March 28th, 2016

How do we make Singapore more inclusive for nursing mothers?

A guest blog post by Tammy LimScreen Shot 2016-03-28 at 3.00.06 pm

On 20 March 2016, the AWARE x Breast-Feeding Friends Singapore (BFFsg) Roundtable took place at the AWARE Centre.  Speakers and members of the public came together to discuss how to make Singapore more inclusive for nursing mothers on an individual, corporate and societal level.

Izzah Lina, our first speaker, was a full-time mother who experienced verbal assault while breastfeeding on public transport.  Another female passenger sat beside her, insulting her and calling her a “prostitute”. However, no one stood up for her. After sharing the incident on Facebook, she garnered support from friends and family, but also faced condemnation. Among other points, she highlighted the fact that children can have medical conditions that make breastfeeding all the more important, reminding us that we ought to think twice before judging a breastfeeding mother, who ultimately breastfeeds for the well-being of the child and not for anyone else.

BFFsg then talked about their research findings. BFFsg consists of final year undergraduates from NTU – Alyssa, Erin, Kiat Jiun and Oviyum – who are working to create a more supportive public space for breastfeeding mothers in Singapore.  60% of their survey respondents stated that they were comfortable with open breastfeeding, while 80% of them were comfortable with “discreet” breastfeeding. Interestingly, however, most respondents felt that others in Singapore would not be comfortable with either. Most respondents also said that they “never” or “rarely” saw breastfeeding in public spaces.

Despite the common rhetoric that Singapore is not ready for public breastfeeding, BFFsg has secured the agreement of smaller home-grown cafes and restaurants to pledge their support for breastfeeding mothers, and they have linked such establishments on their webpage for customers.

Our third speaker, Tasneem Noor, was the director of the popular Fika Swedish Café & Bistro restaurants, and a mother.  She talked about how Fika Café sought to welcome breastfeeding mothers, including through dedicating well-equipped nursing rooms for breastfeeding mothers in their establishments. One audience member raised the concern that highlighting the availability of private rooms could imply that only “discreet” breastfeeding is appropriate, but others also noted that different mothers have different preferences and some may prefer greater privacy.

Next, Billie Anne Lyou from Project Liquid Gold by NTUC U Family spoke about support for new mothers who are returning to work. A poll they conducted discovered that most offices do not have nursing rooms and that half of breastfeeding moms said they stopped breastfeeding after returning to work, as they did not feel supported by their colleagues and superiors at work. Project Liquid Gold has proposed ways offices can support breastfeeding women, such as providing space and privacy for breastfeeding mothers, flexible breaks for pumping milk and a supportive work culture. The project also started the Workplace Breastfeeding Mentor Programme, allowing mentors to share past experiences of pumping at work and offer support. Billie also opined that mothers should initiate discussions with their bosses on this issue.

Lastly, we heard from Jen Pan, a photographer who shoots newborn, maternity and family photography in Singapore, and who showcased her photography series featuring breastfeeding mothers in public places. Her goal was to show that breastfeeding is a beautiful thing that should be celebrated and accepted in society. She also expressed the hope that mothers are able to retain and celebrate their individual identities.

Throughout the session, there was a lively discussion between the audience of mothers – some of whom were breastfeeding – and the speakers. It was heartening to see these mothers sharing their very own experiences with public breastfeeding and also providing constructive feedback to one another on how to strengthen current efforts to normalise and promote public breastfeeding, reminiscent of a supportive culture that we hope to see in Singapore.

We are still a long way from creating acceptance towards public breastfeeding in Singapore, but we should continue to raise awareness on the needs of breastfeeding mothers who still face obstacles in giving what they consider to be the best care to their children.

Visit the BFFsg website to find out more about their campaign efforts and to get information on breastfeeding-friendly establishments.

About the author:  Tammy is a recent A level graduate and is currently an intern at AWARE. She occasionally writes about feminism and enjoys learning more about gender equality advocacy work, how to fight the patriarchy and being a better feminist. She constantly points at a new horizon that is bright and full of gender equality.

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