We don’t have to look back too much to realize how breastfeeding is treated like a stigma in our society. In 2018, a popular household magazine Grihalakshmi launched a new edition with Gilu Joseph breastfeeding a child on the cover. And right after its release, the magazine started receiving backlash as a response to its initiative. There were petitions filed against the magazine as well as the model as per “Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act” and “Indecent Representation of Women Act”. The petitioners claimed the cover to be vulgar and offending moral principles.
Why is a stigma attached to breastfeeding?
The moot question is, something which is most natural and intuitive human response, how can it offend anybody’s moral principles? Having said that, our society and stigmas are somewhere invariably intertwined; almost inseparable. And breastfeeding is no exception.
The fact of the matter is, breastfeeding is not a problem per se. The source of the trouble is the simple reason that women’s bodies are looked upon as ‘objects of desire’. And this bizarre aversion is a result of our entertainment culture. Representation of women in films or commercials often confounds with the misapprehensions of the same. In this scenario, even the slightest exposure of a body part is misconstrued by the general public.
Is it only India which is intolerant?
Unfortunately, no. Despite protection laws favouring lactating mothers, often women are frowned upon for publicly nursing their infants. Recently, a woman named Shelby Angel told a news portal that on a flight from San Francisco to Amsterdam, when she started feeding her one-year old daughter, a female flight attendant asked her to ‘cover up’ with a blanket. To which she explained that her ‘busy toddler’ doesn’t like to be covered. Still, she was trying to be as discreet as possible. However, her protests were in vain. And she was bluntly told that if she wanted to continue to feed, she would have to cover up, as the sight might ‘offend’ fellow passengers.
Now, this is just one incident of a lactating mother getting policed. But there are several other women out there, just like her, who find it difficult to feed their hungry infants in retail stores, hypermarkets, airports or restaurants. They’re often asked to ‘cover-up’ or sent inside a toilet to nurse, even in countries such as the US. They even find it difficult to get back to work due to the lack of a suitable place to breastfeed.
Nevertheless, a mother who’s lived and experienced both Indian and foreign culture has observed that India is perhaps more friendly towards breastfeeding as compared to many foreign nations. Women can be spotted nursing their infants in buses and trains, and even tourist spots, lightly covering up with their dupatta or saree.
What’s more, in recent times, breastfeeding has got a leg up from the Archeological Survey of India’s (ASI) initiative in providing a separate breastfeeding room for nursing mothers who visit the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri monuments. In fact, this initiative sprouted from noticing a mother struggling under a staircase to feed her child, despite her husband providing ‘extra cover’. But the larger picture is the issue of not only space but a progressive mindset.
Women standing up for their motherhood rights
Thankfully, despite the countless stereotypes and stigmas against women, there are some boss ladies who’re not afraid to stand for what is right. And Australian senator, Larissa Waters, is one of them. She has become the first woman to breastfeed in Australia’s parliament in 2018, after Australian parliament changed its rule to allow female members to feed their infants inside the parliament house.
And not only Waters, but several other women from the glamour industry are forcing the world to get real about breastfeeding, such as Pink, Kourtney Kardashian, Liv Tyler, Mila Kunis, Kristin Cavallari, Adele, Padma Lakshmi, Kristen Bell, and Beyonce, to name a few. And then there are some Indian personalities as well, such as Lisa Hayden, Neha Dhupia, and Soha Ali Khan, who do not shy away from this universal life process.
It is nothing new under the sun that breastmilk is the best nutrition for a child, for at least the first six months of life. And for that, the larger society needs to come together and create the right environment for the breastfeeding mother and the infant. Rather than relegating them to dark staircases and public toilets!