Breast is best … even in public

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BREASTFEEDING advocacy seems to be strong in Malaysia. After all, milk companies and the media are not allowed to publicise any milk powder as being better than mother’s milk.

There are laws on this.

In addition, there are nursing rooms in shopping malls and hospitals, and even a breastfeeding week.

And yet, for all the breastfeeding advocacy, mothers are still frowned upon or given the odd look when they breastfeed in public.

Many women continue, some are shy and seek nursing rooms or a shawl to cover their babies, others do it in the car or toilet even!

Entrepreneur Daisy Ng says she breastfeeds anywhere.

“With a nursing cloth and my ergonomic baby carrier, I literally breastfeed on the go.

“Generally, there aren’t enough public nursing rooms so I like to give way to other ladies who might need it more than me. My baby nurses well sitting up in a soft structured baby carrier regardless of where we are or the noise level. Some mothers might need quiet and private nursing rooms more than I do.

“Call me brazen or nonchalant. I nurse on the go and do not break a stride in what I am doing. Surprisingly, most people do not realise I am breastfeeding until they are up close. I would say most looks I get are from women, actually. Many would come up to me and ask how I nurse on the go. On rare occasions I would get disapproving looks, usually from the older generation.

“I think breastfeeding is natural. I follow my baby’s cue and feed him when he wishes, and wherever it is convenient and conducive. What other people think of me is their business. I do not feel the need to please others or seek their approval.

“However, when mothers approach me and ask me to share tips on nursing on the go, I’m always happy to share,” says the 30-something mum of two (a 3½-year-old girl and eight-month-old boy).

She nursed her daughter until she was 2½. She says the convenience of nursing on the go definitely promotes the idea of extended breastfeeding.

Lavinie Thiruchelvam with her 4 1/2 month old infant Raeka Jania.
Lavinie Thiruchelvam with her 4 1/2 month old infant Raeka Jania.

Lavinie Thiruchelvam, founder and owner of Babydash.com.my, looks for nursing rooms in public simply because it’s more comfortable for her and her baby.

“But if there is none, I will use her blanket to cover and then nurse. I am about to buy a proper nursing cover to solve this problem,” says the 38-year-old mother of three.

“I am sure I have gotten looks but I just ignore and avoid eye contact. Otherwise it would make me feel awkward. I just want to focus and give my best to my baby,” she adds.

Nirwana with her daughter Qaseh (left) and son Yusuf.
Nirwana with her daughter Qaseh (left) and son Yusuf.

Businesswoman Nirwana Tuan Sariff, aged 35, says she either looks for nursing rooms in shopping malls or just uses a nursing cloth which allows her to breastfeed anywhere.

She admits getting looks from the public and strangely it is women who tend to be more bothered about her breastfeeding in public.

Their reaction doesn’t deter her from nursing though.

“I think some Malaysians are uncomfortable about mothers breastfeeding in public due to a lack of education, or it could just be something embarrassing to them because it’s not part of their ‘culture’.

“I feel it is getting better though. I think we need to have more banners, courses and advertisements about the benefits of mum’s milk to spread awareness,” says Nirwana, mum of a five-year-old girl and two-year-old boy.

Lavinie says there needs to be continuous education on breastfeeding so that more people are aware and will understand the need for it and the benefits.

“I think overall we have come a long way as a society but there still needs to be a lot more education on this.

“We should have simple TV community ads, social media campaigns and banners so that the reach is to everyone and not segmented,” suggests Lavinie.

Daisy notes that while the public may be uncomfortable about mothers nursing in public, sometimes the mums themselves are embarrassed.

“Frequently I see breastfeeding mothers feeling nervous or embarrassed themselves, looking around to see if anyone is watching them. I feel confident breastfeeding with my nursing cover, and usually continue my activities (say eating or grocery shopping). I find that people around me hardly notice I am breastfeeding. But it could be that I just wasn’t looking!” she says.

Daisy believes that mums should not be afraid to nurse in public.

“Your child doesn’t have to starve because of the biased views of others. Everyone has their comfort threshold. Depending on my outfits and the environment, there are times I am happy to nurse without a cover and there are times my baby and I feel more comfortable nursing with a cover. Be confident and relaxed. If a stranger stares at you, it may be from curiosity rather than judgment. Offer a smile in return.

“Breastfeeding groups such as the Breastfeeding Advocates Network help raise awareness and provide support for breastfeeding mothers. As I become more confident nursing my child, I feel confident enough to manoeuvre nursing in public too.”

Lavinie advises mums to ignore anyone who tells them breastfeeding is not good “because clearly they are ignorant. Focus on giving your baby the best and you will feel so fulfilled and happy!”

Daisy agrees with Lavinie that mums should do what is best for them and their child.

“There is no right or wrong way. We may all hope for the utopian society where everyone is aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and the right of a woman to nurse anywhere. But what if your baby is easily distracted and nurses best in a quiet private setting? Or you have an active baby who thrusts around during nursing which makes you uncomfortable about accidental exposure? Then go to a nursing room. There is no need to please others (by nursing in private only) or make a statement for the sake of making one.”

Breastfeeding is about giving your child the best, and the best is always breast milk.

Thots n Tots salutes all mums, especially breastfeeding mums who are paving the way for future mums. Happy Mother’s Day!