(from "Keeping Abreast" July-September 1999 issue)
This article is reproduced with permission from Today's Parents, a publication of Panpac Media.Com Ltd
I organized a "nurse-in" recently. It was sparked off following the incident where a mother of eight-week-old twins was reprimanded for breastfeeding in public.
She ventured out on her first shopping trip since their birth. As one of the twins needed to be fed, she decided to make a stop at the coffee place where she thought it would be acceptable to breastfeed. She was discreet, using a muslin cloth to cover up. Yet, the manager advised her to stop as "it was illegal and obscene to breastfeed in public in Singapore".
My friend was embarrassed and hurriedly left the shop. She called me to talk about what had happened because I had previously assured her that breastfeeding in public was acceptable. I had never encountered such problems before.
I decided to visit the outlet myself and address the issue with the manager. I invited along several other breastfeeding mums. The in turn notified the press. We had a very good turn out of mothers with babies and toddlers in tow, including members of the Breastfeeding Mothers' Support Group and the La Leche League. And astonishing number of reporters, including the crew from Talking Point and Channel News Asia, also turned up.
A Mother's Prerogative
Our aim was not to be confrontational or appear militant. We were making a point: breastfeeding in public is not illegal, nor is it obscene. Breastfeeding mothers need support and encouragement, not misinformation.
The General Manager of the café who was present at the scene, was very apologetic. He assured us that his staff would be better informed in the future and he confirmed that their stores have never practised a policy that restricts breastfeeding on the premises. So, why was there a fuss in the first place?
I was surprised when I first arrived in Singapore that so few women breastfed. Having travelled throughout Asia, I have witnessed many Asian mothers breastfeeding openly. Certainly, more openly than in the UK. However, this is not the case in Singapore. I recently conducted a telephone survey of a group of Singaporean mothers and found that 98% of them had started breastfeeding after the birth of their babies. However, all of them had stopped by the time their babies were six weeks old. Their reason: they did have enough "quality" milk. They had reached this conclusion because their babies were not gaining weight or required feeding every 2-3 hours through the day and night.
This is unfortunate. Babies do nurse frequently and this is normal. By six weeks, a baby is just starting to get used to breastfeeding and a mother's milk supply is often, still not well established. Why are women misinformed? I have found that often, it comes from the hospitals. Babies are routinely taken to the nursery so the mother can rest. On these occasions, babies are either given pacifiers, or fed glucose water and formula milk even if the mother has expressed a desire to breastfeed. I have also gathered that mothers are often told the myths, rather than the facts on breastfeeding, eg. their nipples are too small to breastfeed, their skin too fair, their milk too thin, etc.
One mother recalls being admonished by the nurse for producing too little colostrum (the first milk produced by the breasts). Surely the nurse should realise that although the quantity is small, the colostrum is rich in antibodies and is sufficient for a newborn. Such comments may seem insignificant or inconsequential to a nurse who deals with dozens of women and their babies every day, but it can undermine a new mother's confidence.
This incident has highlighted the need for organisations to take the issue of breastfeeding more seriously. I would like to see:
Hospitals adopt initiatives to encourage breastfeeding. The norm in hospitals should be to allow babies to room in with their mothers at all times. A nursery should also be available if the mother would like a rest. It is difficult to establish a bond with your baby, anticipate his needs, and grow in confidence as a new mother if your baby is kept in a nursery and cared for by nurses most of the time.
Mothers should not be encouraged to supplement with formula milk whenever they face breastfeeding difficulties. I have witnessed mothers being advised by nurses and paediatricians to top up their breastfeeds with a bottle of formula milk to overcome problems such as sore nipples, engorgement and mastitis. This solution is more likely to lead to a reduction in milk supply than overcome the problem.
More businesses, such as shopping centres, should have a written policy, supporting mothers who wish to breastfeed their babies. Recently, a shoe store put up a sign forbidding mothers to breastfeed on the premises. Never have I heard of a store displaying a sign supporting breastfeeding.
Companies could help encourage breastfeeding by providing a private room for mothers to express milk during the day and then store it for later use. This would help mothers who wish to continue feeding their babies breastmilk even after they have resumed work.
Mother and Baby Rooms
Although I believe that a mother should not have to "go into hiding" whenever she need to feed her baby, I do think that nursing rooms are necessary for mothers who are not comfortable about feeding in public. Even if these facilities do exist, they are too few and they are not well publicised or well-maintained, and rarely meet a mother's needs adequately. A mother and baby room should never be part of a toilet; there should be comfortable chairs available, as well as ample space for a bag and drink, with doors large enough to fit a pushchair through.
Additionally, the room should have facilities to change a baby. An additional perk would be to have a chilled water dispenser available since breastfeeding mothers should drink sufficient quantities of fluids; many mothers also need to drink while feeding. Finally, there should be a play area for older siblings while the baby is fed. Is this asking too much for the well-being of our children and the comfort of a mother who is trying to do what is best for her baby?
Oh, and the next time you see a mum breastfeeding in public, SMILE.
Don't undermine her efforts by she top up her feeds with formula milk.
Don't tell her her baby is too thin or that her milk is not good enough.
She needs your support, not your discouragement.
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