Breastfeeding In Public: Rethink & Reclaim!
We as a couple were supported, guided and empowered by many peers during our breastfeeding years. The Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project (PBAP) on Facebook inspired us tremendously. Coincidentally, our photo-entry made it to the finals and won this year. We will be the first photography company from India to be represented on their forum of worldwide photographers. This motivated us to create and continue with our #BreastfeedingIndia Photostories initiative.
Even though breastfeeding is an evolutionary act, it can be challenging! A mother overcomes many hurdles – big and small, to establish this bond with her child. We came across heartening stories, of women who wanted to breastfeed, but couldn’t, due to lack of support and information. Some went through surgery and it affected their milk supply, some pursued hard to re-lactate, some had to stop early as their family, friends, medical professionals and media made them feel that they aren’t making enough milk or their baby is too old to nurse. The underlying message across stories is that, we as a society, rob women of confidence, shroud her with misguided opinions, misinformation and replace this lack of support vacuum with a super-sized pack of guilt. We can’t truly get into the spirit of celebration, if our mothers continue to get shamed and misinformed.
Reclaim Public Spaces
Even though we plan to listen, document, create and celebrate various perspectives of feeding – of nourishing and nurturing our babies. We chose breastfeeding in public places to be our first theme because Deepak, and I believe that breastfeeding in public is the only way to normalize breastfeeding. In fact, we wanted to eliminate this whole notion of breastfeeding in public, because frankly speaking, there is no difference between breastfeeding indoor or outdoor, public or private – it is simply breastfeeding – anytime, anyplace! Sometimes, we mothers, sabotage our own selves, when we allow our inhibitions to get the best of us. Through these stories we hope to inspire mothers, to reclaim the public spaces instead of covering up or much worse, hiding in restrooms to feed their babies.
Relatable Moms Speak
Here are 7 mothers whom we photographed during the World Breastfeeding Week 2018. While they shared many stories and anecdotes with us during the sessions, here are heartfelt words from them that mothers all over India can relate to.
Shubhreet - I have realized people pass judgments either way - feeding or not feeding, supplementing or not, too short a period or too long. Essentially that attitude towards breastfeeding is what needs to change. This is a journey between mothers and their kids and fathers too. Judgments of any kind on this will just hamper a Mother’s journey. Be it direct or polite, those opinions should not be repeatedly told to a mother and she should be freely allowed to make the best choice she can. We need to as a society empower mothers with information and freedom to choose.
Vaishali - The first time I faced flak for NIP (nursing in public) was on my daughter’s first flight. The amount of glares, judgment and advice I got from random people before getting out would make someone think I had committed a felony! Breastfeeding has been about her nutrition and immunity primarily but it has also saved me. On extremely difficult days breastfeeding has helped me soothe her and thus retain my own sanity. It has helped me heal when I needed it the most. It has helped me calm an angry toddler on solo parenting days. Through my photo story I would like to bring to that nursing in public isn’t a taboo. Breasts have a functional task first!
Vaishnavi - Breastfeeding is a relationship worth nurturing. We really need to work on dispelling myths around breastfeeding and help more and more mothers initiate and continue breastfeeding into toddlerhood. For this, family and society's support is very important, and hence the need to normalize breastfeeding and feeding in public.
Khyati - Breastfeeding is not easy, but it's extremely important. For me it has been the hardest thing to do as a new mother, I ended up with blisters and lumps and just this week I fought mastitis again, but it also is my magic wand. It puts my baby to sleep, helps him keep calm, gives us a moment of peace when we want it and above all it gives him all the nourishment necessary for him to grow. I have never felt uncomfortable while nursing in public, as I am usually too busy looking into my baby’s eyes. But I must admit, feeding in public, amongst people you know can be even more intimidating, if they aren’t well informed. They make you more conscious. The biggest issue with breastfeeding in India is that people discourage you more than encouraging you to do it. It takes immense amount of fire in the mother to continue feeding. I found peer groups and initiatives like photo stories of nursing mothers is an interesting way of telling fellow mom's the importance of breastfeeding your baby.
Deepa - India used to be a breastfeeding friendly nation. Our scriptures symbolize a mother’s breast as pitcher full of nectar. Somewhere along the lines of modernisation and struggling with our own social and cultural hindrances, breastfeeding got surrounded by misinformation and moral policing. I don’t have to go out of the way to breastfeed in public to prove a point, but i have come to realise that just like Mumbai’s monsoons, a baby’s cry to be fed is unpredictable. Would you rather hide or let your baby cry. I prefer to take a deep breath, look into my baby’s eyes and let the the downpour drown out any shameful comments or stares, the monsoon mayhem turns the world into a blur for me, i feel grounded and calm. I am certain that we India mothers can regain our lost confidence back in breastfeeding, by prioritising our babies above everything else.
Nilima - I couldn’t breastfeed my first born because of lack of knowledge, doctors pushing me towards formula because of low milk supply and not having proper lactation consultation and guidance. On top of this, I was working, so formula feeding became my savior and an easy way for my family to manage and feed my baby. However, the second time around, I prepped myself with information, had support from fellow mommy friends and my baby latched on like a pro! I feel there is nothing like breastfeeding in public or in private – it is breastfeeding! I always dress and carry stuff that I may need to nurse on the go. When your baby is hungry, you can’t do much else, feed your baby – wherever, whenever!
Lakshmi - I strongly believe that extended breastfeeding isn’t a crime. It is completely natural. Our culture is more tolerant about it, however with western influence, people have started to frown upon it. In my breastfeeding journey, I realized that for my child it is a source of reassurance and emotional support. It doesn’t make the child clingy as it is commonly perceived. Instead of labeling it as extended breastfeeding, the correct terminology for feeding your child beyond the first year is and should be full-term breastfeeding.
These stories are being created to give our society more exposure and a sense of community to our mothers. We hope, over time, society will be more accepting of feeding a baby – anytime and anyplace. Normalizing breastfeeding in all its diversity and inclusivity is the end goal! We made a behind the scenes video memorabilia to enjoy the starting of this beautiful journey of #BreastfeedingIndia Photostories.
‘Out of Focus Pictures’ is now ‘Storiously’. The photographer in spite the name change and rebranding maintains the Copyright.
Disclaimer: All photographs in this article are original and belong to the author. Reproducing them in any form without the permission of the author will not be allowed.