[SOCIETY] Breastfeeding Still at Infancy Stage? The demand for more breastfeeding friendly places

The Young Reporter (2017, January), 49(05), pp. 14, 15.
記者: Wing Li. 編輯: Paulus Choy.
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In December, a taxi driver uploaded an image of a woman breastfeeding on the back seat of his cab onto Facebook.

This raised doubts among the general public on whether the government’s promotion of breastfeeding in public is a good idea.

According to the Department of Health, in 2014, 86 percent of newborns discharged from hospital were breast fed. But that dropped to 27 per cent, by the time the babies were four months old.

In the following year, the department found in a survey that most of the mothers who responded agreed that there was need for more breastfeeding friendly places in Hong Kong.

In May 2016, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions looked at 24 nursing rooms in government buildings and shopping malls.

They based their inspection on the Advisory Guidelines on Babycare Facilities, which is the collaboration of various government departments such as the Department of Health, the Government Property Agency and the Building Department etc. They assessed the environment, the entrance, nappy changing facilities and actual breastfeeding circumstances of the rooms.

Seven out of 12 of the nursing rooms in the shopping malls plus eight out of 12 of those in the government buildings did not reach the standards.

Chiu Yuen-man, a mother who has used nursing rooms, recalled how she could not even get her stroller into the room at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. She said there are not enough nursing rooms in shopping malls and commercial buildings in general, and sometimes the rooms are too small, making it inconvenient for mothers to breastfeed and to change nappies.

But another mum, Ngai Hungmui, said that the K11 Mall has a relatively clean and comfortable nursing room, with full facilities for changing nappies and breastfeeding.

She also appreciated the fact that there was no smoke door on the way to the room because she found it inconvenient to navigate the baby carriage through smoke doors.

Legislator, Jonathan Ho Kai-min has an eight month old infant. He recalled how people stared at his wife when she breastfed their baby in a coffee shop once. He agreed that there aren’t enough nursing rooms.

“The government focuses on increasing the number of nursing rooms in the public area, but ignores the places which have a higher demand for nursing facilities like the MTR stations and big shopping malls,” said Ho.

He pointed out that if there is only one nursing room in the entire building where a shopping mall is located, that would fall short of the requirements under the government’s Practice Note on the Provision of Babycare Rooms in Commercial Buildings issued in 2009.

According to the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions study, mothers may have to wait at least 40 minutes to use nursing rooms in shopping malls during lunchtime or at weekends.

Apart from a lack of facilities, members of the public are not always supportive of breastfeeding.

Jannie Leung, chairperson of the Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers Association, agreed that nursing rooms in shopping malls can provide more options for mothers on where to breastfeed, but she added that it is not necessary to breastfeed in these rooms.

“Mothers can breastfeed in public whenever the infants are hungry with the help of a scarf or a nursing cover,” said Leung who usually breastfeeds that way.

Leung said that she understands that some mothers may feel uncomfortable to breastfeed under the weird gazes from others.

However, nearly 80 per cent of 2000 respondents thought that it was definitely acceptable for women to breastfeed in public area, according to a telephone survey in 2015 commissioned by the Department of Health.

Leung believed that breastfeeding in public will become more acceptable if more mothers do so.

Both Ho and Leung agreed that the government has already tried its best to promote the physical and psychological advantages of breastfeeding to mothers in public hospitals.

“Apart from public education, the government needs to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of all nursing rooms in Hong Kong and push policies to protect mothers from being disturbed while breastfeeding in public,” Ho said.

Leung believed the government has already made leaps and bounds in promoting and supporting breastfeeding over the past 20 years.

According to the Department of Health, the proportion of mothers who started breastfeeding their newborns on discharge from hospital increased from 19 per cent in 1992 to 89 per cent in 2015.

Leung believed that Hong Kong can learn from other regions such as Taiwan, where breastfeeding gets a lot of support.

The World Health Organization recommends mothers to exclusively breastfeed infants for the first six months because breast milk is the ideal food for babies and breastfeeding is vital for the mothers’ health.

Leung pointed out that breastfeeding is also the ideal way to deepen the bond between mother and baby.

“But without the support of others, mothers may give up breastfeeding easily,” she added.

By Wing Li

Edited by Paulus Choy

  • A mother, Ngai Hung Mui has mentioned that the nursery room in K11 is very clean and comfortable, and it has comprehensive facilities for changing nappy and breast feeding.
  • Signage outside the babycare room in K11.
  • Correct signage for the babycare rooms. The one on the left is at Taikoo Plaza while the one on the right is at iSquare.