By Mihir Joshi
Until a few months ago, I don’t really think I gave the subject of nursing in public much thought. I mean sure, I knew babies were breastfed and that it was good for them but I didn’t know how good or how important it was and how often it needs to be done, especially in the first few months. Oh and obviously the feeding isn’t something one can do when one feels like it. The baby is the boss. When he or she is hungry…you must feed them. With all this said, we faced something hundreds and thousands of mothers face every day in our country – how does one nurse their baby comfortably when they’re out of home?
Most families start going out with their baby possibly a month or two after they’re born. Maybe to a family event, maybe even outstation or even something as simple as going to the mall – and when you’re out most mothers are constantly worried about one thing. Will I find a safe and clean place to feed my baby? While I get the clean part, the first part is what started bothering me a lot.
When mothers think safe…they think, can I find a place where I won’t have people staring at me or harassing me? Can I find a place where someone won’t come and tell me to “cover up”? What would people think if I had to feed my baby in a mall or in a bus or the train or at someone’s place? Would I be okay taking my breast out to feed my child in a public place?
All these questions stem from our cultural problem our society has. Women are expected to be dressed modestly and while movies and music videos are cool with women pretty much baring their breasts for entertainment, a breast for feeding is considered improper or even “yucky”. And of course we have a society that tends to blame women and hold them responsible for pretty much anything that happens to them. So whether a girl gets molested for the clothes she wears or for feeding her child in public, the society tends to point a finger at the woman for the actions. In such cases, for many women it becomes very difficult to contemplate feeding their child in public.
So yes, when we had Neil we started looking for things we had not looked at before. Does a mall we want to visit have a feeding and changing room for babies, does an airport have good facilities for doing the same, if we go to a shop will they have a room where we could feed the baby…if we go to a relative’s place, do they have a separate room where he could be fed? And after everything, we just realised that it is almost impossible to find the resources in every place you go to but that obviously doesn’t mean that we can leave our son hungry when he needs a feed or that we stay at home at all times and hence came in our lives a concept called NIP – or nursing in public – and here are a few things that we did that could maybe help you.
Find clothes that are nursing friendly. There are a lot of wonderful brands that make maternity and feeding nursing wear. Nursing wear looks good and is extremely functional when it comes to feeding your little one.
· Have nursing stoles or scarves that you can carry with you to cover your baby and give both you and your child some privacy.
· Find a baby carrier that can help you with feeding in public.
· Educate your family and friends and create a support structure that will encourage and help you to do something that is essential and natural.
· But most importantly, change your mindset. Recognise that all malls, shops, taxis, buses, trains, airports, etc, will not always have a place designated for feeding but you will have to feed your child. While the breast has been largely sexualised, recognise that it is also, more importantly, your child’s primary food source. And the more breast milk you give your child the healthier and happier he or she will be.
In our case, Neha was exclusively breastfeeding Neil for six months and even now, two months after we’ve slowly started baby-led weaning, breast milk is still his primary source of nutrition and will be for a while. EBF (Exclusive Breast Feeding) is fantastic for your child, please read up about it or join groups on Facebook that can educate you on the importance of breastfeeding like Breastfeeding Support For Indian Mothers (@BSIMORG) which was immensely helpful for us and you will find so many questions you may have about breastfeeding answered for you by peers and experts who’ve been through what you’re going through. So yes…whether you like it or not, there will be occasions where feeding in public will happen. So equip yourself for it, prepare yourself mentally and go ahead and do it! You can also look up the World Health Organization (WHO) website to get started on your education about EBF.
I would like to end this by addressing our government through this forum. Create legislation enabling breastfeeding in public, create shelters or space where mothers feel safe to feed their babies and have these shelters everywhere. Make it so that every large public place must have areas designated for mothers and babies. We have over a billion people in our country and we have thousands of women who have babies literally every day. Let’s show them the love and respect that we ought to and make breastfeeding stigma free and a joy for our mothers. Please educate mothers and make sure they know that literally nothing is better for their babies than their own breast milk.
Like Neha recently posted on social media, let’s make sure that every baby can say that “B**bs is the secret of my energy!”
(The writer is a singer – his debut album Mumbai Blues won the GIMA Award for Best Rock Album in 2015 – hosts his own talk show-The MJ Show and does live Hindi commentary for WWE. Follow him on twitter @mihirjoshimusic. Views are personal.)