Saturday, July 4, 2015

Things I don't Understand about "Protecting" Breastfeeding

Last month I met with a Huffington Post columnist at Howard Plaza Hotel in Taipei. She was writing a book that tells the story of how culture has influenced the breastfeeding controversy. She asked me what is it like to breastfeed in Taiwan.

I thought about this question carefully. I called the island home for 20 years, but I have not visited the “home” for a long time. I was surprised by what I saw during my recent trip there. There were nursing rooms literally everywhere. From big cities to small towns, nursing rooms could be found in city halls, in shopping malls, in metro stations, in banks, in parks, and in restaurants, even in family restaurants.

I was surprised because this was not the Taiwan I remembered. I was born and raised in the 1980s, when sales of formula reached its peak on the Island. In 1989, only 5.8% of newborns in Taiwan were breastfed. I had never seen or heard of anyone breastfeeding when growing up.

Looked like Taiwan has changed to be a very breastfeeding friendly society, I thought. After all, the government adopted International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in 1992 and started to promote Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative in 1998.

But one day when we were at a library in Yilan, a small city in Northeastern Taiwan, my little one started to cry for milk. I found the nursing room, but it was locked. So we nursed on a bench in an atrium area of the library. Soon a library staff member approached to me, kindly reminding me that there was a nursing room nearby, where I should “feel much more comfortable.” I told her that the room was locked. She said that’s because another mother is using that room. I asked her if the capacity of the nursing room is just for one person.

She explained that there were plenty of spaces and chairs in the nursing room, but breastfeeding is “such a private thing that mothers usually don’t want to share the room with another mother.” Then she nicely suggested me to “stand in line” for that nursing room.

I was amused. So we have spacious nursing rooms everywhere but only one mother can use that room at a time? And instead of finding somewhere else to nurse our baby, we have to stand in line for that nursing room?

Then I started to think about those nursing rooms I saw everywhere. Seriously, do we really need nursing rooms in a park? If we were picnicking on the lawn in a park, couldn’t our nursing baby just enjoy the food on the lawn with us? Also, do we really need nursing rooms in a restaurant, even in a family restaurant? If we were dining around the table in a restaurant, couldn’t the nursing baby eat with us by the table?

I started to feel those ubiquitous nursing rooms seemed to be protecting nursing mothers, but in fact, it was telling the society that breastfeeding is something that considered “abnormal,” something that needed to be hidden and could be done only in a locked room.

I am not saying that we need no nursing room. Instead, I suggest that nursing rooms should be something that moms can “choose to,” not “have to” use.

Breastfeeding needed to be normalized more than to be protected. People, especially our children, need to see breastfeeding in public. When young girls and boys grow up surrounded by sexualized images of breasts produced by Hollywood but never, or rarely, see the normal, natural act of breastfeeding a baby, how can they build healthy ideas about breasts and women’s bodies?

Breastfeeding will not be seen to be normal until we see more women breastfeed in public. Mothers, please breastfeed in public. When more mothers breastfeed in public, we will help normalize breastfeeding and to provide new mothers a path away from embarrassment.

Not July 4th firework, but breastfeeding by Taipei 101.

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