene one. Even a postal stamp was released in 1984 by the Indian government to stress that breastfeeding is the best. Why then this controversy.

The issue with public breastfeeding is less about whether the act is legal or not-ultimately that is a technical issue. The main concern lies in how the act of breastfeeding-so natural a part of the development many species-is regarded as ‘disgusting’ and ‘indecent’. Grihalakshmi is exposing an issue which is unjustifiably controversial; where the exposure of a woman’s breasts during breastfeeding is considered to be more lewd than a model revealing them for the pleasure of others. But breastfeeding requires support, encouragement and guidance. With these basic steps, implemented properly, we can significantly improve breastfeeding rates around the world and give children the best possible start in life.

Many women in India who wear the traditional sari, breastfeed in public, using the garment as a means of covering themselves. But this option is not available to women who do not want to wear the sari. The awareness about breast milk and early nutrition is poor among new mothers. We still see patients who don’t give colostrum to the baby, One of the reasons breastfeeding is nearly universal and prolonged, especially in the rural areas, is because of the widespread belief that it is effective in postponing the next pregnancy. Contemporary literature shows that ovulation is likely to return sooner in women who partially breastfeed than those who exclusively breastfeed.

Recently a so-called model did splash a photo on the cover of a Malayalam magazine, showing her ‘breastfeeding’ a baby and it is another matter that she is neither married nor was the child hers. Even in the Western world, women in general modestly cover themselves when nursing their babies. The attempt to give that excellent message in terms of exhibitionism did nothing but raise a storm of controversy. It seems somewhere along the way we have lost a sense of propriety and instead wallow in an aura gained through notoriety. In the end, it became a storm in the teacup. Instead of feeding the child in public with a purpose, the milk had become spoiled one because of the controversy.

Breastfeeding all babies for the first two years would save the lives of more than 8,20,000 children under the age of 5 annually, noted a release issued by the WHO. The guidelines describe how hospitals should have a written breastfeeding policy in place, required staff competencies, and antenatal and post-birth care, including breastfeeding support for mothers. It also recommends limited use of breast milk substitutes, rooming-in, responsive feeding, and educating parents on the use of bottles and pacifiers, and support when mothers and babies are discharged from the hospital.

Breastfeeding saves lives. Its benefits help keep babies healthy in their first days and last well into adulthood. But breastfeeding requires support, encouragement and guidance. With these basic steps, implemented properly, we can significantly improve breastfeeding rates around the world and give children the best possible start in life. Why then so much controversy is created in India for the sake of creating. Shun the taboo and accept the challenge instead of becoming a carping critic all the time.

In many hospitals and communities around the world, whether a child can be breastfed or not can make the difference between life and death and whether over a child will develop to reach his or her full potential. There lies the real issue.


Jayanthy Subramaniam

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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