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Women who breastfeed run into many problems in city

Everyone talks about the benefits of breast milk, but Bengaluru has a long way to go when it comes to creating public spaces for nursing mothers. Some malls are doing their bit, though.
Last Updated : 05 June 2019, 10:30 IST
Last Updated : 05 June 2019, 10:30 IST
Last Updated : 05 June 2019, 10:30 IST
Last Updated : 05 June 2019, 10:30 IST

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The Taj Mahal has become the first Indian heritage monument to get a breastfeeding room.

Vasant Kumar Swarnakar, a top official with the Archaeological Survey of India, was prompted to press for it after he saw a mother struggling to feed her baby at the monument.

This difficulty is not restricted to the Taj Mahal. Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley and gateway to the world, still lacks sensitivity and acceptance when it comes to breastfeeding in public.

Public places have no designated spaces for breastfeeding and many people shame mothers doing this outside.

“In India, there is a huge stigma attached to breastfeeding in public. You are just feeding a baby, you are not doing something shameful,” says Mihika Mavinkurvé, dietician. She has two children, aged two years and seven months.

“You can’t foresee when the baby might feel hungry or just want to be comforted. Feeding takes care of both. Public places don’t have a provision for this,” she says.

Some malls have a room like this, though it is not very comfortable, she notes.

“The rooms are musty and are left closed for ages. That leaves both the baby and the mother uncomfortable but at least there is a room,” she says.

She finds it strange that even five-star restaurants in the city don’t have breastfeeding spaces.

“When you ask housekeeping staff where you can feed your baby, they ask you to go to the bathroom. Who in the right mind would want to feed a baby in the bathroom?” she complains.

The reactions that she received from people when she tried to feed her infant in public stopped Ida Rachel from going out altogether.

“I would get strange looks from the people. This includes women; I see them thinking ‘why is she out with a baby’; it made me uncomfortable. After this happened twice or thrice, I stopped going to malls and other places,” says the senior manager in a pharma start-up.

One of the fallouts of this public aversion to a natural biological process is the increase in the prices of accessories, she notes.

“Covers, breast pumps, storage containers for mother’s milk and warmers are among the products women have to use if they want to travel or feed their babies in public. They are priced exorbitantly high and only a small section of the population can afford them. The demand for such products is high because of non-availability of public breastfeeding rooms,” she notes.

What do they do?

“I have become wiser with experience so I feed the baby in a very discreet manner. Or I pump my milk and carry it in a bottle. There is a lot of work here as I have to sterilise the pump, the bottle and my hands before I collect the milk. For a mother who is already exhausted, this extra work is too much. And this is not something all women can do (because of biological conditions) or will do (due to their mindset),” says Mihika.

“I stopped taking public transport for one. I either took my own car or went by cabs so I could cover up and feed my child in peace,” says Rachel.

When she am travelling on the national highway from Bengaluru to Kollam (her home town) she has identified specific places (inside women’s restrooms) to change diapers.

“I hear sometimes women take rooms in hotels on the highway to just feed their babies,” she adds.

Mihika, dietician based in Bengaluru.
Mihika, dietician based in Bengaluru.

Sensitive countries

Mihika, dietician: I stayed in Nepal for seven months after my elder child was born. You can sit anywhere and feed your baby openly and nobody stares, nobody comes and say please cover up or leave. It is so normal in a country which everybody considers not as developed as India. I have heard from my friends in the UAE this is very normal and people don’t stare. So if a Muslim country, with so many restrictions, is okay with this practice, then why not India?

Kerala Metro shows the way

The Metro in Kochi has introduced a nursing pod at the Aluva station. Officials have plans to introduce more pods at other stations like MG Road, Lissie Junction and Edapally soon. The pods were the brainchild of a maternity wellness start-up called ‘I Love 9 Months.’

Malls with breastfeeding rooms

Orion Mall in Brigade Gateway and Orion East in Malleswaram have places for breastfeeding and diaper changing, along with assistants, next to the washroom. Phoenix MarketCity in Whitefield has four designated places, on all fours, right next to the washroom. Lido Mall in Ulsoor has a room on the second floor. Forum Mall in Koramangala also has a similar space on the ground floor.

Kolkata outrage got mothers across India to unite and protest

Last year, mothers in Kolkata protested outside a mall where employees told a woman to nurse her baby in a toilet and mocked her complaint.

An apparel storekeeper finally came to her rescue and allowed her to use a cramped trial room.

When the mother, Abhilasha DasAdhikari, complained on the Facebook page of the mall, the reply she got stumped her even further.

The officials asked her to “plan her baby’s feeding arrangements properly and do her home chores at home and not in a mall.”

The public outcry forced the mall to tender an unconditional apology.

Moms draft a manifesto

During the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, Momspresso, a user-generated content platform for mothers, brought out a Moms’ Manifesto, detailing what mothers wanted from the new government.

A survey showed 73% of Bengaluru mothers want breastfeeding public spaces in the city.

“The government has been proactive in encouraging new mothers to breastfeed their babies for six months and later continue as long as possible. And mothers are happy to comply, as they fully understand the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child.

To expect mothers to be completely housebound for six months is completely impractical, but when they do go out, they are restricted by the lack of support in malls, marketplaces, parks, airports, railway stations, hotels and other public spaces.

With no separate rooms, no understanding, and people staring, nursing in open public spaces is impossible. Mothers often end up breastfeeding in unsanitary toilets: that for an adult is like having a meal in a bathroom!

The decision to breastfeed and how long a mother is able to continue depends hugely on the support she gets in public spaces. We need to see this as a collective exercise because it benefits society as a whole.”

- Parul Ohri, Chief Editor, Momspresso, a multilingual content platform that caters to mothers.

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Published 29 May 2019, 13:51 IST

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