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Why is public breastfeeding still a social taboo?

What is it about breastfeeding in public in Singapore? A Singaporean mother was told off for doing so while dining at a restaurant here recently. Is it wrong to breastfeed in public, and what do other mums think? We explore the issue.

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Chided for breastfeeding in public
A Singaporean mother was berated by an employee of COCA Restaurant for breastfeeding her baby in the eatery she and her family were dining at on July 27.

After being informed breastfeeding in public is against the law in Singapore, the employee proceeded to cover the infant with a “dirty jacket” and went on to say several customers had been photographing the mother, Yu, while she’d been breastfeeding — something likely said out of spite, according to Yu, since no one had been taking photos of her. Other restaurant-goers had, in fact, not made an issue of her breastfeeding in public.

The incident has elicited reactions ranging from shock to anger from mothers everywhere. Did the employee overreact, and how appropriate is breastfeeding in public?

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A case of social disapproval
theAsianparent.com reported a similar occurrence when, in 2010, a woman was stopped from breastfeeding in public while visiting the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan. She was told doing so would be “unsightly”. Fortunately, the incident was brought to public attention and the museum was later fined, in accordance with a Taiwan national law that allows breastfeeding in public places.

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What the Singapore law says
So is breastfeeding in public legal? The debate over the incident received the attention of Anita Daubaras, Vice-President of the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group Singapore, and she has good news for Singaporean mothers who wish to do so.

“[Breastfeeding in public] in Singapore is not an offense, if the mother is decently clad and does not expose more of her breast than is necessary to breastfeed,” she told STOMP in an email reply.

“Asking a mother to limit breastfeeding ignores her baby’s needs and potentially influences her breastfeeding success. We need to respect that every mother and baby finds their own style of discreet breastfeeding, be this through nursing in a corner, under a nursing shawl or with the mother wearing a loose t-shirt.”

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What Singaporean mums think
When asked, Singaporean mothers who do breastfeeding in public agreed there is “absolutely nothing wrong with breastfeeding [wherever you want]”, as reader Irene Chan-Whitlam put it. Other mums, like Stephanie Goh and Tiffany Yip, offered an easy solution that most mums already use: cover up so others won’t feel uneasy, and wear looser shirts or nursing covers.

It’s not so difficult
The Asian culture is generally more conservative, and not everyone is accepting or open to the idea of mothers breastfeeding in public. Many Singaporean women feel more comfortable feeding their babies in private nursing rooms when out rather than in public areas.

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If you feel uncomfortable with breastfeeding in public but would like to do so, start with nursing your little one at home, in front of family members. Be firm about feeding your baby and explain breastfeeding is natural, if anyone has reservations about it. With time, you will grow used to nursing your baby in front of others and will soon be breastfeeding in public with ease.

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