Beauty of breastfeeding takes flight on social media

31 July 2017 - 16:34 By Nivashni Nair

Ten years ago Mammusi Goërtz was told to cover up or go to the bathroom by a manager after an “elderly” man complained about her breastfeeding in a restaurant.

Today while thousands of South African mothers have posted the #treeoflife‚ the latest take on breastfeeding selfies‚ on social media‚ they still shy away from nursing their babies in public.

"Why? Many people‚ especially the older generations and often men‚ have a very sexualised idea of breasts in their heads‚ thus feel it should not be exposed in any manner. They don't stop to think that breasts were first and foremost created to feed a baby."

"You also don't hear them complaining when Rihanna appears in a dress showing her naked breasts to the world. A very skewed and misinformed view especially for 2017‚" Breastfeeding Support South Africa's Anrika Pienaar said.

Activists lobbying for breastfeeding rights in the country say that while the #treeoflife - a sticker pack offered on PicsArt editing app aimed at illustrating the beauty of breastfeeding - has gone viral‚ it has done little for promoting nursing in public.

"These pictures that moms post of themselves breastfeeding highlights the beauty of breastfeeding. I'm sure it also plays its part in removing the stigma associated with public breastfeeding. However it only plays a small part and is limited to social media. What we need though is real action and words by those who have the power to remove this stigma‚" Pienaar said.

In 2015 Normalise Public Breastfeeding SA Campaign submitted the Breastfeeding and Related Matters Bill‚ which would make it illegal to stop or interfere with a mother breastfeeding in public‚ to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

South African Civil Society for Women's‚ Adolescents' and Children's Health's Chantell Witten said while Motsoaledi supported the call for legislation to protect breastfeeding mothers in public spaces‚ the process "should be held by the Minister for Women's Affairs and the Department of Justice".

"To my knowledge there are no breastfeeding champions in those quarters. There has been very little movement since these headlines following a mom being shamed on a flight in 2015‚" she said. Unicef statistics show that in 2012 South Africa had the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rate‚ 8%‚ in the world. Latest statistics released in May‚ show that the breastfeeding rate up to five months has increased to 32%.

Unicef South Africa nutrition expert Alison Feely said negative attitudes to breastfeeding in public undermines the notion that breastfeeding is natural and necessary.

"Government is working to provide an enabling and conducive policy environment. But action is also required from many other role-players: mothers‚ fathers‚ grandparents‚ healthcare workers‚ employers‚ schools and media. Supporting and protecting breastfeeding is everyone’s business.

"In your individual capacity‚ think twice next time you see a mother struggling to feed her baby in a public space‚ or at home when your partner is trying to manage breastfeeding‚ work and household chores‚ or when your friend just needs an ear to listen to her struggles as she adjusts to life as a working‚ breastfeeding mom‚" she said.

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