Since becoming a mother, I have travelled the length and breadth of India. We have breastfed everywhere – no bottles, no formula (except the first month- read more about that in our breastfeeding journey). I have taken my baby out to restaurants, religious places, resorts, public beaches, monasteries in Leh Ladakh – basically every where in India. Literally, we have travelled from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu with or without the dad. Mothers are conscious about breastfeeding in public in India, yes, Indian moms. I won’t blame them. India does have a reputation of letchers and judgy grandmoms. My travels around India put me in a great position to answer this question – Is India breastfeeding friendly ?
Yes and No. Let me explain.
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Breastfeeding in an Indian Home
Education starts at home. Although, India has a great history of breastfeeding and women breastfeeding in public at homes whilst going about their household chores, what needs to be understood is that there has been a change in lifestyle since. In olden days, men used to away for a greater part of the day and there were areas earmarked in a household only for the womenfolk – kitchen and the adjoining verandah. Women could happily breastfeed in front of other women in a joint family (as was prevalent) and go about with their discussions and vegetable chopping. At any given time, there were other older and younger children and women to help out with child rearing, feeding the child or just keeping an eye on the child while the mother went about her cooking, shopping (round the corner) etc.
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In our great grandmom’s time
The women who worked in fields and bedouins carried infants and babies in a sling. This was a great way and the most natural method in fact to comfort the baby, protect the baby and go about your daily life in a peaceful manner. India has traditionally always been breastfeeding friendly but that started changing about two generations ago.
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This is not the scenario these days. The Indian population is largely breastfeeding friendly but only up to a certain time. Because the women are breastfeeding their babies in the privacy of their bedrooms, daily chores suffer. To go shopping, often women travel longer distances in traffic and it is not a short trip to the kirana shop as it used to be or is in smaller cities (online shopping can help). But the biggest of all hurdles is the readily available bottles and formula.
Readily Available Formula and Bottles
The variety of readily available bottles and formula in the market sub consciously convey to a mother and family that bottle feeding is ‘okay’ and that everyone else is doing it too ! It was hip for the last generation moms to bottle feed (not pumped out bm) as it gave them a sense of freedom and doctors seemed to think it was okay too (there was hardly any research in place about the effects of formula). So now that, that generation has become grandmoms, they seem to think formula is good for babies and even that one bottle makes the baby sleep through the night ( a myth, by the way).
Breastfeeding in Public / Nursing in Public (NIP)
You will get stares from men. Ignore. They don’t mean to stare. NIP is not so common in India. It should be. Like I said, women usually nurse in the privacy of their bedrooms. In public, they resort to a bathroom. Women, I implore you, NIP is not equal to taking a dump ! More so, it’s not hygienic. Would you eat in a bathroom?? Why make your baby do it? Just carry a nursing cover, dupatta, shawl, whatever you feel like and nurse away ! Nursing clothes help but a normal tee will do just fine. You can also learn the art of babywearing and feeding – I know women who were happily out shopping and walking while their babies were discreetly nursing in the ring sling or SSCs. It is liberating, believe me and without sacrifice. That ought to be a great feeling ! I nursed my 2 month old in a ring sling at Social in Bengaluru while sitting with 4 friends on one table, Yes, there were guys too and they didn’t realize.
I did have an experience where I encountered letching men and that too at Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga in Ujjain. I had stepped away from the crowd and my parents to feed my baby and I had no cover with me as it had gotten wet. There was no one when I was feeding the baby but just as she finished, I saw some boys walking around and they stopped to watch me button my kurti. I was infuriated and felt abused. Not one to ignore, I yelled at them and they were a little taken aback. They scattred muttering something about me having taken them wrong. But I knew why they were there and it was appalling especially because the incident occurred in a religious place.
Is India Breastfeeding Friendly? The Verdict
Mostly yes. No one will come upto you and make you feel guilty of feeding your baby in public, like many European countries. You will encounter staring men and letchers everywhere in India (as you can tell from the story above). Just be safe and don’t worry, continue to breastfeed your baby. One thing I’ve learned from this incident is that its better to be near your loved ones even if it is a crowded setting – you’re vulnerable when alone. An important skill to master in orde to make the world around you more breastfeeding friendly, is babywearing. It’s relatively new in India and you will get appreciative and curious looks from people when babywearing outside home but it helps in discreetly feeding your baby while walking on the street or going about your chores. Read Babywearing 101 to know more about wearing your baby.
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