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This morning we woke up to news published in a UK daily that three female golfers were suspended for finding the sight of a mother breastfeeding in public ‘distasteful.’ This has prompted me to understand and gauge the reaction of our own janta towards breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding, the most natural and wholesome source of nutrition for an infant has never been a topic of active promotion and encouragement by the government authorities in India. Having said that, it is noteworthy that for the past decade or so there have been no TV , print or radio adverts of tinned milk claiming to nourish babies ‘almost as much as’ mothers milk does. That is a result of a ban by the government in a bid to encourage breast feeding way back in the beginning of 2003.
The new millennium saw a surge in changing lifestyles and attitudes and, thanks to globalisation, an adoption of practices akin to anything ‘Western’. Mothers of new-born babies too were not untouched by this phenomenon. Along with disposable diapers, synthetic wipes, artificial milk, prams and strollers, we adopted it all. India started feeding, cleaning, communicating and entertaining its babies differently.
In the years to come, there definitely is going to be a fewer show of hands when asked ‘Jisne bhi Maa ka dudh piya hai Woh saamne aaye’. Bollywood script writers of yesteryear obviously realised that on most occasions a breastfed baby made a stronger individual with a fortified immune system.
With fewer women choosing to be stay-at-home mothers in our society, it’s also quite glaringly obvious that nobody has told ‘working mothers’ that they could express breast milk in bottles, refrigerate/freeze and have their babies fed even in their absence.
Unlike the West, the sight of a lactating mother is more often than not visible amongst the very poor in India. These poverty-stricken women themselves have little to eat but have to breastfeed to stop their babies’ hungry wails.
In a survey conducted by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India BPNI, only a quarter of babies born are fed within an hour of birth and only half continue to be exclusively breast fed until they are six months old. These statistics are dismally low.
As the World gears for the World Breast feeding week (Aug 1st – 7th) 2015, I think we as a nation ought to actively take steps in changing attitudes on breastfeeding in India. Health professionals need to encourage to-be-parents by informing them about its benefits to both the baby and lactating Mother. National legislation needs to be strengthened and implemented. At workplaces, government needs to provide adequate postpartum maternity leave.
Alternatively, the employers (both government and private) must provide crèche facilities at work, longer breaks, work sharing, work from home facilities, etc. Hospitals, Universities, malls, buildings of public utility services should also have dedicated areas where mothers may feed infants without any inhibitions.
Also, as individuals we need to encourage mothers around us, who are comfortable feeding their babies in public. In the same way that we chose to satiate our hunger as and when we feel fit, it is absolutely reasonable for a mother to make that decision for her infant as well. And we need to respect that. After all, we do tolerate a lot in the name of fashion and current trend without actually checking if it falls within the purview of obscenity.
Coming back to the story of British golfers expressing their disdain to a fellow woman’s act of breastfeeding, I think it was quite preposterous for them to have reacted so disproportionately. Particularly in a country, where womenfolk have tremendous encouragement and support from the establishment to breastfeed their children wherever and whenever they choose.
The author is a clinical psychologist and has worked extensively on social/health related issues and psychiatric disorders.