Breastfeeding in Singapore

Yesterday began International Breastfeeding Week.

If you found this post just to get info on if it’s legal, read the statement below, and go here for a list of nursing rooms around Singapore.  If you are looking for support, there is a chapter of La Leche League, The Breastfeeding Support Group, and in the Tanglin Mall next to the Mango Tango Bookstore, there is a breastfeeding support company, which does classes and such.

According to Singapore Police, “it is not an offence to breastfeed in public, if the woman is decently clad and she does not expose her breast more than what is necessary to breastfeed her child.” —The Breastfeeding Support Group (bottom of linked page)

As it’s International Breastfeeding Week, I was curious as to the legal status of breastfeeding in Singapore and what protections, if any, were in place, should a nursing mom be harassed.  I hadn’t bothered to research it until now as with Elanor there were many reasons why I pumped rather than breastfeed and eventually transitioned her to formula (if you want to know the story, I can point you to some entries…just leave a comment).  While I had seen many “nursing rooms” on my adventures throughout Singapore, I have tried to keep an eye out and haven’t really spotted any moms actually doing it.  I think that there are many reasons why.

  • Modesty Norms–Singapore, like most Asian countries, have fairly strict social norms when it comes to sexual/body behaviors.  While you will see girls dressed like they’re headed off to work Four Floors most evenings, and especially on weekends, you don’t see them making out with their boyfriends in public.  Physical behaviors just aren’t done here.  Nipples aren’t shown…and not just actual nipples…when the February Issue of Time Out Singapore was daring enough to show you stick figures doing the 12 sexual positions of the Chinese Zodiac (way to marry Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year) there were censor bars over the points of contact and the woman’s chest…the stick figure woman’s chest.  So I can see how there would be a lot of social disapproval of a woman nursing publicly (as opposed to in a nursing room).
  • Sexual Connotations–As in the US, there does not seem to be a separation of the sexualization of breasts and the functionality of breasts, and thus some people do misunderstand what breastfeeding is and why do it.
  • Lack of places to do it-The malls here don’t have lots of places to sit down (or many lack them, some have them) so other than the nursing rooms, you’d be sitting on the floor of a mall.  Obviously an experienced breastfeeder can have her infant in the sling and just go about her business, but for those who need to see the latch or who enjoy sitting during a feed, this could pose an issue.
  • No real protections–the police statement is fairly week, and the Breastfeeding Support Group made a point of telling me the following when I asked what legal recourse I had if I were asked to leave an establishment for breastfeeding…
  • We do wish to highlight that retailers are private business enterprises and
    therefore they are not technically covered within this legal framework of
    what constitutes “public”. Generally breastfeeding in “public”, as in most
    restaurants and malls are non-events. It is usually the reaction of some
    patron or member of the public that causes a “problem”. And the reactions of
    the service staff thereafter. Mostly, there has been very little interest in
    moms breastfeeding in public, it’s normal. We do of cos advise discreet
    nursing with cover-ups so as not to draw attention to ourselves.

In the end it’s a very different culture and value system.

In the US, breastfeeding laws vary state to state (for a state to state breakdown, go here).  In my home state, if I were harassed while breastfeeding (and this includes being asked to cover up, to stop, or do it elsewhere) not only is it against the law, but I can legally sue them for $500. It was an actual news item when a woman near my old hometown was asked not to breastfeed at the YMCA gym.  Most women consider it fully within their rights to feed their child wherever and whenever the child needs it.

Not having had a successful breastfeeding relationship, I don’t know which I will like better (the rooms or the right to bf on demand without fear of anyone harassing me).  I do know I loathe modesty covers (and generally find they draw more attention to the bfing pair, not less).  But it won’t be an issue for me for at least a year and a half or so (I don’t plan on getting pregnant until next summer).

If anyone has experiences about bfing in Singapore that they’d like to share below, please do.

