Breastfeeding in public is not against the law but in many countries, including some parts of South Africa, there is still a definite stigma attached to breastfeeding in public and this has caused a lot of moms to feel uncomfortable when they are feeding their baby in public.
Around Africa, in countries such as Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe and even in many parts of South Africa, mothers breastfeeding their babies in public is an accepted custom and a daily way of life, while in many developed, westernised countries, such as Canada, breastfeeding in public is done but is a rare sight. In Muslim countries, like Afghanistan breastfeeding in public is not permitted at all and what’s, nursing mothers are not even allowed to feed their babies in the presence of their own family members. The question however is – should South African mothers be encouraged to breastfeed in public, and if breastfeeding in public becomes the norm, should the nursing mother follow breastfeeding etiquette?
Even though breastfeeding is perfectly natural, there are some members of our society and even some establishment owners who are of the opinion that breastfeeding an infant in a public place is not the done thing and shouldn’t be done. In a restaurant or coffee shop, a few men may feel uncomfortable at the sight of a woman readying herself to breastfed. While at the same time, many self-conscious nursing mothers are not particularly eager to -expose’ themselves in a public place and as such, they use a blanket, nursing shawl or light throw to conceal the act. Perhaps the first rule in breastfeeding etiquette is to realise that not everyone will share your views on breastfeeding in public and in order to avoid offended onlookers (and even disgusted gawks) and maybe a few negative comments, it is best to be discreet. This is by no means a suggestion that the act of nursing a baby is distasteful, but for the modest mom, covering up and being discreet will allow for privacy and it will not offend others who are not quite ready to accept the fact that breastfeeding is perfectly natural and beautiful!
A lot of breastfeeding moms feel that it’s good breastfeeding etiquette to notify fellow diners of their intentions. This depends largely on who the fellow diners are – if you are out with a group of moms or old friends, they will undoubtedly have no qualms about breastfeeding. If your diners happen to be your partner’s work colleagues, or soccer friends – it may be considered good etiquette to inform the group that you’ll be breastfeeding. Not only will the mom be able to gauge their attitude at the table, but at the same time, the group will not be too surprised when the mom starts to breastfeed their hungry infant.
The most important of all breastfeeding etiquette rules is to respect others! By respecting others, nursing mothers need not be banished to public toilets or baby-change rooms (or remain out of public areas) – it simply means to breastfeed discreetly. Many South African mothers feel that there is no shame (and rightfully so) with public breastfeeding, but more reserved mothers are happy not to draw attention to themselves and become breastfeeding exhibitionists.
It is not illegal to breastfeed in public and due to this fact, a nursing mother cannot be asked to stop breastfeeding when in public, nor can she be asked to leave an establishment because she is breastfeeding her baby!
Breastfeeding made easy
There are so many items on the market which make breastfeeding easy, such as nursing bras which can be quickly and easily fastened and unfastened with one hand, as well as specially-designed breastfeeding tops or dresses, that allow moms to quickly gain access to her baby’s food source. Even regular button-up tops work well, and a few buttons can be released when needed. Resourceful moms who are sewing whizzes can use their existing garments to create their own designer -breastfeeding’ wear, and sew in hidden slits and panels which cover the nipple and lower breast but which still permit discreet breastfeeding.
What the public feels about breastfeeding in public?
Even in 2011, a large number of South African men and women feel that a woman breastfeeding her baby in an open space is obscene. As a nation, South Africa is divided on whether it is right to breastfeed or not to breastfeed in public! In countries like Australia almost 50% of the population believe that breastfeeding should be done behind closed doors and if the need arises to feed a baby in public, it should be done as discreetly as possible.
Perhaps one of the main reasons why people are against breastfeeding in public is because of their own comfort level. Many feel uncomfortable when seeing a woman with a breast out with her baby latched on to it, and what’s more they believe the natural sight forces them to look away or they feel uncertain as to how to react in the situation.
Here are two extracts on how some South Africans feel about breastfeeding in public (published in IOL news, August 12 2010)
-I think its caring and loving your baby, we adults we eat whenever we feel hungry but an infant should wait for privacy…. just don’t understand am a health worker and a breastfeeding counsellor I feel so impressed if I see a mother bonding with her baby through breastfeeding
-Hell NO!!!! Keep them milk factories to yourselves ladies. Privacy. First sicko who takes a good look and all hell is going to break loose, he being the pervert. You didn’t copulate in public to get preggies, which is the reason your glands are filled with mother’s milk, so don’t flaunt the result of your copulation (not the kid, the milk factories). Nee sies man! I have three kids and definitely wouldn’t appreciate my wife showing her mammary glands to the world at large
Breastfeeding in public – to do or not to do?
For the nursing mom who feels at ease with breastfeeding in a public place – you are fulfilling your maternal duties and feeding your baby in the most natural way possible. To those moms who are not against breastfeeding in public but who feel a tad embarrassed – practice makes perfect and after a the first few feeds, breastfeeding in an open space will soon become a lot easier!
The main reasons why a lot of moms opt not to breastfeed is because of the stigma that is attached to public breastfeeding. Breastfeeding support groups and pro-breastfeeding moms believe that if society adopted a different attitude towards breastfeeding in public, far more mothers would be more willing to try breastfeeding.