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.