KATHMANDU, August 19: Despite knowing how important mother's milk is for an infant, nursing mothers often are obliged to leave their newborns starving just to avoid the embarrassment of breastfeeding them in public.
Though mothers are taught and told to breastfeed their babies to keep them healthy, in reality they are not just criticized but also victimized for doing so in public.
Radhika Kumal, a mother of two, recalls a humiliating experience she had to go through just for being a good mother. Once she was traveling in a public vehicle with her newly born son. The bus was jam-packed and it was very hot inside.
Her clothes were soaked in sweat. It had been more than an hour since she last fed her baby who started crying right from the moment she entered the bus. After struggling for some time, the new mother was finally offered a seat. After being seated, she immediately started breastfeeding her baby.
The baby stopped crying but Kumal heard some insulting remarks from the people behind. Those remarks made her feel as if she had committed a crime. "I heard them saying that being a woman I should not be so shameless and indecent. Then I looked at my front and saw some woman giving me a side-eye and making faces in disapproval, as if I was doing something disgusting," Kumal shared her bitter experience.
According to her, the most disappointing part of it all was that even some women blamed her for insulting womanhood. "At that time, they couldn't see a mother feeding her hungry baby; they saw an indecent woman stripping her clothes in public just to get attention," she added. Though Kumal has a bachelor's degree in Arts, she was lectured by some women about civilization and was told that no educated person would do that in public. "The awkward faces and mean comments made me feel very bad," she expressed.
There are many working women who don't breastfeed their babies for long hours due to the fear of being embarrassed in public.
As a result, their babies cannot have breast milk even for the recommended six months which ultimately can lead to bad health. Asmita Upadhyaya, who works as a counselor at a consultancy firm, said, "I had to get back to work one month after giving birth to my son.
So, I could not breastfeed my child properly even for six months." Most mothers lament that there are no proper breastfeeding corners in Nepal due to which mothers have to wander about in order to find a place to nurse their babies.
There are some mothers too who don't breastfeed their babies due to the fear of losing their figure. According to Dr Sher Bahdur Pun, coordinator of Clinical Research Unit at Shukra Raj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Teku, Kathmandu, there is no scientific proof that breastfeeding ruins the shape of a woman's body.
"No mother should deprive her child from the necessary nutrients required for their brain and body development due to their selfishness," Pun said.
Bonita Sharma, a nutrition expert and Founder of Sochai-Youth for Nutrition, states, "It is a legal right of women to breastfeed their babies and no one can stop them from nursing their babies irrespective of where she is." According to Sharma, breastfeeding is very important for the mental and physical development of a child and no other food or liquid can substitute the mother's milk.
Sharma decided to fight for this cause when she saw her elder sister struggling to breastfeed her baby in a toilet of an airport a few years back.
Through her organization, Sharma has been conducting awareness programs and providing counseling to women to encourage them for breastfeeding.
Recently, they celebrated the World Breastfeeding Week by organizing a photo competition about public breastfeeding. "For normalizing public breastfeeding people should at fist stop sexualizing women's breast," she said, adding that these days many women prefer bottle-feeding their babies just because they don't want to provoke angry responses