Why not breastfeed in public - and take a ‘brelfie’ too?


In a social experiment in the West, one woman wore a low-cut blouse exposing her cleavage — and right next to hear on a bench was a breastfeeding woman who covered her breasts so passersby could hardly see anything.

What followed as people passed was surprising. A number of people confronted the breastfeeding mother and condemned her for doing so in public.

They said nothing to the woman whose cleavage was suggestively exposed.

Although Kenya has a different culture from the West, and a woman is unlikely to be told to stop breastfeeding in a restaurant, matatu or any other public place, women who breastfeed still face challenges when feeding their children in public,. This is because there is an underlying indecency associated with exposing one’s breasts, no matter how little is exposed no matter how good the reason for doing so.

While some women couldn’t care less what society thinks about breastfeeding in public, others who are very self-conscious and have gone to great lengths to “cover their nudity”. Some end up covering their breasts (and babies) with blankets when breastfeeding in public, while others have resorted to bottle feeding when out and about.

In an effort to normalise breastfeeding, some celebrities have started a trend that has been called the ‘brelfie’ [breastfeeding selfie].

Career women going about their business have taken brelfies and posted them on social media. One of the most popular brelfies is that of Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

She took a photo of herself breastfeeding as her glam team worked on her. Although some applauded the effort, others termed it unnecessary, adding that “it is too much to parade yourself in the name of promoting breastfeeding.”

Do mothers get too much flak when trying to have children and raise them as they go about their normal lives and build their careers?

The Star talked to three people about breastfeeding, and more so in public, and why women should not shy away from it.

Martha Kimkung is a mother of two, career woman and founder of the organisation Career Mothers For Exclusive Breastfeeding. The organisation advocating law that would allow new mothers to work half-day for three months after their maternity leave.

She says, “I encourage women to breastfeed in any place, and at any time. The act of breastfeeding is, at its very basic and natural meaning, feeding a baby, and that is how we should all look at it. Why should a mother be forced to bottle feed the baby when out and about when she has the baby’s natural food attached to her? A baby has as much right as everyone else to feed in public.”

Wanjiku Ngugi, a mother of two girls, says, “A baby should be breastfed as the need arises. Breast milk is a ready-to-drink beverage as opposed to bottle feeding in which you have to sterilise measuring and mixing equipment, which is a waste of time.”

She says women should stop feeling pressured to be discrete. “A baby wants to look at you while you feed her. This is bonding. Besides, when breastfeeding, latching is key and direct contact has to be maintained to avoid choking.”

On brelfies, Wanjiku says they are necessary. “This helps normalise breastfeeding. More women should post brelfies and soon breastfeeding in public will not be an issue.”

Ken Munyua, a psychologist and father, chimed in. He supports breastfeeding in public.“It is not indecent to breastfeed in public. People will react to different situations differently. Perverts will have perverted minds whether the breasts are out or not. Indecent exposure is a lame excuse to give for a mother not to breastfeed in public.”

On being discrete when breastfeeding, he says, “It depends. This is to protect both the baby and the mother against many factors other than just exposure. If there are many babies, there is no issue with not covering the baby.

“But if it’s, say, in a congregation with many adults, some babies tend to get shy when everyone’s attention moves to them. So, to allow the baby to breastfeed comfortably, I think there is no harm in covering up.”

So to breastfeed or not to breastfeed in public. The verdict is the former – mothers should not shy away from feeding their babies.