The day was Tuesday, May 15, and the memo was simple: converge at the city centre and march to the restaurant where a mother was told to cover herself when breastfeeding her baby or go to the toilet.
Mothers marched to protest against discrimination for giving babies a basic need — food.
The restaurant owner, subdued, apologised for the incident and said he would take action against the staff involved.
A petition filed in the Senate in October 2016 by Grace Kerongo and Chrispinus Wekesa called for the establishment of breastfeeding centres in public spaces across the country. This will be most beneficial to women who work in the informal sector.
It called for all 47 county governments to establish breastfeeding and baby care centres in all major towns to help working women attend to their children.
When Kerongo and Wekesa appeared before the Labour and Welfare committee, they said parents find it hard to get suitable public spaces to breastfeed their babies.
They said some women who travel have been forced to use public toilets that have no sitting space to change their babies’ nappies.
“If we have smoking zones, why can’t we have the breastfeeding zones? Such a centre will create employment for those selling children’s items, besides ensuring the mothers handle their children with decorum,” Kerongo said.
WHO recommends mothers worldwide should exclusively breastfeed infants for the child’s first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, they should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years.
Martha Kimkung, the founder of the organisation Career Mothers For Exclusive Breastfeeding, said, “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.”
Concerning the sexualisation of breasts, Martha said the primary reason nature endows a woman with breasts is for them to be used to feed a baby. “It is up to society to change its mind and accept breastfeeding for what it is. We should not overly sexualise breasts.”
She said mothers should not sacrifice the comfort of their babies in the name of making others comfortable by being discrete. “Using a blanket to cover the baby whilebreastfeeding is very uncomfortable for the baby. They often get hot and sweaty, and their feeding is interrupted as they keep trying to remove the blanket. If someone feels uncomfortable seeing a mother feeding her baby, then he should avert his eyes, cover them, or better still, walk away. How would you feel if you were told to eat under a blanket?”
Wanjiku Ngugi, a mother of two, said, “A baby should be breastfed as the need arises. Breast milk is a ready-to-drink beverage as opposed to bottle feeding, where you have to sterilise measuring and mixing equipment, which is waste of time.”
She said women should stop feeling pressured to be discrete when breastfeeding. “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 chocking.”