I was in a frenzy, while my little 8 months old baby boy was wailing on the top of his lungs. I cursed myself for losing track of time and forgetting about his 4-hour feeding cycle while shopping in a local market in Delhi. He was crying hysterically to be fed. It was a hot day and I was out with my aunt who wanted my help for her daughter’s wedding trousseau. Although I thought of saying no because I knew it was going to be difficult with Abeer being so little and the heat outside, but she promised we won’t lurk around the market and just visit a few designer showrooms. “Atleast there will be AC!” I thought and went ahead with my little one. He soon dozed off as I nursed him in the nice air-conditioned changing room, of a posh designer showroom in South Delhi and I being a shopaholic myself, lost track of time. As everyone knows, women go berserk when they shop and so did we. We never knew when we reached to look for some miscellaneous random stuff in the local market around the showroom. Abeer woke up after his regular two-hour sleep, played with his rattle toy for sometime and soon started to cry. It was time for me to feed him again and damn! there was no changing room around here. The showroom we were in was far away and it was very hot outside. There were hundreds of people around and there was no way I was going to feed him there in front of everyone. This is India. It does not work like that here after all. As soon as the baby started to cry, people started to give me half annoyed and half sympathetic look. I tried feeding him some cookies, I kept for him, but he was in no mood to surrender. He wanted his portion and he wanted it now. I ran outside, not caring about the heat, to find any trial room or a restroom available. I went from one shop to another but all the trial rooms were full. It was weekend afterall, and with the wedding season fast approaching, people were all out for retail therapy. Finally, I found a shop and they were kind enough to give me some water first and then send me off to their stitching room. I thanked them and ran towards the 6*6 wooden compartment, which was already loaded with unstitched clothes piled all over and a stitching machine. The tailor left, as soon as I told him what I was planning to do there, and I without wasting anymore time shut the door and gave the crying baby, who had lost his patience by then and was nearly pissed at me, what he wanted. I was cramped with the baby in that room with no fan or AC, but I was thankful, I found a place away from the pruding eyes of people around.
I can tell you more such horror stories, where I sneaked under the big table in the conference room and feed the baby because there were cctv cameras everywhere or when I stood in the filthiest washroom I had ever seen and feed the baby, just to ignore the staring uncomfortable people around. Many times I would pump the milk in a bottle and would carry with me while travelling to places where I know it will be difficult to breastfeed. There are many, but at the same time I can share stories of the times, when I did not care about the stares and feed the crying baby in an aircraft and a train. There was one instance, when my 3 year daughter saw a cow feeding her calf and asked me what she was doing, in a car full of elderly relatives and I could feel the tension growing about my reply. I told her the fact without caring about anyone and few of them let out a sigh. Funny as it may sound, but isn’t it as natural as giving birth to the baby? why such a taboo about breastfeeding in our country whose population is about to explode soon?
At the same time in other countries, I have nursed my kids in open and no one gave me an eye about it. The world’s become quite a breastfeeding positive place. I’ve never gotten angry looks for nursing in public, and nobody’s ever suggested, that “There are children here! Can’t you do that in a room?”
Ubiquity and social acceptance vary from region to region. In rural India breastfeeding in public is completely acceptable. Definitely it is not a norm in higher sections of society, but is quite common in the lower economic sections.
I dread having to feed my baby anywhere outside of my own home. Mainly because it makes people so uncomfortable. Men and women both suddenly either stop making eye contact or you get the full attention of some creeps who attach breastfeeding to something sexual. Yes, there are men who support breastfeeding. There are men who understand what a sacrifice it can be, and think breastfeeding is a beautiful thing. But they still don’t know where to look, because they’re trying not to make the nursing lady uncomfortable.The problem isn’t me, and it’s not them, either. It’s that public breastfeeding hasn’t become normal enough, in our country.
Breastfeeding is a natural process that is important both for mother and baby. I remember myself at a wedding and my little girl wanted to be fed, so I covered myself with a shawl and started to feed. There was one guy sitting next to us, who could not take his eyes off. Although he could not see anything, as I was covered completely, still his imaginations knew no bound and he could not look away. My mother-in-law saw the look and went and asked him, if his mother ever nursed him and he said sorry and left. But the whole thing is this, that in our country, even though we know, that a child gets his best nourishment from the mother’s milk and how important it is, but it is still attached to a certain stigma. People find it sexual, to get a glimpse of a nursing mothers breast and by the time this stigma is not removed, we mothers won’t feel comfortable about breastfeeding in public and will have to depend on either formula milk or feeding bottles at public places.
Even though the practice may be legal or socially accepted, some mothers may still be reluctant to expose a breast in public to feed the baby, due to actual or potential objections by other people, negative comments, or harassment. It is not the duty of the mother alone. The child’s father and the family too should be supportive, especially in public places.
We see so many celebrities supporting the cause in our country, we see them talking about it and many celebrities went ahead and did a photo shoot nursing their babies, but the taboo around breastfeeding is far bigger.
A study reveals that more than 8 lakh babies die every year for lack of breastfeeding. It is definitely, the best form of nutrition for any child and an excellent way for a mother to connect with its child. Breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition a child can have during the starting year of its life. Breast milk contains Antibodies which help the child fight with many infection and diseases. It is equally beneficial for the mothers, as it rules out the possibility of having breast cancer to much extent.
India is definitely not a breastfeeding country but it surely and badly needs to be one.This is not surprising in our country, where cases of crime against women are rampant despite being fully covered. Feeding the baby even under dupatta or shawl feels uncomfortable to mothers. Lack of breastfeeding counters in public places like parks, shopping malls, railway stations etc. also discourage breastfeeding. Most mothers opt for bottle feeds when going out in public or traveling. Instead of giving nursing mothers some crampy compartments in trains and other places, we need special breastfeeding counters and educate people about it.
Although we seldom see few advertisements, run by government encouraging breastfeeding, we need to educate more and more people about it and make it a natural process to see a nursing mother in public, just like eating in public.
Families should be the best support system for these nursing mothers and should take good care of their health too. Eating a healthy diet while you are breastfeeding is equally important because what you eat determines the energy, protein, nutrient and vitamin content of your breast milk. So it is important to keep a tab of the diet, of a lactating mother, and families can surely play a role here.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life for optimum growth and health of the baby. Babies who are given feeds other than breast milk are known to have lesser immunity, more illnesses and require more hospitalizations.
So, in order to have a healthy tomorrow for our country, we need to make a move today and make breastfeeding a normal and natural process for everyone. That in return will make new mothers comfortable and they will be encouraged to nurse their babies whenever wherever needed.