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5 Responses to Breastfeeding in Singapore

  1. Paula says:

    (Below I will use the word “you” in the collective tense and is not directed at Crystal or anyone in particular who may be reading this, unless of course YOU are one that the “you” applies to)

    I breastfed where and when I wanted both in the US and Malaysia, and Singapore. Only once, while in the US, did anyone say anything or even look at me funny. It could be because, people are getting better at minding their own business, or they knew their own personal safety was at risk if they attempted to confront me about it. I say if you can bottle feed in public, then I should be allowed to feed my child the way nature intended in public. If you have a problem with it … you have the same choices you offer me – put a blanket over YOUR head while you eat, go eat in the bathroom, or only eat at home. If girls can walk around in bikinis, with their asses hangin outta their britches, boobs falling out of their shirts, or clothes so tight I can count their ribs and ass cheeks, then they damn well better keep their mouths shut while I nurse my child. On a less hostile note, I have found that so long as you arent showing a lot of skin, no one cares, even if they do stare a little longer at you than normal.
    And yes, for the record, I have my own personal designer soap box I carry around just in case 🙂

  2. Paula says:

    Oh, and I was one that would just plop down on the floor against a wall on the side of the mall 🙂

  3. Dawn Perlner says:

    I agree with you about the covers – they shouldn’t be necessary. I never got one. However, there were times when I wondered whether it would have eased breast feeding F in public since she tended to get distracted by what was going on around her, and it at least would have taken away the distraction – if being covered up didn’t upset her too much (which it might have; as I said, I never tried, so I don’t know for sure).

    As for what happened at the YMCA – reading the article, I suspect what *really* happened is that the worker at the childcare corner was pissed that the mother left them with not one, not two, but THREE kids, one of which was an infant. Since it wasn’t technically against the rules to leave three kids, the worker couldn’t yell at her for that, but technically “no food” ought to apply to a breast-feeding (or bottle-feeding!) mother, so the worker *could* yell at her for feeding the baby, not realizing that the law protected her (why, I’m not exactly sure). But…she was done with her workout…she could easily have waited to feed the baby until a few minutes later when she’d left the room…so, again she was exploiting the childcare facility to continue watching her other two kids while she fed the infant, and the only reason she got away with it is because she was breastfeeding and the law protects breastfeeding mothers. If she’d attempted to bottle-feed the baby in the room, I’m sure she also would have been yelled at, and the YMCA would have gotten away with kicking her out.

    And the argument that breast-feeding isn’t messy…well, didn’t apply to me at least. Especially when F was a few months old, I used to squirt all over the place while attempting to breast feed her. She’d pull away, and suddenly there was a fountain (I’m talking a stream shooting several feet in some random direction). I’d actually assess that breast-feeding was messier than bottle-feeding, at least at that age.

    • Crystal says:

      Personally, I’ve really liked some of the nursing rooms, and I kind of like the idea of a quiet, clean (not in a bathroom) place to just go be with the baby I’m nursing (many even have fans to cool/move the air around. Others are “not in a million years.”

      With the Y, I’m mostly irritated about the story because it seemed like a non issue–she did something she was allowed, stood up for herself, and the situation was resolved and the Y is giving out more training to employees on the law. But it also seemed like it became a story with the attitude of HAHA WE WIN, which I found irritating. However, I’d love some more protections for when I try it here. I felt pretty confident (before I had E and all the shit went down with regards to our breastfeeding relationship) in MA about standing up for myself. Here, I’m going to need a thicker skin and some deep breaths….luckily I have plenty of time. #2 isn’t on the table until next year anyway.

      You make an excellent point that breastfeeding can be discreet and it can be not messy…but it isn’t the case for every woman. God knows the few times it worked, I needed 17 pillows, nipple shields, a bottle with expressed milk to tempt her, and two sets of hands (the joys of trying to convince a 3 month old to breastfeed when she wants the easier bottle). Or, when she was a newborn, I still needed a mybrestfriend pillow.

      And I actually saw my first bfing mom at the waterpark in the zoo yesterday. I wanted to give her a high 5, but that would have been weird so I gave her the “I’m a mom, you’re a mom” smile and kept walking with E.

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