While breastfeeding is beneficial for nursing infants, doing it in public still gets a bad rep in society. “Why do you still cringe when a woman is breastfeeding?” a Cape Town mother asks.
Zintle Khobeni (30) from Edgemead in Cape Town recalls how she was publicly ridiculed for breastfeeding her baby. “I can feel and tell when some weird people are uncomfortable with it. I really don’t care about their feelings. I’m more concerned about feeding my baby,” she says.
In a sex-obsessed society she implores mothers to focus on the health benefits of breastfeeding and shut out the noise from the shamers.
Shamers are everywhere
Khobeni is the founder and chairwoman of the Great People of South Africa Organisation. She tells Health For Mzansi that she does not care about the noise from the courts of public opinion.
She also says that it is the very women who are supposed to have your back who will shame for feeding your baby in public.
Older generations understand the benefits of breastfeeding and will often encourage her. But the youth? Not so much. She recalls an incident where she was publicly shamed by a woman.
“She asked me, ‘Don’t you want to cover up at least?’,” to which she replied, “’Don’t you want to go away, at least, so I can feed my child in peace?’”
Khobeni believes that breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed her baby. “It provides natural nutrients that the baby needs to be able to grow efficiently and breastfeeding also helps with brain development,” she says.
‘No, I am not struggling’
Phiwokazi Bam (33) from Theunissen in the Free State, says that she too has been regularly shamed for breastfeeding in public.
Often the public assumes that she cannot afford formula for her baby.
She tells Health For Mzansi, “Some people say I’ll be thin if I continue breastfeeding. They even claim that breastmilk is just water, implying that my babies will not be adequately fed.”
Bam says breastmilk is good for her babies. As a mother of four, this is not her first rodeo. She had her first baby in school and could not breastfeed him. “He had a lot of sickness, such as diarrhoea, ear infection and constipation,” she says.
She has been breastfeeding since baby number two, and she says none of her other children has ever experienced such regular sickness.
Breastfeeding in public is a human right
Public breastfeeding is a human right, says Dr Chantell Witten, spokesperson for the Association of Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA).
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that an infant be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives. “The mother-baby-friendly programme in South Africa discourages bottle-feeding and the use of dummies,” Witten explains.
“This explains the change in the composition of breastmilk when the infant has a fever or is sick. Breastmilk changes in immunoglobulins and fat content. This can only happen if the baby is fed from the breast,” says Witten.
Are there laws against public breastfeeding?
According to Witten, there has not been a test case against a mother breastfeeding in public, though municipal by-laws on public indecency can be applied.
“Given that South Africa has positioned itself as a ‘breastfeeding country, ADSA actively encourages mothers to breastfeed as they wish, anytime and anywhere. A campaign that has gained momentum since 2017,” she says.
“We encourage mothers to exercise their right and their children’s right to feed. We do not encourage feeding bottles, but if the need arises because mothers are separated from their infants, we encourage cup-feeding, spoon-feeding, and syringe feeding,” says Witten.