Will Grihalakshmi breastfeeding cover controversy help stress need for lactation rooms?

Does the city  have a different take on women breast feeding in the public? Do we have enough facilities to ensure this natural act is done without any hassle? 

Published: 06th March 2018 12:21 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th March 2018 06:41 AM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purpose.

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: Boobs, tits, jugs, globes, melons, norks, bazookas, jubblies, bristols, hooters, cans…. So many sexual innuendos to address the mammary glands habitually termed as breasts, whose focal purpose is to nurture and not be ogled at. Irony laughs out loud when we often assent and adulate cover page of magazines, advertisements and any media platform showing a woman’s cleavage in a sensuous way, but pelt stones at a magazine that has a model breastfeeding a child. How agonising it is for us to see a mother feed her milk to her child? Didn’t we all augment from the same?  

It is those breasts that we often look at as a mere pleasure giving organ that give us the nourishment to grow and cement the fundamentals of our immunity. Grihalakshmi, a Malayalam  magazine recently found itself in a tornado of controversies for having actress Gilu Joseph breastfeed a baby. The magazine was also slapped with a case for using a model and not a real mother. It had social media folks questioning how the picture is adulterating the sanctity of our culture by showing a sacrosanct act of nature in an inappropriate way as the model was not covering her breasts while feeding.  They have even concluded it as a mere publicity stunt.

Although we are oblivious of the strategy behind the cover photo, it does raise a question in our minds on why we are so sore about looking at a woman bare her breast to feed a child, while we have made peace with cleavage show for a man’s undergarment advertisement. How do feeding mothers brave the stares? Do public spaces in Hyderabad have lactation rooms?

Sheema Jamal, mother of an 18 -month-old girl says breastfeeding is not a private thing, but the reason why the human race survived. “Most places I have been to did not have feeding rooms. I had to rush to the loo or beg some for a room to feed my baby. Thankfully I never had a bad experience with someone staring at me. Of course, I have not breastfed in public. It was once when I was travelling in my car, a guy in a bus was staring while I was breastfeeding. I felt uncomfortable and wanted to slap him hard for that look. Since then, I ensure the window screens are on. I feel comfortable feeding in our own car. The women are always supportive and obliging,” she recalls.

Sheema strongly feels that there is fear of breastfeeding in public and is the biggest obstacle for mothers. “As women, we lack confidence in our ability to sustain our babies with our milk alone, even though our body has provided everything that the baby needed for the previous nine months. Babies are fed constantly when in utero, so it’s reasonable that they have to be fed often after they are born too. But many of those around us will dent our confidence with comments and stares. The primary function of breasts is for milk production and feeding and have secondary sexual characteristics. Just because one gets confused in their own quagmire of sexual misperception, one should remember that a breast out is not a license to stare, disapprove or masturbate. If you have a problem, leave,” she elucidates.

GHIAL (GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd) spokesperson informed that the  Rajiv Gandhi International Airport is equipped with 15 baby care rooms. “Recently, under the airport’s signature passenger-centric programme -‘Passenger is Prime’, all these baby rooms have been refurbished in partnership with Himalaya Baby Care. These baby care rooms are called ‘Happy Baby Zone’ and can be utilised by passengers travelling with an infant. With an attendant to assist, these rooms are equipped with basinet sofas to change the baby’s diaper and sofa chairs for the mothers to feed,” they stated.
The CPRO of South Central Railways informed that Secunderabad and Kachiguda railway stations do have feeding rooms for the new moms.

Dr Vinodha Vunnam, lactation counseller, childbirth educator, certified hypnobirthing practitioner, co-founder of Happy Moms, says although there are feeding room facilities in public spaces, they are not retained well and also don’t give much options to the mothers. “It is only the multi-speciality hospitals that provide such rooms. In normal nursing homes and hospitals, there are such options. Firstly they should be given a plethora of choices and secondly, we have to look at feeding as great nourishing act and not make the women feel ashamed of it. Hyderabad being a multi-cultural city, there are people who advocate public feeding and also people who oppose.

I have seen many doctors denying permission to husband to enter the room while the wife is breastfeeding. In a few houses, the mothers-in-law and husbands cover the mother’s breast with a towel as they find it discomforting. They don’t leave it to the choice of the mother on how to feed. In fact, I find rural area women extremely comfortable in feeding the baby in public without the fear of being stared and judged. It is the urban women who encounter such hassles. If the act of feeding is respected enough and not looked down upon, the attitude towards feeding in public will progressively amend for good,” she shares.

Dr Vinodha also informs that women should start using slings that support the baby, keeping them close to their chest, giving them the comfort of her breasts. “They can be used for feeding too. I do not encourage mothers, who pump the milk into a bottle and then feed the baby to avoid lactation in public.  The fear of being shamed for public feeding should be erased and liberty of how she wants to nurture her baby should be encouraged,” the lactation counseller urges while supplementing her statement on how our ancient sculptures have goddesses with nipples and how they are accepted by people. “When we accept goddess with nipples, why chastened the women who indulge in the noble act of sustaining and nourishing a baby,” she questions and says it is a sensitive issue.

Isn’t it high-time the modern women break the shackles and revolutionise the peoples’ perception of breastfeeding? Another young and new mother from the city, Disha Bandari says she never really had a problem while breastfeeding her baby outside of the home. “I have breastfed my baby everywhere. Trains, aeroplanes, buses, airports, restaurants, malls. Most places had well-equipped feeding and nursing rooms which helps immensely.

There were a couple of occasions when the people around me were uncomfortable but sensing how calm it made the baby, they chose to prioritise that over their own discomfort. Initially, I felt exposed trying to breastfeed her but with time, it got better. Considering it’s my baby’s meal, I have come to accept it as a natural phenomenon. All in all, I have never had an unpleasant experience with breastfeeding in public,” says the fortunate mother. 

BN Girija, assistant director of Women and Child Welfare Department says she hasn’t received any complaints of being gawked for public feeding. Having said that, they are also planning to coordinate with other departments to facilitate a private space for new mothers in public places, including temples.

Purnima Sriram purnima @newindianexpress.com @iyer_purnima

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