CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Breastfeeding is not a shameful thing

HONG KONG (SE): In August 2016, a taxi driver wrote on his Facebook page that a woman had asked him to drive around for about 30 minutes and drop her off at the same spot where he had picked her up.

The woman told the driver that she had to go somewhere to breastfeed her child as there was no space in her office to do so. 

Another taxi driver secretly videoed a passenger breastfeeding in the back seat, uploading the video on to the Internet. While the first incident led to a debate, the second led to condemnation.

Either way, people agreed that public breastfeeding is a concern for women in Hong Kong.

For a long time, Hong Kong has suffered a lack of adequate nursing rooms and there is no legislation covering the matter.

The Hong Kong Women Development Social Policy Research Committee released a survey on March 5 revealing that among 431 respondents, 75 per cent said there are insufficient public nursing rooms in the city and nearly 80 per cent thought that there was not enough public information about breastfeeding.

Ruby Lau, a Catholic doctor who works at a maternal health centre, listed off some common problems. She said that many of her patients speak of attracting disapproving glares when they breastfeed in public, even when done discretely.

In addition, the availability of nursing rooms in many shopping malls is inadequate and some are only big enough for one mother to use at a time, so the wait can be up to 45 minutes, but the baby cannot wait that long.

Nursing mothers often complain that the disapproving glares can also be common when attending Church.

Connie Chan Lai-sheung, the vice president of Hong Kong Catholic Breastfeeding Association, said one mother sought help from her organisation, because she was driven away when she breastfed during Mass.

“A parish worker brought her to a function room, but a group came in and said they had booked the room. The mother was so frustrated she cried as she was driven away again,” Chan said.

“We approached the parish priest, but he said helplessly that people would complain if mothers exposed their breasts. But the fact was that this mother was using a covering napkin. Some married deacons understand and help make arrangements, but some mothers would rather stay home to breastfeed babies instead of attending Mass,” Chan explained.

To date, the association has only been able to persuade three parishes to set up nursing rooms, a number that is far too low in a diocese with 87 parish churches or Mass centres.

An image of the Holy Mother breastfeeding Jesus as a baby put out by the Hong Kong Catholic Breastfeeding Association is popular among nursing mothers.

One mother told the association, “Looking at the picture, I feel relaxed when breastfeeding. It shows the power of faith.”

Rose Cheung, a former journalist, said that she developed postnatal depression after giving birth to her first child about 15 years ago when her family did not support the need to breastfeed her baby.

When she returned to work after maternity leave, she came up against another problem—she could only collect milk in public toilets, which she figured was unhygienic.

In the end, Cheung changed her job, finding a position that allowed her to go home at lunchtime to breastfeed her baby.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about breastfeeding and long working hours cause great stress to mothers,” Cheung said.

In conjunction with the Diocesan Commission for Marriage and Family, the Hong Kong Catholic Breastfeeding Association printed an educational leaflet, citing biblical grounds in support of breastfeeding.

“Breastfeeding isn’t easy. Mothers need to learn the spirit of sacrifice like Jesus, since it is our duty. Breast milk is a special gift from God to help build a bond between the mother and the child,” Chan explained.

The association also plans to lobby the government to ban advertising for milk formula, especially for babies under three. However, some other organisations have limited their lobbying to stopping medically unsupported claims being made in the advertising.

“More than 90 per cent of Australian mothers breastfeed. Milk formula milk is only prescribed when the mother is diagnosed with a serious illness. But there is a totally different perception about formula milk in Asia,” Chan, who gave birth to her daughter in Australia, pointed out.

“There are already regulations in neighbouring Taiwan requiring that a certain number of public nursing rooms be made available, but none in Hong Kong,” she added.

Denying that it has been slow to act, the Department of Health said they have sent letters to more than 470 private organisations and enterprises encouraging them to make and implement a policy on breastfeeding.

In February, the Food and Health Bureau announced that the government will issue a code of practice for the marketing of milk formula to infants under three. However, it will be voluntary and without penalty for default.

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