Oct 2 , 2021
By Kidist Yidnekachew ( Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at email@example.com. )
Halfway into my walk the other day, I saw a lady with a long dress struggling to nurse her baby. She did not want to lift her skirt up, but her baby was crying louder every second. She had to do something, like distract the baby by giving him a pacifier. This did not work – neither did rocking him to sleep. Her last resort was to feed the baby. Unfortunately, her dress did not have any buttons or cuts at the front; she had to tear the front of her dress. People looked at her like she was crazy.
One might argue she should have worn something comfortable that would have allowed her to nurse. But sometimes, we throw on whatever we can find and go. As a mom, I know the feeling. I do not feel comfortable nursing my baby in public places unless I have no other choice. Usually, I take a bottle with me. But some babies prefer drinking directly from the mother.
Some mothers do it modestly by covering up when nursing in public, while others do not bother as much. The lady I encountered on my walk was probably one of the former. As she sat down feeding her baby, she had a scarf over her shoulders to cover herself and the baby’s face. This did not stop passersby from staring at her, although mothers' nursing is not a strange phenomenon in Ethiopia.
A few meters from her were two young women in their early 20s. The women were talking about how inappropriate it was to nurse one’s baby in public and they would never do it. They said they would rush back home or get a cab and do it there even if they had to. Obviously, neither are mothers: it is hard to see one’s child cry out of hunger. Babies are also not like adults. They cannot tolerate being hungry. When they are, they want to be fed immediately. Otherwise, they become irritable.
As I was listening to their conversation, my mind wandered to an article I read a week ago. This woman decided to breastfeed her newborn baby in a restaurant in Washington, United States, but the owner kicked her out and was even called an animal just because she was nursing. This action has made many mothers angry. One would think that in a country where it is common to see people walking around with only a swimming suit on, the mere act of a mother feeding her baby would go unnoticed. But one would be surprised by how people treat mothers who nurse in public; they regard them with disgust as if they are doing something out of this world.
Meanwhile, celebrities are going around saying ‘free the nipples,' in a social movement to allow women to be topless without their breasts being censored.
A woman wearing something that exposes her body and walking into a restaurant fazes no one. But a mother feeds her newborn and, suddenly, it is a crime.
I do not understand how society operates sometimes. We shame women for breastfeeding in public but encourage them to expose their body parts in revealing outfits. It is different in Ethiopia. We might not encourage showing too much skin and might not get goosebumps when seeing a woman breastfeed, probably because we grow up watching our mothers do it publicly, but we still stare. That makes nursing mothers very uncomfortable.
Breastfeeding is a natural act designed to fulfil a child’s basic needs and there should be nothing embarrassing about it. Mothers should be allowed to do it whenever and wherever without being bothered or violated by passersby. Women already get many comments on how to behave from society; let us not add nursing in public to the long list.
PUBLISHED ON Oct 02,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1118]
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