What are we teaching our youth when they feel confident enough to approach a breastfeeding mother, call her 'gross' and tell her to feed her children in the toilet?
Yvonne is a Singaporean mum of gorgeous 20 month old twin girls who she is continuing to breastfeed.
Recently, she was having breakfast at Toast Box at MBS and her little girls needed their morning milk. So like any breastfeeding mum would do, she proceeded to nurse them.
While the little girls were feeding, three young women — probably in their late teens to early 20s — who were sitting near Yvonne started to point at her and whisper.
Then, Yvonne tells us, one of them walked up to her and said, “Can you stop it? It’s very gross. What you are doing makes me feel like throwing up!”
When Yvonne suggested the girl change her seat, she replied, “It’s not just me. The whole restaurant can see you and everyone is grossed out. Can’t you go to the toilet?”
In response, Yvonne told the young woman that she could have her meal in the toilet if she didn’t want to see her little girls breastfeeding, to which the girl complained to a staff member, and told him to chase Yvonne and her babies away.
The staff member just looked at Yvonne, nodded at her and walked away. By this time, Yvonne’s husband had returned with her meal and her little girls had stopped nursing.
But throughout their time there, Yvonne says the three young women would not stop talking about how “gross” and “revolting” they thought she was.
What are we teaching the next generation about breastfeeding?
First, it needs to be made very clear that breastfeeding in public in Singapore is not a public offence. Breastfeeding mothers have the right to nurse their babies when and where they need to.
Also, not all nursing mums are comfortable using nursing rooms, and not all babies like being underneath a blanket or nursing cover, while feeding.
And let’s also keep in mind that Yvonne needed to breastfeed not one, but two hungry little ones — no mean feat for sure.
Some day, perhaps those three young women will become mums, and find themselves in a situation where they need to nurse a hungry child in public.
Then, perhaps, they may have a flashback to the day they shamed a mother who was minding her own business while quietly breastfeeding her babies.
But until that day comes, the biggest questions arising from this incident that we need to ask ourselves are, “what are we teaching children about the biological function of women’s bodies?”, and “why is breastfeeding in public still so stigmatised?”
After all, the girls were in their late teens to early 20s. So one would imagine they would have had some formal education about aspects of the female body’s biological function such as pregnancy and childbirth — and connected to this, the role of female breasts in child-rearing.
Should we blame their school for perhaps not emphasising the critical role breasts play in nurturing babies?
Should we blame their parents, who maybe, one day, reacted in the same way when they saw a mother nursing in public, in front of their daughters? Should we also blame them for not teaching their daughters manners?
Or should we blame the media and the pornography industry for their huge role in the sexualisation of breasts, and along with it, breastfeeding?
Perhaps we should blame them all.
Behind all the discouragement and negative vibes breastfeeding mothers still seem to be getting when they nurse in public, governments, researchers, and health institutes around the world continue to study and promote the stellar benefits of breastfeeding for both mums and their little ones.
With all this authoritative backing behind why breastfeeding is so important, surely nursing in public shouldn’t be the issue that it is today, for some?
But it is. Isn’t it time for change?
Shaming happens everywhere
Yvonne is not the only breastfeeding mum who has been publicly shamed in recent times. It happens, very frequently, in other countries too.
We read about Ashley Kaidel, the young mum who was publicly shamed by an older woman for nursing her baby in public.
The most recent breastfeeding shaming incident overseas involved an Australian mum, who was asked to leave the food court of a shopping mall for breastfeeding her baby there.
Along with Yvonne’s story, these other incidents are just two among thousands of instances where mums have been shamed for feeding their babies in public.
And while it is saddening and disheartening to read about such incidents, at the same time, a spark of hope glimmers in the support that people have started to show to the mums involved.
Support and awareness are there, but is it enough?
Yvonne tells us she got plenty of support and messages of encouragement from her friends when she told them about her experience.
And let’s not forget the Toast Box staff member who silently supported Yvonne with a nod and by not acknowledging the girls’ complaint.
When Ashley Kaidel was given disapproving looks by an older woman for nursing her baby in a cafe, she glared the woman down. And after she made the incident public on social media, it went viral, and messages of support poured in for her, too.
The same goes for the Australian mum, who had dozens of other breastfeeding mums rally to her support in a mass latch-on in the same food court that she was asked to leave.
So awareness is being created to de-stigmatise and normalise breastfeeding in public, and support is present for mums nursing in public.
But it’s still not enough, which is why those three young women felt entitled and confident enough to shame a breastfeeding mother in public, calling her ‘gross’ and ‘disgusting’ — to her face — and continuing with their insults right through their stay at the restaurant.
As parents, we have a huge role in bringing up our children to be responsible, caring citizens some day.
So teach your sons and daughters about respect for others and good manners.
Don’t be shy to talk to them about the biological function of the human body. Talk to them about the important role of breasts in providing nutrition to babies, and when they are old enough, make them aware of how wrong it is to sexualise the human body — male or female.
If you have a toddler or pre-schooler, and are nursing an newborn, let them see you breastfeeding, and answer their curious questions truthfully.
The normalisation of breastfeeding begins with you.
And Yvonne has a message for those who may not understand why sometimes, a mother’s got to do what a mother’s got to do — like nursing in public:
“Breastfeeding is an act of nature, but it is not easy. There are many naysayers but a mother is only trying her best. Breastfeeding mums who nurse in public are not exhibitionists, but are just mothers trying to feed their kids and/or comfort them.
“People tsk and stare when little babies/toddlers scream or make a din, but they need to understand that at this age the kids do not have a switch that can be turned off at a whim. The mother is only doing what she knows will make it easier and more comfortable for the child.”
*theAsianparent obtained Yvonne’s permission to share both her story and the beautiful photograph of her tandem nursing her twins.
Here’s what Yvonne says about the image: “So here’s me tandem nursing my twins in the skypark, just because.”
More strength to you, Yvonne!
How would you have reacted if you were shamed for nursing your baby in public? What are your thoughts on how we can better educate our youth on topics like breastfeeding? Let us know — leave a comment below.