Photography by Unsplash
What’s your take on the latest breastfeeding debate?
The truth is that, while breastfeeding is a completely natural process, and is mostly encouraged to ensure the best possible start to a child’s life, society has also stigmatised the act as somehow indecent. This is according to the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR), who go on to say that moms, frequently harassed when feeding their babies in public spaces, are forced to retreat to restrooms to breastfeed away from the glare of disapproval. But, say the SABR, public toilets are actually extremely unhygienic and far from the best place to nurse an infant.
The low-down on the breastfeeding debate
Lets look at biology first. Breastfeeding is a vital part of any baby’s development. In fact, hundreds of scientific studies on the subject are unambiguous: breastfeeding a child for the first 12 months of its life is the best way to ensure it grows up healthy. But here comes the problem: nursing moms are often subjected to shaming and verbal abuse if they dare to breastfeed in public.
“It’s an indictment on our society that we tolerate topless models in our fashion magazines, but that breastfeeding mothers are chased out of public spaces on a daily basis,” says Stasha Jordan, breastfeeding activist and executive director of the SABR.
“Many mothers are forced to use public bathrooms to feed their babies rather than face this kind of abuse,” says Jordan. “A public toilet is one of the most unhygienic and dangerous places to nurse your infant,” she continues.
Why public restrooms are public enemy #1
According to the SABR report, when a toilet is flushed without first closing the lid, fine droplets of excrement are sprayed into the air. These can drift around the room for up to two hours after each flush before finally settling, invisibly, on surfaces throughout the area. These droplets carry a bunch of pathogens, including viruses and bacteria, many of which could prove deadly to an infant’s fragile immune system.
The law on breastfeeding
Breastfeeding at work is already protected under South African law. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) stipulates that employees with infants must be allowed two breaks of 30 minutes each, every working day, to allow for breastfeeding or expressing milk. These breaks are mandatory for the first six months of the child’s life.
The latest news: this protection may, in time, be extended to mothers breastfeeding in other public spaces. The Normalise Public Breastfeeding in SA (NPBSA) movement represents hundreds of women from across the country. Together, they have drafted the “Breastfeeding and Related Matters Bill”, a proposed law that will protect mothers from discrimination in public, and have submitted it to the office of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
The SA Health Ministry on breastfeeding
In an interview with the Cape Argus, Joe Maila, spokesperson for Health Minister Motsoaledi, welcomed the proposed bill. Maila said that “…as government, we fully support breastfeeding as it has been proven as one of the interventions that will reduce this country’s infant mortality… it is the way to go. I think criticism of public breastfeeding is unwarranted and absurd.”
“Breastfeeding is vital to the wellbeing of our future generations,” says Jordan, “whether in public or at home, babies deserve the best chance at healthy lives, and that means breastfeeding for at least the first six months of their lives. Our responsibility is to encourage and support mothers, not to harass or shun them.”
How you can get involved
To get involved and alleviate the challenges faced by SABR, including low breastfeeding rates in South Africa, sourcing donor mothers and funding for the operation of the milk banks, please visit www.sabr.org.za or call 011 482 1920 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information courtesy of the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR)