Nursing in public: why we need to #normalizebreastfeeding
Find out why Australian supermodel Nicole Trunfio's cover shoot for ELLE Australia went viral...
Not too long ago, the magazine cover for ELLE Australia of a breastfeeding mum went viral.
Why? Because it shows Australian supermodelNicole Trunfio breastfeeding her then four-month-old baby boy Zion Rain Clark. It joins other magazine covers featuring women nursing their kids such as that of W Magazine in 2008 with a breastfeeding Angelina Jolie, and the 2012 TIME cover shot of a mother nursing her three-year-old son.
ELLE Australia’s editor-in-chief Justine Cullen said, “This wasn’t a contrived situation: Zion needed a feed, Nicole gave it to him, and when we saw how beautiful they looked we simply moved her onto the set. It was a completely natural moment that resulted in a powerful picture.”
Nicole Trunfio herself is extremely proud of the photo, and applauds ELLE Australia on her Facebook page for “being so bold and making such an encouraging, positive and healthy statement”.
There is nothing more powerful and beautiful than motherhood. The last thing I want to do is be controversial, so please take this for what it is… there is nothing worse than a mother [who] is judged for feeding her hungry child in public… I’m so proud of this cover and what it stands for.
The stigma of breastfeeding in public
For something that is so natural — it has been how mothers around the world have nurtured and nourished their babies since time immemorial — breastfeeding in public has often been sensationalised and associated with something that’s awkward to witness or be around.
Take, for example, the most recent case of a breastfeeding mother in a McDonald’s restaurant branch in Hungary, who was told to stop and leave the restaurant. Or closer to home in Singapore back in 2013, when a mum was told off by a restaurant manager for nursing her hungry baby. The manager also attempted to cover the baby with a dirty jacket.
Such incidents leave us wondering why so many people get offended at the sight of a mother nursing her baby in public, when bare breasts in pornography have been normalised and lace-draped breasts advertising lingerie are plastered all over billboards.
The problem? The sexualisation of breasts
Both men and women have breasts. Women’s breasts are bigger and have the ability to produce milk. So what’s the big deal? Why have they become such a significant embodiment of sexuality in our society?
It’s certainly safe to say that the outrage some people display over a mum nursing her baby in public is largely due to the way breasts have been hyper-sexualised in many societies.
Take for example, the recent comments by the hosts of popular US TV programme “Today” Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford, where Kotb said that mums sharing their breastfeeding photos on social media is “TMI” (too much information).
Statements such as Kotb’s and the overt sexualisation of breasts in general result in making many mums feel ashamed about what is completely natural. It may even cause some mothers to avoid breastfeeding altogether, not just in public. In short, it ostracises mothers.
Making breastfeeding in public normal again…
Re-normalising breastfeeding: Why it’s critical
Back in the times of our grandparents, breastfeeding a child in public was quite normal. However, as societies progressed, some seem to have taken a step back in time with regard to attitudes towards nursing outside of the home.
Babies get hungry. This is not news. And while they have a fundamental right to have their hunger satisfied, their mum has the right to feed them whenever and wherever necessary. If a mum would rather not retire to a nursing room to do so, or not use a shawl to cover her breastfeeding baby, then that’s her right, too.
According to an article by Lisa Amir that appeared in the International Journal of Breastfeeding in 2014, “discomfort with the idea of breastfeeding in public has been cited as a reason for some women choosing not to initiate breastfeeding or planning a shorter duration of breastfeeding.”
This is despite the solid body of research that proves that breastmilk is the most complete form of nutrition for babies, providing them with a range of benefits related to health, development, growth, and immunity.
Here are just some of the ways breastfeeding can help your child thrive and why it’s critical that mums are encouraged to breastfeed their little ones freely:
- It’s economic: breastmilk doesn’t cost anything and helps avoid future medical bills because it helps protect babies from diseases by boosting their immunity.
- Mums who breastfeed are less likely to develop osteoporosis later in life, are able to lose weight gained during pregnancy more easily, and have a lower risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer.
- It promotes bonding between mum and baby and, as such, can help prevent conditions such as post-natal depression.
- It may help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Breastfeeding may provide your baby with protection from allergies.
Given these reasons (and many more), it’s important that we start normalising breastfeeding and stop labelling it as something to be ashamed of, especially when done in public.
This is where Trunfio’s ELLE cover shoot becomes significant. It shows that the media can actually play a big role in re-normalising the completely normal act of nourishing a baby. It shows we don’t need to sexualise breasts in the manner that is usually done with a supermodel such as Trunfio.
Worried about nursing in public in Singapore? Head to the final page of this article to find out why you shouldn’t be!
If you are anxious about breastfeeding in public here in Singapore, rest assured that there are no laws against it and you have the right to nurse your baby wherever you please.
It is not an offence to breastfeed in public in Singapore, if the mother is decently clad and does not expose more of her breast than is necessary to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is a beautiful act of tenderness and nurturance.
The discomfort that many experience when they see a mother breastfeeding stems from cultural sensitivity and conflict between the breast being perceived as a sexual object and a means of nourishing a young child.
Many mothers choose to breastfeed in privacy, in nursing rooms or at home. Some do so in public, but very discreetly. Some may not breastfeed openly because they do not want their infant feeding choice to cause discomfort for others. Nevertheless, it is an individual mother’s choice.
General practitioner Mythili Pandi, who is the current President of the BMSG, says, “Breastfeeding is the normal way of feeding an infant―it is the source of nutrition, water, security, and comfort all in one! If an adult can have his meal on the go, why not a child?”
If you are a nursing mum, you may find a shawl or nursing cover handy when you need to feed in public and you would like to do it discreetly.
However, if your baby hates being covered while breastfeeding (like both of mine did when they were nursing!), keep in mind that once latched on, your baby’s head covers most of your breast and an onlooker really can’t see anything.
It will help to wear stretchy or button-down tops so your little one can easily latch on. And of course, you always have the option of going to a nursing room, which most Singapore shopping centres have.
Dear readers, if you, too, feel that it’s about time we started normalising breastfeeding again, support the cause by using the hashtags #normalizebreastfeeding and
Need breastfeeding help or support? Don’t fret!
theAsianparent has a Singapore Breastfeeding Mums Support Group that you can join for mum-to-mum advice.